March 7 2013
Why are feminists on the left so angered by women like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer? Or Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg? What is it about these C-suite successes that make them the ire of Maureen Dowd or Joanne Bamberger?
Americans have been led to believe that the modern feminist movement is about freedom, equality under the law, and the right to make choices – an equation with many different variables and endless outcomes. But more and more traditional feminists today are angry when women fail to make the choices – or say the things – they think women should.
We’re accustomed to feminist icons like Linda Hirshman and Gloria Feldt scoffing at the “stay-at-home” mom – a snub of their feminist forbearers and a sign that the women’s movement has still only seen limited success. No one was surprised, for instance, when women’s activist Hilary Rosen suggested Ann Romney “had never worked a day in her life.” For these women, choosing to be a wife and mother rather than pursue a high-powered career was simply not an acceptable choice.
But the tides have shifted. Now the career woman who has focused almost exclusively on building her professional credentials (and we all know you don’t rise to elite corporate positions without sacrificing family) is the target of recent feminist frustration. Suddenly women on the left are bashing high-level professional women as elitist, unable to sympathize with the problems of real working women.
Certainly women like Mayer and Sandberg are the outliers. In 2011, 47 percent of the workforce was composed of women, and there’s only a very small universe of top-level corporate positions; but what is it that makes feminists so angry with these female leaders?
Dowd refers to Sandberg as the “Pompom girl for feminism.” And Bamberger complains in USA Today, “even if they have good intentions” Sandberg and Mayer “are setting back the cause of working mothers. Sandberg’s argument, that equality in the workplace just requires women to pull themselves up by the Louboutin straps . . . is just as damaging as Mayer’s office-only work proclamation.”
Yet Sandberg has been an unwavering supporter of women, imploring them to “take a seat at the table,” negotiate salaries, and not leave the workplace before they have to. Feminists ought to embrace her message of strength and independence, in which she gives women the “agency” women’s history professors could only dream of.
Similarly feminists are crucifying Mayer for her recent policy eliminating telecommuting – as if the policy at Yahoo! is going to refashion the totality of American workplace culture. Of course this alarmism comes on the heels of outrage over the results of a study out of the University of Texas at Austin, which found workers who telecommute actually work more hours than their colleagues in the office – another apparent injustice to women workers everywhere.
These hysterical responses are clearly about something more than gender equality or creating a fair and equal workplace. Women like Dowd or Bamberger are not concerned about such traditional goals of “feminism” – they’re merely striking a feminist pose in defense of their real agenda: a bigger government controlling more of our economy and society.
When Sandberg instructs women to take control over their choices, or Mayer makes difficult corporate policies, they undermine the progressives’ raison d’etre. The independence and real feminism Sandberg and Mayer represent flies in the face of the collective activism, gender-based politics, and expanded government that progressives really seek to advance. “Feminism” is a mask, as well as a weapon, for the advance of the state – and it’s an effective one.
Let’s face it: feminists today are pretending to fight wars that were won long ago. Clearly the world isn’t perfect; but women in America are equal under the law; they have access to all the educational and professional opportunities men do; and, as AEI’s Christina Hoff Sommers has argued, if anyone is hurting these days it’s boys and men.
Where one would expect feminists to proclaim victory – women surging to the top of America’s largest corporations – they see oppression and cause for another battle. But once the feminist pose is revealed, the fury over successful career women makes all the sense in the world. This is not about women’s rights – it’s about winning the next victory for progressivism.