Mansplainer #1: Sheryl Sandberg vs. The Last Psychiatrist

It’s been over a decade since I finished high school, and my teachers from that time are still handing me reading assignments. Such was the case when this rambling diatribe was sent my way. It’s a piece discussing media coverage of Sheryl Sandberg‘s new book and what we can interpret from it.

One point that I agree with the writer on is the inherent consumerist nature of magazines. I'll take it one step further and say that magazines are mostly advertising and their content is driven by the needs of the advertisers and not vis versa. So I think it would be a fair assessment to see who's being plugged in Cosmo Careers or Time to see what their target demographic is, and how Sandberg's narrative fits in to that. I'm not so sure that covering her ring is really telling of anything, but her posture in both pics indicates a genuine discomfort with having her picture taken (which is pretty normal, mind you).

From what I understand of Sandberg's book, she is really advocating that women take a more assertive role in the advancement of their careers. Simple for some, but it's reliant on a certain amount of privilege. And it's advice that certainly would not be successful if applied universally. It's still a strong message, though, and has merit.

I think the narrative surrounding how her success is being presented in other media is likely far more damaging than her book (which, per the NPR review, apart from being boring, has some very positive messages). It is often spun as "well, Sandberg did it, so can you" which is tantamount to victim blaming, or "the poor are poor because they don't work hard enough" logic, and does little to underline the structural problems that ensure there are not more Sandberg's in the world.

So, yeah. People who buy Cosmo Careers or Time probably aren't going to be successful in their lives. Then again, most people won't, whether they read Time or not.

“Main thing to observe about this girl-girl feature: all the chicks are white.”

Right on. It’s clear that there are no visible minorities represented in the photo. This is something that struck me immediately when I saw it. Not to say that Sandberg's career advancement is moot or irrelevant to the advancement of feminism, however I don't think she acknowledges the degree to which she's benefited from the privileges of a) not being a visible minority b) having a husband with a career and c) the mind-bogglingly rare luck of working at facebook at the time she did. I would almost entirely attribute her success to the "right-place right-time" aspect of facebook. Most companies just don't explode the way Facebook did and therefore most people will not be presented with the same opportunities as Sandberg. And more to the point, one successful woman is hardly evidence of any change with regard to gender relations in the workplace. Obama's presidency has done little to squash racism in America…

I get the general snarky tone of the piece, and they’re addressing race issues, which is great, but reading this made me uncofmfortable: "while the Asian women apparently didn't worry about working late because their kids would be at violin till 9:30." It's like one of those moments where "ironic racism" really isn't that ironic.

One more point I agree with is in the last two paragraphs where they talk about the choice between relationships and careers and how detrimental that choice is to both. However, it seems that they does not see alternate solutions because they are eyeing it from a strictly capitalist framework.

“I’m no fan of unions,” they quip. Really? I view the labour struggles as inseparable from the women’s rights movement. Workers rights are women’s rights. And the historical advancements that have been made in both camps would not be where they are were it not for their struggles being interwoven. Women would not have the rights they enjoy in the workplace (not to say there isn’t still far to go) were it not for the power of the unions, and the unions would not have accomplished what they had were it not for the power and determination of women.

If the goal is capitalist riches, then yes. The only two options really are work life or home life. However, with adequate social structure, where poverty is not a substantial risk, and where pregnancy is not detrimental to career advancement, families and careers can be balanced. We don't need more high rolling Sandberg's in the world. What we need are more opportunities for women to live and work comfortably in fields that are generally not open to them.

Mansplainer is a blog about women written by a man. The goal is not to speak on behalf of women or present myself as a saviour, but to present my views and understanding of feminist issues, to show solidarity with the feminist struggle, and to hopefully contribute to the dialogue in a meaningful way. If I am wrong about something, let me know and I will address it.


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