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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg: Are Women In Their Own Way?

Facebook COO Sheryl SandbergOn 60 Minutes this Sunday there was an eye-opening interview with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg where, pushing a new book, wondered if women were the ones holding women back. 

Watch the whole story here:

While Sandberg makes some valid points about women downplaying their worth or being afraid to negotiate for raises (this goes back to how often women, especially white women, are socialized to "be happy just to be here" then "apologize for existing"), her story is lacking in how myopic her view is. She's wealthy, accomplished, has an equally successful and supportive husband, nannies and had a career shepherded by a powerful man before blossoming as an executive and becoming the leader she is today. 

Basically, she's the best case scenario.

But to say women are holding women back is too broad when she really means "Upper-middle-to-upper-class women hold themselves and each other back in a debate over whether or not they want equality or for men to simply be nicer to them." This is not a debate we're all having in the lower classes and ethnic groups. Our lady lament is more like "why isn't family leave time universal," "why won't my job let me take time off to attend to my sick kid," "why did I stop getting promotions just because I got pregnant," "why do I get such crappy wages compared to my male counterparts," "I wish Jim in accounting would stop hitting on me it makes me uncomfortable," "I wish my husband -- if I have one -- was more supportive or would at least wash the dishes sometimes" and so forth. Essentially problems that have little to do with the "lady within" but everything to do with the patriarchal world without. Where pregnancy is talked about by some like it's a disease and people think your womb (and what does or doesn't go in it) needs regulation. 

For black women, the situation is often more nuanced or entirely different altogether. Recent studies show black women, unlike white women, are not penalized for being assertive in the workplace and that their peers actually expect it. (That is the first time ever I think a stereotype worked for me.) And unlike Sandberg's lack of female mentors, I'm drowning in them. A while back on Michel Martin's show on NPR I spoke out about how women helped me, including Martin herself, in getting my writing and my blog a wider audience. Far from what reality shows reveal, the black women in my life have been champions, sisters, friends and cohorts, not enemies. A win for one has been a win for all. As for the one woman who can't play nice with others, no one's studying her. She doesn't want to be part of Team Black Woman anyway. She likes being a token. The women I've known did not.

As for Sandbergs more universal points, I'm not married and don't have kids because there is no way for me to juggle my live in D.C. one day, live in the Bronx the next career. It would be irresponsible to drag some poor tyke from pillar to post as I pursue my dreams as a writer. A lot of women are forced to make these decisions because the world (and biology) isn't fair. Women often do have to chose between family and work as Sandberg points out, but what she doesn't seem to get is very few women can have it all. Having it all is a myth. Having children in a competitive work environment is often frowned upon in the workplace. (Apparently some are even out-right hostile to it.) And we're going to keep having these problems as long as there is A) sexism and B) women are the only ones who can reproduce.

What we need to champion is better family leave for all workers, more flexible work environments and a society more understanding of a woman who takes some time off to have kids, but then decides to rejoin the workplace after she's done breast-feeding. But we don't have those things because the partiarchal powers-that-be and their female co-signers feel if men don't need it, neither should you. Even though men too would benefit from all those things. Women at work shouldn't be about being the most exceptional to overcome these obstacles and find yourself and outlier. Equality only comes when you can be just as average as your male counterparts and achieve on the same Peter Principle level.

But even if we reach that magic land of equality, there still might slightly be more male CEOs and COOs for that reason alone. Somebody has to have the kids. And while stay at home dads are more and more common, the only people pushing little people out of their body parts are women. This is the reality we negotiate with. This is the world we live in.

Not Sandberg's. 

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Reader Comments (3)

I was watching a special on PBS last week, it was on "Women Who make America". I only bring this up because you said [we are going to continue to have these problems] until "men" can reproduce. I found it so sad in that PBS video that many radical feminists see their sex as a hindrance. I had never thought of of this before, but the video made me realize that-- for many women abortion is the only solution to the inequality issue. Women, unlike men are left with a tangible result for their sexual act, where as men are only seen as participants and therefore-- less responsible. The only way many feminists feel that they can be on a level playing field with men is if they are given as much "control" as men are over their own bodies. I agree with you, while I am all about women's rights and equality, why are women seeing the ability to "give life" as some sort of weakness? Women are caretakers and that is a quality that we possess that most men don't, the world needs us to embrace this natural impulse... I suppose a price tag can't be placed on the things that humble women have done since the beginning of time, but I think it's important to note that if they'd used men as the standard by which they measured their worth, many of us would've been terminated.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCle

I just saw her on PBS, and will just say this much, her telling women out there to "demand a pay raise" is not going to fare well in the real world. You don't just tell your supervisor, " I want a pay increase, and you owe it to me."..Lady, your militant attitude is what will end up being another woman's bigget mistake if they listen to your irrational reasoning.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBGH

I beg to differ about support. You have support Danielle because you are a star. There is an equation there that some Black women benefit from and those are rare. It really bothers me when a "chosen" person who gets abundant support thinks that that is the norm for other Black women from other Black women. I find and I know empirically that once you hit a trajectory of notoriety, then other figureheads buy-into you. And it's understandable a person like Michelle Martin can cheerlead ever woman; it's unrealistic. But what these figureheads tend to do is what I say is what Oprah does: what for you, the talent, to hit a mark and then they realize they don't have to take as much risk because you made enough traction to gain their attention. You are giving those helping you much more credit than say someone who is a starter and can have as much talent as you but just isn't as lucky in the alignment. For those benefactors saying that not enough are trying, it's bullsh#t. Those benefactors are lazy and only support those who hit a threshold limit of success that is less risk to get behind. Also they tend to only get behind things they can understand so if they need-based woman seeking support can't translate because she is too ahead of their curvature, it's then the fault of the innovator needing the benefactors to get her and it, in what she is doing.

It pains me that so many Black women who hit a level of success and give honor to other Black women for helping them don't understand this equation. You give honor to doyennes who siddle up after you did most of the work. What pains me is that you inflate these benefactors to think they are using their utiltiy the best way how. They are late responders who for those like you who are lucky attach themselves. For many of us, we can't even get their attention because they, themselves, Black women are not available for starters.

I get Sheryl's campaign and though Black women tend to circle different narrative issues, they could and should pay attention to Sheryl's advice. Her campaign is not designed for Black women's nuanced issues but that doesn't mean her campaign isn't timely and accurate. Black women should still pay attention to it to realize where they could and should be. Sometimes the issues we face are actual issues we stay stuck in trying to conquer when we should leap and realize that others face those same issues but they leap beyond them. To think that others do have the same problems is silly and primitive. It shows how behind we are. Others don't lament on those issues because they understand they want to bigger fish to fry. That's the issue: Black women in the workforce haven't understood they should try to fry bigger fish meaning take on the bigger problems too.

I have a friend that I would have to always beat over the head about her obsession to master poverty. She would try to perfect poverty instead of leaping beyond poverty. Meaning: she would lament these types of issues to never see that she look beyond to wanting to have bigger problems. Yes, I have a lot small workplace issues but that doesn't mean I don't see the bigger problems either that I can't even get to that Sheryl talks about.

We need to be equipped in knowing the epistemology of what we don't know. Sheryl's campaign is for a certain type of woman and that has nothing to do with economic status. It has to do with ambition level. You can be a waitress and you may need to heed her words. Stop with all the excuses. We are supposed to have barriers. We are literally living as a turning ship but we are so privileged and spoiled that we complain about everything as a disadvantage when it's sometimes an opportunity we are too lazy to go up against because we don't know how to fight or how to negotiate. We don't know how to be brusque and charming like the boys. I see it all the time. I realized there is a balance to my complaining that I need to manage and I need to realize that if I am as breathtaking as I think I am, I need to be it and indominable not expecting red carpets rolled out because of de facto expectations to fall second. We need to have real talks about our fears.

March 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
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