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When Did Success Become Anathema to Feminists?

We live in a two income household nation, and the days of men being the sole breadwinners are dying.  Women are the majority of wage earners, and if the trends continue, they’ll become the main income earners by 2030.  So, women have made massive strides in the socio-economic landscape, and that’s a good thing.  However, when it comes to successful women, feminists can’t stand them.

It seems idiotic.  Feminists have long clamored that there aren’t enough women in Congress, corporate board rooms, sports, etc., but seem perfectly content with cannibalizing their own when one manages to make it to the top.

 Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer are the newest victims of feminist wrath.  It’s because they go against the norm.  Hanna Rosin aptly noted that Mayer’s critics “believe in collective action,” and anyone that deviates from what the feminist establishment thinks is punished.  Hence, why conservative women are vilified without mercy, despite that fact that some have attained positions of power within male-dominated fields, particularly in politics.  In the world of media, feminist antipathy is no different.

Katie Roiphe of Slate wrote last week that:

The main critiques of Sandberg and Mayer boil down to the fact that they are “not like us.” And yet, it is precisely because they are not like us that we should admire them, or at least be pleased, abstractly, about their existence on earth.

It also seems like a feminist mistake to expect women entrepreneurs to create little utopias instead of running extremely successful businesses. Mayer was attacked recently for her decision not to allow employees to work at home. She is a woman, this line of thinking goes, how could she think women should have to work away outside of their houses, away from their children? But why should Marissa Mayer have some special responsibility to nurture her employees with a cozy, consummately flexible work environment just because she is a woman? Isn’t her responsibility to run a company according to her individual vision? If we want powerful female entrepreneurs shouldn’t we allow them to pursue entrepreneurial power?

The strange idea that women who are successful must represent all women, or somehow be like all women, is both totally absurd and completely prevalent. How could someone in the position of Sandberg or Mayer live exactly like most women in America? Mayer attracted criticism for taking too short a maternity leave and for saying her baby is easy, because women with any sort of success or advantage are supposed to be self-deprecating. They are supposed to complain or evoke the terribleness of their lives, so that other women will not be threatened, to diffuse the powerful and frightening competitive instinct. This is an expectation most of us pick up in middle school, but the fact that it persists and lives on in the blogosphere and newspaper columns among grownup critics and pundits is shameful.

Roiphe cited Anna Holmes of the New Yorker, who took Maureen Dowd and Jodi Kantor of the New York Times to task for taking Sandberg’s quote (“I always thought I would run a social movement”) out of context to make her look “arrogant.”

The original, quite reasonable quote was: “I always thought I would run a social movement, which meant basically work at a nonprofit. I never thought I’d work in the corporate sector.” But even if she had said the sentence, as a standalone aspiration, why should out-scale over the top ambition in a woman be considered arrogant or unappealing? Why is there so much resentment and mockery aimed at women with grand visions?

Hanna Rosin, also of Slate, noted how Mayer doesn’t consider herself a feminist, and thinks women of that mold are “militant,” with “a chip on their shoulder.”  Gasp!  It’s a duel between the individualist, independent-thinking woman and the collective tyrants of the secret circle.  Sandberg has stated that women themselves may be the problem when it comes to advancing in the workplace, as Norah O’Donnell reported on 60 Minutes. Rosin used Sandberg’s new book to convey this point.

… [the] tension between the individual and the collective is at the heart of the debate over Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” idea. Sandberg is publishing a book of advice to young women executives at the same time as she launches a “consciousness raising” movement complete with specific instructions on how to run lean-in circles. But that kind of collective action feels at odds with the advice in the book. In the book, out next week, Sandberg tells women how to negotiate for higher salaries and promotions, how to nurture their own ambition, how to behave at work if they want to advance. It is all excellent advice, but it’s not the stuff of a consciousness-raising movement. It’s advice for this age of meritocracy, when feminist success largely means professional advancement, one woman at a time. What happens if you’re up against another woman for a promotion? In Sandberg’s world, you go for it.

Hence, why – ironically – independent women, like Mayer and Sandberg, are anathema to the feminist establishment.  They aren’t thinking like a feminist. They’re thinking about their careers, and their own interests.  Men do the same thing.  In fact, anyone who wants to get ahead will do the same thing.  As Robert Frost once said, “I do not want to live in a homogenous society, I want the cream to rise.”

This problem that feminists have with women succeeding relates to their movement as a whole.  It’s a common criticism that the third – and current – wave of feminism lacks a clear vision for the 21st century. What issues, if there are any, are left for women to campaign on that haven’t already been addressed.  There’s nothing new in the arsenal.  All that is left is what needs to be built on, and that isn’t necessarily a compelling call to arms.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner wrote in her book the F-Word: Feminism in Jeopardy – Women, Politics, and the Futurethat the third wave is lost in the wilderness.

The lack of a cohesive movement is the crisis of the third wave.” Or as one of the young women she interviewed remarks, “In a nutshell, my problem with the third wave is that I think we’re a whiny bunch of elitists who think we’re so smart, but we’re not doing anything but power knitting. The lack of a political movement is huge, yet we feel so smug.”

What seems to frighten feminists about Sandberg and Mayer – and Rosin and Roiphe write this as well – is that feminism really didn’t help them rise to the top.  Furthermore, Rosin wrote that the crowd that Sandberg is trying to attract, of which Mayer is also a member, really don’t see much feminism has to offer in terms of advancing their careers.

Roiphe added:

the word feminist is of little use to us now, but if we are interested in female power then we should let our powerful women pursue power, without harassing them with our distaste for that pursuit. We should not expect them to be warmer, fuzzier, more nurturing than their male counterparts because to do so is to impose sexist expectations.

Could the feminist bashing of successful women be a manifestation of that frustration?  Is the “not being needed” angst driving this madness?  If so, the feminist establishment has a mindset of “these ladies have to go,” and hopefully the next crop will be more palatable to the cause. That’s one way to destroy a movement.  It’s something conservatives should’ve considered when they excluded GOProud at CPAC this year.

Either way, I say let women be women.  Better yet, let them be “American” – or “capitalist” – in their economic pursuits, which is grounded in being more aggressive, more competent, and more productive than your competition.  If a woman rises to the top, so be it.  She should be congratulated. We’re a meritocracy, and everyone should get a boost from the increased competition.  As for feminists, I suggest they go moan in a corner someplace else.  I want the economy to roar back –with men and women alike – and feminism isn’t helping anyone.

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