Sheryl Sandberg’s new book LEAN IN: Women, Work and the Will to Lead is being peddled as a “sorta feminist manifesto”. It’s closer to an updated version of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, who last year took home $26.2 million and in 2011 topped the list of high-paid executives earning $40 million.
It is often argued that if more women were in positions of authority, equal with men, they would create a more humane culture because they would understand women’s problems. It is this sentiment Sandberg is trying to tap into with her nod to feminism.
But her book clearly refutes this hope and shows that, just as Marxists have always argued, women who are part of the capitalist class are just as uncaring as their male counterparts, and concerned only with profit at the expense of workers, including women workers.
She is downright insulting, blaming women themselves for their unequal position in the business world: we “hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in”.
In Sandberg’s fantasyland the concrete barriers women face – unequal wages, discrimination against women on the job, the sexism which permeates the media, the education system and popular culture – are not the cause of the genuine lack of confidence felt by women in many aspects of their lives, but just a result of women’s shoddy decision-making, lack of self-actualisation and inability to value ourselves.
According to Sandberg, women need to spend more time “dismantling the hurdles in ourselves” (sounds painful), which is highly ironic coming from a woman who is in favour of putting even more hurdles in the way of women being able to have some control over their working lives.
At the World Economic Forum’s 2013 annual meeting in Switzerland, Sandberg argued that employers should be able to quiz potential women employees about whether or not they plan to have children.
In her view, the fact that bosses in many countries are restricted from asking such questions leads to a general discrimination against all women of “childbearing age”. So Sandberg’s response to sexism in the workplace is not to argue that women and men combat it but rather that it should be made easier for companies to figure out who are the right people to discriminate against!
Handwringing by Sandberg and her Silicon Valley ilk about the difficulties faced by companies is grotesque. The poor dears who earn millions -- and want to earn an extra million at the expense of everyone else -- have nothing to say about the fight for genuine women’s liberation.
This book is a timely reminder that women workers can expect nothing but exploitation and discrimination from their capitalist “sisters”. In the fight to win women’s rights in the workplace, the men we work beside are our potential allies, so arguing for workers’ solidarity – and fighting the sexism which undermines it – remains the way forward.