Sheryl Sandberg Is Not Evil and Feminism Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

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This is the second “Conversation Between a Twentysomething Single Woman and a Thirtysomething Married Woman.” Chiara Atik (the former) is a writer for The Date Report, Glamour, Gawker, and other venues. Her first book, Modern Dating: A Field Guide, will be published in the spring. Melissa Wall (the latter) is HowAboutWe’s director of content.

women-talking-ConvertedChiara: Melissa! Yesterday I was at a birthday party and the birthday girl received a signed copy of Lean In. Good birthday present?? I mean, frankly, as a 26 year-old woman at the start of my career, and before having read the book (but having pre-ordered it!) I’m pretty fucking exciting to lean in.

Melissa: Well kudos to you for actually reading it! Eighty percent of the anti-Lean-In vitriol that’s been popping up all over the internet has been from women who haven’t cracked the cover yet. It is pretty interesting that the supposed “new women’s movement” has barely begun but has already sparked a huge round of women hating on each other.

Chiara: Women are hating each other all over the place! Did you see the Taylor Swift/Amy Poehler debacle over that Golden Globes joke? And suddenly feminism entered that debate, which is ridiculous — like feminism is supposed to shield you from jokes, or fights with other women.

I don’t understand the vitriol directed towards Sandberg — how can anyone disagree with her basic message? We can’t hang back in the sidelines, we can’t hesitate to take high-level jobs or to enter the workforce en masse because if we don’t get in there how are we ever going to demand policy changes and benefits that will make a work/family balance easier/possible/affordable for all women?

Melissa: I don’t know if it’s people disagreeing with Sandberg’s basic message so much as HER — who she is, and whether she “deserves” to be the “voice of the new feminism movement.” She’s “too rich,” too “out of touch,” too “perfect” — in other words, she makes us (and Maureen Dowd) feel bad about ourselves, so we need to bring her down a peg. As if Sheryl Sandberg winning means all the rest of us losing. What’s killing women in general is that we’re seeing the world as a zero-sum game — if one women gets money and power and prestige and a platform, that means the rest of us lose. Which simply makes no sense. How is Sheryl Sandberg’s success bad for my career? Or for Maureen Dowd’s? We just constantly let our bruised egos lead us into this nonstop hating. We manage to undermine ourselves.

Chiara: I interviewed Caitlin Moran last summer and she said something that really stuck with me: “Whenever something happens to a woman anywhere, everyone’s gotta have a fucking opinion on it…Every woman is seen as emblematic of like, two and a half million other women. It’s horrible pressure, that’s why women fuck up more than anything else.”
It’s so true, and it’s why people seem to have an issue with Sandberg (and Marissa Mayer, etc, etc). It’s like we’re waiting for a Messiah of women’s issues — someone who is just the right amount of rich, educated, successful, and non-polemic — and until then we’ll all continue to argue about everyone who voices an opinion. So frustrating! Not every woman has to represent every other woman.

Melissa: Caitlin Moran, that bitch! She doesn’t speak for me at all! How dare she be so successful! (I KID I KID she is amazing.) Seriously though, we really have cast ourselves as the third-graders fighting for the last piece of birthday cake — we seem to have bought into the idea that other women having success is a direct challenge to us. Of course men are competitive with each other, and always have been, but you don’t see hordes of men tearing down Warren Buffett for not “speaking enough to the normal man.” Men who achieve success seem to earn respect from other men — while women earn a whole lotta scorn from their peers (Hillary Clinton may have finally passed the “scorn” phase just by hanging on so long and continuing to be more and more amazing every year).

Chiara: Yeah, exactly. And again, women who are successful can’t necessarily speak for the (billions!) of less fortunate women in the world, but they certainly can advocate for them, fight for policy changes, break glass ceilings, demand better work situations, the list goes on. It’s all the same fight!

Melissa: Wise words from one so young. Now go do something ultra-impressive so I can cut you down for it.