Saturday, October 26, 2013

Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not | Susan Faludi | The Baffler

Facebook Feminism, Like It or Not | Susan Faludi | The Baffler
"Since its unveiling this spring, the Lean In campaign has been reeling in a steadily expanding group of tens of thousands of followers with its tripartite E-Z plan for getting to the top. But the real foundation of the movement is, of course, Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, billed modestly by its author as “sort of a feminist manifesto.” Sandberg’s mantra has become the feminist rallying cry of the moment, praised by notable figures such as Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Marlo Thomas, and Nation columnist Katha Pollitt. A Time magazine cover story hails Sandberg for “embarking on the most ambitious mission to reboot feminism and reframe discussions of gender since the launch of Ms. magazine in 1971.” Pretty good for somebody who, “as of two and a half years ago,” as Sandberg confessed on her book tour, “had never said the word woman aloud. Because that’s not how you get ahead in the world.”
"Beneath highly manicured glam shots, each “member” or “partner” reveals her personal “Lean In moment.” The accounts inevitably have happy finales—the Lean In guidelines instruct contributors to “share a positive ending.” Tina Brown’s Lean In moment: getting her parents to move from England to “the apartment across the corridor from us on East 57th Street in New York,” so her mother could take care of the children while Brown took the helm at The New Yorker. If you were waiting for someone to lean in for child care legislation, keep holding your breath. So far, there’s no discernible groundswell."
"But there seems to be little tangible cross-class solidarity coming from the triumphalists, despite their claims to be speaking for all womankind. “If we can succeed in adding more female voices at the highest levels,” Sandberg writes in her book, “we will expand opportunities and extend fairer treatment to all.” But which highest-level voices? When former British prime minister Margaret (“I hate feminism”) Thatcher died, Lean In’s Facebook page paid homage to the Iron Lady and invited its followers to post “which moments were most memorable to you” from Thatcher’s tenure. That invitation inspired a rare outburst of un-“positive” remarks in the comment section, at least from some women in the U.K. “Really??” wrote one. “She was a tyrant. . . . Just because a woman is in a leadership position does not make her worthy of respect, especially if you were on the receiving end of what she did to lots of people.” “So disappointing that Lean In endorses Thatcher as a positive female role model,” wrote another. “She made history as a woman, but went on to use her power to work against the most vulnerable, including women and their children.”
"In the 1920s, male capitalists invoked feminism to advance their brands of corporate products. Nearly a century later, female marketers are invoking capitalism to advance their corporate brand of feminism. Sandberg’s “Lean In Community” is Exhibit A. What is she selling, after all, if not the product of the company she works for? Every time a woman signs up for Lean In, she’s made another conquest for Facebook. Facebook conquers women in more than one way. Nearly 60 percent of the people who do the daily labor on Facebook—maintaining their pages, posting their images, tagging their friends, driving the traffic—are female, and, unlike the old days of industrial textile manufacturing, they don’t even have to be paid or housed. “Facebook benefits every time a woman uploads her picture,” Kate Losse, a former employee of Facebook and author of The Boy Kings, a keenly observed memoir of her time there, pointed out to me. “And what is she getting? Nothing, except a constant flow of ‘likes.’”
Losse quit in 2010 to become a writer—of her own words, not her boss’s. Earlier this year, she wrote a thought-provoking piece about Lean In for Dissent, “Feminism’s Tipping Point: Who Wins from Leaning In?” The winners, she noted, are not the women in tech, who “are much more likely to be hired in support functions where they are paid a bare minimum, given tiny equity grants compared to engineers and executives, and given raises on the order of fifty cents an hour rather than thousands of dollars.” These are the fast-growth jobs for women in high technology, just as Menlo Park’s postindustrial campuses are the modern equivalent of the Lowell company town. Sandberg’s book proposed to remedy that system, Losse noted, not by changing it but simply by telling women to work harder:
Life is a race, Sandberg is telling us, and the way to win is through the perpetual acceleration of one’s own labor: moving forward, faster. The real antagonist identified by Lean In then is not institutionalized discrimination against women, but women’s reluctance to accept accelerating career demands.
For her candor, Losse came under instant attack from the Sandberg sisterhood. Brandee Barker, a Lean In publicist and former head of public relations for Facebook, sent Losse the following message: “There’s a special place in hell for you.”
"When asked about women’s representation at the company during media appearances for her book tour, Sandberg was vague. “We’re ahead of the industry,” she told one interviewer, noting that a woman heads Facebook’s “global sales” and another is “running design,” before briskly changing the subject."

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