It’s that time of the year again: Sheryl Sandberg is telling us how to live our lives.
Invariably promoted as launching a “movement” — as opposed to shilling books — the Facebook executive’s publicity blitzes are impossible to avoid. There’s the inevitable, inevitably self-involved New York Times op-ed. (The words “I,” “me” and “my” appear 15 times in the first 143 words.) She’s in Time and Fortune and USA Today and The Washington Post and HuffPo, which tells us “Why Sheryl Sandberg Decided To Speak Openly About Losing Her Husband (uh, to sell books?).
As far as I can tell, the only media outlet not to be shilling Sandberg’s pabulum is ISIS’ online magazine, proving that terrorists aren’t all bad.
“Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience” is the bestselling sequel to her bestselling 2013 tome “Lean In,” which is a bestseller because every media outlet is pushing it and advises women in the workplace to get ahead the same way she did: be born the child of a well-off medical specialist in a rich enclave, go to Harvard without having to take out a student loan, suck up to a future U.S. Treasury Secretary (who thinks women are dumb) while you’re there, snag an MBA, and become best friends with Facebook megabillionaire Mark Zuckerberg.
“Option B” is about her rich tech giant husband’s “unexpected” death, how she’s been coping and how she’s helped their kids cope.
First, a couple points of clarification.
Dude fell off a treadmill at age 47, possibly due to cardiac arrhythmia. He was overweight. If you’re fat and male and in your late 40s, you’re at risk of a heart attack. Obviously it sucks for Sandberg and their kids and especially for Dave Goldberg that he’s dead. But his passing is not “unexpected” and therefore tragic and shocking in the way that the passing of an 8-year-old girl who gets blown up by a drone after a different drone blew up her brother, or a boy shot by some cop while he’s playing outside his house, is so unexpected and tragic and shocking that, all by itself, it justifies overthrowing the entire United States government.
Goldberg was one of two or three million Americans who croak every year. He was the CEO of SurveyMonkey. Unlike Prince or Bowie, he did not touch our lives or make a difference or make the world a better place. Goldberg was not any more special than your deceased friends and family members or mine.
Second, Goldberg died just two years ago. Sandberg’s children are preteens. Even setting aside the fact that this spectacularly wealthy and powerful woman has access to top-notch psychologists and other experts to help her kids navigate their grief, it’s too early for Sandberg to claim success as a parent. (Given publishers’ lead times, she probably started writing the book less than a year after he died.)
Get back to us in a few decades, Sheryl.
Judging from the flood of negative comments posted to articles about Sandberg and her books, I’m one of many people who find Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer pompous, pedantic, pretentious and generally insufferable. Like them, I can’t hate people without moral standing, credentials or unimpeachable experience who rise, Cicero-like, to share wisdom that turns out to be a series of “like, duhs:”
“And every kid faces challenges.”
“We can start by showing children that they matter.”
“Giving children undivided attention — something we all know is important but often fail to do — is another of the key steps toward building their resilience.”
Coming the same week I’m reading about the inner workings of Hillary Clinton’s dysfunctional, out-of-touch campaign in the book “Shattered,” I had to ask myself if, as a middle-aged white male, my annoyance at Sandberg (and Hillary) owes something to misogyny.
Perhaps. I hope not.
What I keep coming back to is not Sandberg’s gender but her habit of individualizing experiences that ought to be universal.
“Lean In” addressed the serious economic and social problem of patriarchy by sidestepping its root causes with the Big Lie that if she could overcome, so could Jane Everywoman. “Option B” ignores how capitalism and employers make the passing of a loved one harder than it needs or ought to be in favor of vacuous declamations that boil down to “love them, time heals all wounds, it’ll all be fine.”
Times commenter “L.F.” articulates how our economic system brutalizes survivors: “The death of a breadwinner would plunge most American families with children into terrifying poverty. Dear God, the medical bills alone from a spouse’s final illness…and the loss of health insurance, which stops when the employed person takes their last breath or can’t keep working… I’ve literally known a family that landed in a homeless shelter after one parent passed away. The mortgage bank doesn’t give a damn about your need to teach the kids coping skills, and your boss might give you a week of bereavement leave, if you’re very, very, very lucky. Most American families don’t have $400 for an emergency. When people in my circles lose someone, they have to ask around for help from family, friends and church just to see them buried.”
Sheryl Sandberg helps run a company that makes America immeasurably worse off. Facebook prefers to hire cheap foreigners than hire un- and underemployed American tech workers. Though staggering rich, Facebook is cheap and thus intentionally understaffed to the point that the Facebook Killer’s snuff video stayed online for hours, as have pornographic photos of children, because there’s no way to reach them by phone.
Facebook is worth eight times as much as General Motors — yet employs fewer than one-tenth (17,000) as many full-time employees (207,000). That proportional shortfall of more than 1.5 million jobs could easily include the 272,000 journalists out of work in significant part due to Facebook.
If Sheryl Sandberg wants to help American parents, she should hire some.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)