Tag Archives: Maureen Dowd

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lost Opportunities for Women: Sexism Sucks, But Blame Capitalism More

Image result for harvey weinstein

One of the points many women have made since the beginning of the current national discussion about sexual assault and harassment has been that sexism and misogyny have cost women countless opportunities to achieve their full potential.       Probably because this began with Harvey Weinstein, much of the mourning of opportunity costs focused on Hollywood: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd mentioned her reaction to research she did on the topic: “I got more and more angry as I realized that these women were being systematically excluded based on ridiculous biases.”

It’s an excellent, long-overdue point: Who could possibly count how many brilliant women have been denied high-profile roles as actors and directors and studio executives as the result of the studios’ toxic “casting couch” culture? How much great insight and entertainment have the rest of us, including men, lost because we have been denied the full expression of women censored because they refused to sleep with some nasty executive?

Outside the world of entertainment, might cancer have been cured had more women been encouraged to enter a STEM career?

At the same time, there are many other forms of discrimination that have similar effects, yet they’re so hardwired into the system that we don’t give them much thought.

Most of these tragic cases of human underachievement are the direct result of economic discrimination. There is the guy who would be a great poet if not for the fact that he grew up in rural West Virginia and his parents were poor and uneducated so it never occurred to them to point him towards a career that, had they heard of it, would seem useless and impossible to turn into a viable means of making a living — which, because they were poor, was the only thing they could think about.

There is the woman working as a cashier in the Bronx who might have gone to Yale if she had been granted a scholarship or had been born into a wealthy family, the woman who would have created an amazing computer company had the sexist pigs who compose Silicon Valley’s V.C. class given her pitch a fair hearing, the girl of color sitting in class in a rundown elementary school whose horizons have become a sinkhole thanks to mere demographics.

You can turn this around and look at it from the other side as well. Think of all the profiles you’ve read about an actor who scored his big break due to pure happenstance (as opposed to talent). You may have such a story yourself. If you think about it, though, the random lucky break is not a heartwarming confirmation that the universe provides what you need. Those breaks are few and far-between. The terrifying truth is that most people who deserve them never get them — and that sucks. It reflects the arbitrary and capricious nature of a system that barely pretends to be a smidge of a meritocracy.

I feel luckier than most. Even so, there are many things that I was never able to do simply because I didn’t have enough money: attend the college of my choice, study the major of my choice, join the Peace Corps, take a gap year and travel through Europe, get knee surgery, accept an internship, attend the grad school that accepted me but didn’t offer me financial aid, start a small newspaper, tell a jerky boss to go to hell. I doubt that many people reading this would have trouble composing an even longer list of things they would have liked to do, places they would have liked to see, businesses they would have liked to start, all out of reach due to a lack of funds.

Aside from stifling our dreams and crushing our ambitions, our cult of capitalism denies us the broad-based political debate that might solve many of our most pressing problems. Due to the pro-corporate, right-wing political bias of the mainstream media, all the left-wing ideas that never get expressed in the opinion pages and society are denied distribution, meaning that they never get discussed. For example, antiwar voices are never allowed space in major newspapers, radio news broadcasts, or on television. Surely that rigid censorship has something to do with the fact that the United States has constantly been at war since the American Revolution. When is the last time you heard a politician or pundit argue that we ought to spend more on mitigating climate change than we do on the military?

Capitalism is presented as an ideology that allows people to fulfill their ambitions and make the most of themselves, but in reality it’s exactly the opposite: it constrains people to what they can achieve based upon what’s in their bank account or in their parents’ estate. So the United States has been one of the least socially mobile societies in the industrialized world for quite some time (and it’s getting worse) but most Americans don’t have a clue. This caste system also applies to everyone. Even under a construct of systematic sexism and misogyny, a wealthy woman enjoys far more opportunity than a poor man.

This is not to say that women don’t have every right to rage against men, or to understate the validity of women’s complaints about male misdeeds ranging from contempt to physical assault. The sexual assault and harassment discussion is yet another reminder that the fundamental underlying cause of the problem is power and its inevitable abuse.

It has long been a standard argument of feminists that the world would be a better place if women were in charge.

Certainly more women should be in charge: exactly 50% of the people in charge ought to be women. But we need to look beyond sexism to understand the meta root cause behind unjustly (and foolishly) squandering countless human potential. Whether that waste is directly attributable to discrimination based upon race, gender, or some other factor, it will continue as long as we live in a society whose foundation relies upon the disgusting assumption that only those who can afford it have the right to be everything that they can be.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) next book is “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cash In

Why Sheryl Sandberg is Evil

Sheryl Sandberg is the author of a new book that you’ve heard of if you’re connected enough to be reading this, promoted by one of those PR tsunamis that publishers inflict upon the public every year or two in hopes of recouping six- or seven-figure advances: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

     She is also the chief operating officer of Facebook.

“Lean In,” we are told, is More Than Just a Book. It is a social movement. A way of life.

A happening.

“She is someone who works at Facebook,” moons Garance Franke-Ruta in The Atlantic. “Who leads Facebook. Who helped invent the Facebook we know today. Hers is a Facebook feminism.”

Yuck.

Comparing herself to Betty “The Feminine Mystique” Friedan, Sandberg wants her book to inspire “Lean In Circles” where women would meet to plot how to climb the corporate ladder and achieve gender parity in the boardroom. At their creepy gatherings, women will learn how to act more boldly, aggressively – more like men. Her idea of how men act, anyway.

Franke-Ruta again: “Sandberg is an unapologetic capitalist and senior manager who began her career in Washington, DC. She says she’s interested in seeing more women in leadership posts in corporate America and in the highest ranks of government. That means more women at the top, more women in positions of power, and more women who have the training and experience to lead within institutions actually getting a shot at doing – or daring to do – it.”

Visions of armies of women in beige blouses and dark safe corporate jackets marching through the streets of suburban office parks, chanting quotes from and waving copies of Sandberg’s manifesto, fill her dreams.

I think Sandberg is one of the most insufferable fools in the world of business. Which is saying something. But I don’t hate her for the same reasons as people like Maureen Dowd.

In the New York Times, columnist Dowd sums up Sandberg as a “PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots.” Such Dowdian snark, though cruel, is fair. Sandberg, after all, uttered a comment whose revealing immodesty would make Donald Trump blush: “I always thought I would run a social movement.”

Memo to SS: You don’t “run” a social movement. Lead it, maybe. If you’re lucky.

The Paper of Record asks the six- or seven-figure question:

“Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder. Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgments include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?”

Oh, and her husband quit his job to mind the homestead. That’s convenient.

Still, Dowd et al’s argument that Sandberg’s wealth denies her the standing to issue advice to working women leaves me cold. It doesn’t matter who or what she is; either her ideas are smart and/or good for society or they’re not. A doctor who tells you to diet and exercise is giving you good advice even if she’s fat and smokes. Hell, I’m a dude yet I think I know better than Sandberg what’s better for women. For all I know, and many women agree, she gives good advice to ambitious women trying to climb the corporate ladder.

What grates about Sandberg, I think, is less the fact that a person born at mile 25 thinks she won the marathon because she worked so hard, than her failed attempt to elevate a self-help book to the level of politics.

Sandberg doesn’t know about politics. She doesn’t even know about identity politics.

Politics – debate and discussion about how we should live our lives and how to solve our problems after we have identified them – is hard. Very few people – including most politicians and elected officials – undertake the lifetime of thinking and research, or possess the magic of inspiration, it takes to come up with a transformative vision for an alternative future. The U.S. is tragically devoid of brilliant public intellectuals – our best and brightest political minds are ruthlessly censored and marginalized.

That’s real politics.

Then there’s identity politics.

Identity politics, the struggle by women, gays, ethnic minorities and so on against their privileged rivals in the economy and society, is a dead end. It’s tokenism. At best, movements based on identity politics grant special privileges to a tiny subset of traditionally oppressed demographic groups. Meanwhile, the overall hierarchical class structure remains intact.

It was moving, for example, to watch African-Americans celebrate the election of Barack Obama. Four and a half years later, however, not only can we see that the status of blacks remains the same as 2008 – harassed, arrested, shot and imprisoned at disproportionately high rates, discriminated against in the workplace, deprived of access to a high-quality education, their lifespans shortened by disease and poverty – Obama himself, supposed symbol of progress, doesn’t even talk about racial problems, much less try to fix them.

Everyone’s goal ought to be to liberate humanity from oppression. Identity politics distract from this struggle. They liberate no one.

What Sandberg advocates is even less worthwhile than identity politics.

Sandberg wants rat-race politics. Men, she argues, act like a bunch of testosterone-fueled jerks at work. She wants women to beat them at their own game.

“When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women,” writes Sandberg. “When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less…The solution is making sure everyone is aware of the penalty women pay for success. Recently at Facebook, a manager received feedback that a woman who reported to him was ‘too aggressive.’ Before including this in her review, he decided to dig deeper. He went back to the people who gave the feedback and asked what aggressive actions she had taken. After they answered, he asked point-blank, ‘If a man had done those same things, would you have considered him too aggressive?’ They each said no. By showing both men and women how female colleagues are held to different standards, we can start changing attitudes today.”

Man, I sure wouldn’t want to work at Facebook. It’s a lot more fun to work in an organization where no one – men or women – comes on too strong. Where people work as a team.

“Lean In” fails because Sandberg wants to accelerate the “race to the bottom” behavior that has become standard in American business and politics. She is not the solution to a problem.

She is a problem.

What we need to do is create a society in which everyone – men and women, gays and straights, whites and blacks, and so on – enjoys equal access to the good things in life. Whether like me you have concluded that capitalism, the idea that we are all created unequal, is evil and irredeemable, or you’d prefer to reform the system to make it more humane, replacing male assholes with female assholes gets us nowhere.

Rather than tell American women (or men) what to do, Sandberg would do better to consider her own role in making the United States a worse place to live.

She’s worse than a garden-variety “an unapologetic capitalist.” The virtual antithesis of Google’s “don’t be evil,” the company where she works has become one of the most culturally and economically destructive businesses in America by monetizing the death of a nation’s right to privacy. (This is worth, by one calculation, about $130 per user.) Facebook is so unaccountable that it doesn’t even provide a phone number for customer service. Now it’s emulating the reprehensible Arianna Huffington, attempting to accelerate the aggregation of what’s left of journalism outlets so essential to the health of civic life and democracy with its latest redesign of its News Feed.

Facebook is the face of the New Economy. It sucks $5 billion a year out of the U.S. economy, yet it puts almost nothing back in. It employs fewer than 4,000 Americans. (By way of comparison, GM—which generates less than twice as much as Facebook—employs more than 200,000 workers.)

Even if Sandberg is successful with her Lean In Circles, she will have accomplished the same thing as Facebook. She will have made a tiny privileged of elites richer—and 99% of America poorer.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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