Megyn Kelly and the Sandberg Head Shaker
Megyn Kelly’s "Kelly File" is a great news show. She’s incisive, informed and customarily handles the toughest guest with aplomb. But her lengthy interview of Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg about her second book in the Lean In series Lean In: For Graduates was a head shaker. Amazing that she of all people allowed Sandberg to restring the same old, same old, shamed, and shopworn feminist myths about women and girls and then jangle it in front of her viewing audience like something new out of the box.
Indeed Kelly all but genuflected in front of this woman. Kept her on thru more than one segment and just let her crank. And when Megyn did push Sandberg about the feminist’s relevance in today’s world; e.g. the blithe acceptance of the wilding of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and other conservative females or the alienation of many women by gratuitous displays like Gloria Steinem posing in an “I Had An Abortion” tee shirt and she ducked the questions, Kelly let her slide right back into her comfort zone. “Men have run this country for far too long”, “we have to find a way to come together”, “different messages for women start early”, people “expect men to be leaders and women help others”, “…women second shift and men don’t…”, “as men get more successful, they are liked more. As women get more successful, they are liked less.”
All very trite. And predictable because if Kelly’s producers looked they would have quickly found Cristina Hoff Sommers’ stunning piece in the Atlantic about Ms. Sandberg’s first Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The following quote is a good summary of her conclusions.
“… this otherwise likeable and inspirational self-help book has a serious flaw: It is mired in 1970s-style feminism. Nation magazine columnist Katha Pollitt compares Sandberg to "someone who's just taken Women's Studies 101 and wants to share it with her friends." What Pollitt intends as a compliment goes to the heart of what is wrong with Lean In.”
Or go to Pollitt’s piece yourself (an admirer of Sheryl Sandberg) and get this snapshot of the book:
“She cites study after study showing that the deck is stacked against women: discrimination is real, the old boy network is real, the difficulties of raising children while working full time are real. She constantly talks about the need for men to be equal partners at home and to support women at work.”
“Did you know that women apply for jobs only when they are 100 percent qualified, but men apply at 60 percent? That even incredibly accomplished women think they’re frauds about to be found out? That women are caught in a double bind between femininity and ambition?”
The point being (and it’s not Ms. Pollitt’s) that for anybody whose memory reaches back a couple of decades, there’s not much new here.
And so one can’t help but get the impression that Megyn was cowed less by the stale content than by the fact that Sandberg is C.O.O. of Facebook. Oh my God, the C.O.O. of Facebook!
So let’s discuss that. Because besides getting her ticket punched by all the usual suspects, the Nationals Honors Society, Harvard, World Bank and looking good on the Board of Directors, what is there about Sheryl Sandberg’s career which other women can emulate? After all she wrote (or rather co-wrote) a book which sold a million copies, and inspired 2600 mostly very favorable reviews on Amazon.Certainly we can learn something from it, from her? From her career?
Well, I’m not going to read either of her books to find out, but in listening to her on Fox the only take-away I took away was that in her opinion women should employ a better range of techniques in order to advance in an organization. She didn’t explain what she’s done at Facebook to justify her success. She didn’t advocate women design some effective new marketing program, write some unique software, invent something useful, turn a losing business around and dramatically improve its bottom line in order to get promoted. None of those things, just more effective technique.
The lesson seeming to be that you can let men found a business -- as Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, Steve Jobs, Apple, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Microsoft or moving back a few years J.P. Morgan, U.S. Steel, Henry Ford, Ford and then you -- as a woman, a “powerful woman”, the “only woman in the room” -- can ride the levers of power in those organizations right to the top. Become a billionaire.
Which, when you lay it out like that, is one hell of a message for a feminist to be flogging. A fact commented on in some of those same reviews.
But is it a career path? Something which may be emulated? I guess. Although a certain amount of caution is in order because there are only a few Zuckerbergs out there ready and able to pluck your plucky little self out of obscurity. Or looking at it from another angle, very few women out there are able to sustain the hypocrisy involved in making statements like “men have run this country far too long” and organizing a career around having men advance you.
And so, some among those million or so women who bought her book looking for some practical self-help must be really browned off. Most particularly because Ms. Sandberg has little or nothing to say to women entrepreneurs, an issue also raised in those Amazon reviews.
Women after all now own roughly twenty percent of all businesses in the United States, that is, nearly eight million enterprises. And in every one of them, the women bosses can work out their own maternity arrangements, don’t have to worry about finessing male superiors or developing confrontational inside the organization techniques. In fact the appearance of these female owned businesses is the main reason Ms. Sandberg’s 1970s feminism seems so dated.
Indeed, one could conclude that most women today aren’t interested in the establishment tiara Sandberg spent her life modeling for. Instead they’re validating themselves, offering products and services which actually create wealth, building a customer base, studying the market they’ve chosen. Doing real things on their own. Tangible things. Fun things.
Forging their own sword, one might say. Not looking to finesse a man’s.
So maybe in the interest of being fair and balanced, Megyn Kelly might consider interviewing some of these paladins. Bring the viewers some really compelling, timely and much more relevant stories.
She won’t even need a Prie Dieu.
Richard F. Miniter is the author of The Things I Want Most, Random House, BDD. He lives and writes in the colonial era hamlet of Stone Ridge, New York, blogs at richardfminiterblog.com and can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org