(Article changed on May 28, 2013 at 14:55)
(Article changed on May 27, 2013 at 18:48)
She's been interviewed by a beaming Oprah, lauded as the second coming of second wave feminism, held up as a role model, and skewered for hypocrisy. Sheryl Sandberg is the epitome of what Hester Eisenstein called "hegemonic feminism," what I used to call "liberal feminism," but what I know am calling "corporate feminism."
Catharine A. MacKinnon made the astute point that our legal system treats gender equality in a way that - while it may have had the best intentions - actually fails to address much of what women actually experience. Cases of inequality are seen as only valid when the circumstances between men and women are exactly alike. Since men don't experience pregnancy, breastfeeding and the associated child care tasks that often attach to those experiences, they are not entered into the equation.
At the same time, there has been a long tradition of treating the male experience as the normal state of humanity, with the female being some sort of subset. Of course, language has played a role in that tendency, but at least one recent study has shown the persistence of this dynamic even with gender-neutral language. And the website Sociological Images has been cataloging the manifestation of the "male-as-neutral-default" in everyday life.
Both of these dynamic have influenced the development of feminism. Hester Eisenstein, in particular, has pointed out how the goals of feminism have somehow folded themselves into the corporate agenda - with depressed wages and greater participation of mothers in the workforce doing quite well for such things as globalization. But it can also obscure the types of discrimination that are unique to women: objectification and misogyny. In the case of Sandberg, whether she is a champion for the lesser mortals that the rest of us are, is called greatly into question by recent revelation about Facebook, the company in which she has risen to the level of Chief Operating Officer.
The WAM! project has recently launched a campaign to protest some truly disgusting images being posted - and accepted - on Facebook, that glorify and laugh at rape and other violence against women. In fact, Facebook defends the practice of allowing these picture to be posted - despite rejecting non-violent photos of breastfeeding mothers, and racist hate speech - by actually categorizing them as humor. Humor. We're talking about pictures of women drugged, beaten, thrown down stairs, tied up, and bleeding.
As the COO of Facebook, Sandberg has not officially weighed in on the #FBrape (as it's known on twitter) campaign, as far as I can tell. This, of course, is a great disappointment to many feminists who are outraged by Facebook's policy on these matters. But it also shows the limited power of corporate success, for the greater cause of improving all women's lives.
Adding insult to injury, several digital protesters have posted examples of Facebook's answer to the flagging of some of these pictures, in which they explain that - for example - a picture labeled "tape her and rape her" is not offensive according to their policies. Where is Sandberg in all this? And how much of a win for feminism is it to have this corporate climber minister to us in her acquisitive wisdom, while turning a blind eye to such misogynistic practices?
Feminism needs to divorce itself from the shackles of corporate values, in order to meet the needs of all women.
Sheryl Sandberg at World Economic Forum, WikiCommons by By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons