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

6 Comments.

  • I think this is a useful book review despite its losing focus at the end. It opens my eyes.
    The woman who wrote “fog moves in on little cat’s feet” deserves her props though.
    I read the piece and have forgot the piece. I have read Baker’s Human Smoke and recall reports the enormity of our, of Churchill’s bombing campaign.
    I have a few hundred copies of Filler’s Crusade Against Slavery and have read bits of it and think it could help explain something about a social movement. I think the relevance is the suppression of free speech both in Congress and legislatures and by direct action burning presses and banishing or killing speakers. Critic and satirist Martin King;s assassination is an example. The review mentions suppression and marginalizing of effective commentary. I am glad it does. They take the critic and they douse him or her in oleomargarine. On TV yesterday I saw a blonde named Erin Brockovich who it said is the subject of a ten year old movie and who it said is working on identifying cancer cluster cities in the context of an EPA safe hexavalent chromium drinking water level of a hundred parts per billion, under review, versus a California limit of one part per five trillion (.02/bil).

  • >replacing male assholes with female assholes gets us nowhere.

    I have nothing to add.

  • Ted, you still don’t understand — or accept — the America you live in, and what Americans are. What Americans want. American women WANT to do the power walk. American women WANT to be assholes like men. American women WANT to subjugate and exploit workers. You see, then they can truly claim equality and victory, for they will have achieved the American Dream.

    Look at the “Veronica Mars” kickstarter. $2.5 million in one day. Why? Because we live in an idiot economy. The idiot economy is everything. It explains why idiots like Will Ferrell are worth 100s of millions, when all they do is get on camera and act like an idiot. Mike Judge was right — “Ass: The Movie” is basically here. Judge was too optimistic in his timeframe. The idiot economy is here now, and by god women want in! And why not? Women are idiots too. This whole “if only women ran the world” meme is finally going to be exposed for the fraud it always was, and Sheryl Sandberg is going to help that happen.

    Women are greedy.
    Women are inane.
    Women are vacuous.
    Women are violent.
    Women are political.
    Women are liars.
    Women are criminals.
    Women are sociopaths.
    Women are oppressors.

    Women are idiots, and therefore they will do just fine in the Idiot Economy. Actually, they’ll flourish.

    Viva la revolución ! La revolución idiota!

  • aaronwilliams135
    March 14, 2013 9:27 PM

    Wow, Ted, what an outstanding piece.

    Sure, ok, Sandberg is an asshole; and wrong; and dangerous, etc…

    But your definition of politics; your simple straightforward vision: “everyones goal ought to be to liberate humanity from oppression”; these are novel and necessary ideas and I salute you.

  • alex_the_tired
    March 15, 2013 9:24 AM

    Sandberg’s mindset reminds me of George Carlin’s observation about white, middle-class feminists (I’ve referenced this before): “I’ve noticed that most of these feminists are white, middle class women. They don’t give a shit about black women’s problems; they don’t care about Latino women. All they’re interested in is their own reproductive freedom and their pocketbooks.”

    Sandberg’s career has hardly been one of selfless devotion to some social cause. She went to Harvard. While there, her thesis adviser was Larry Summer. He got her a research assignment at the World Bank working with him. He also got her onboard as his Chief of Staff when he was Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration. Yes, Sandberg’s smart. But she got the connections early, she used them well, and now, at the end of the day, she probably sits at her desk and wonders the small, nagging questions: “How much of it was really me? How much of it was that I got lucky? There are hundreds of Harvard graduates just as qualified as I am, why did I get ahead of so many of them?”

    So, to keep those questions at bay, she comes up with this misandric notion of a “lean in” circle. Someone as smart as Sandberg can’t fail to see exactly what it will do: set up a push back against women in corporate levels. Fewer women advance, Sandberg gets to keep telling herself that it’s really her, not her connections that got her so far.

    World Bank, Treasury Department, McKinsey & Co., Google, Facebook. She can talk all she wants about helping women, but she’s followed money and power the whole way. The only woman she appears to have helped is herself. I don’t fault her for that. I fault her for trying to act like she’s trying to help others when her advice — and her approach — is toxic to all the women further down the ladder. Women advance — or should advance — for the same reason men advance — or should advance — because they can do the job. And with very few exceptions, gender is irrelevant to work performance. (I think that’s the central tenet to feminism, but I can’t be sure; I never listen to the girls when they’re having a hen party.)

  • The person named CEO at 40 was already a senior VP or a group president. By 30, they were a VP. By 25, they were a junior VP. What had they done to get an executive position as their entry level job?

    But that CEO salary isn’t enough, so some ‘write’ books on ‘How you can do it too!’ as Ms Sandberg has done. Did she really write it, or have some ghost write it for her? No matter. Lots of 25 year old women struggling as staff think that, by reading Sandberg, they’ll get to be executives, and their hopeful purchases of her book will add a few shekels to her CEO salary and bonuses.

    Hope for the hopeless, that’s what she’s selling.

    And, of course, exkiodexian is missing the pronoun ‘some’ in all his statements about women, along with the parallel statements about many men in America. He is, sadly, close to correct, in that my pronoun ‘some’ can be replaced by the nominal phrase, ‘a majority of’. Or so they vote, for those who believe that US elections are less corrupt than those in other parts of the world that the US press denigrates.

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