February 25 2013
The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd has jumped on the anti-Sheryl Sandberg bandwagon today, revealing yet again that too many so-called feminists aren’t really on the side of women.
Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has been building a following by talking about real ways women – and employers – can work together to navigate the brave new world of changing gender roles and workplace culture.
In typical Dowd form, her disparaging column “Pompom Girl for Feminism” is a critique without much clarity or direction. Dowd writes:
She [Sandberg] knows there is slow evolution or even erosion in women’s progress in some areas, and that many younger women don’t want to be called feminists. Professional women often take their husbands’ last names these days without a thought.
But Sandberg’s unwillingness to talk about professional women taking their husband’s name seems a bit of a stretch – is that really Dowd’s beef? The following paragraphs get a little closer at what I think is Dowd’s real problem with Sandberg:
Her book is chockablock with good tips and insights, if a bit discouraging at times. She urges women in salary negotiations to smile frequently and use the word “we” instead of “I.” And she encourages employers and women to talk upfront about plans for children, which employers may fear is lawsuit fodder.
She seems to think she can remedy social paradigms with a new kind of club — a combo gabfest, Oprah session and corporate pep talk.
And this is the crux of the problem for Dowd – and for others on the left – who ultimately see Sandberg as a threat to feminism. Sandberg has put women in the position of having real agency and helps put at bay calls for greater government oversight and regulation of the workplace.
As I told a critic recently, government did its part to limit gender discrimination decades ago when it passed the Equal Rights Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Amendment of 1964. Businesses are doing their part every day to encourage more women to stay in the workplace and to accommodate their desire for greater balance and flexibility. And now Sandberg has been leading the charge – a social movement, perhaps – to encourage women to help themselves.
What frustrates traditional feminists to no end is not only that Sandberg wants women to play a role in improving the workplace, but also that she wants this to be a two-way street. For instance, there are real economic costs to consider when women take time off from the workplace; and Sandberg understands that ignoring this reality doesn’t allow the workplace to adapt as effectively. Dowd may refer to it as a “combo gabfest,” but Sandberg is advocating for honest conversations between employees and employers about salary negotiations, maternity leave, and flexible work plans – sans trial lawyers, advocacy groups, and government regulators.
And I only have good things to say about that.