If Alexis de Tocqueville were alive today, he would be fascinated by the emergence of a new political “association”: the rise of female entrepreneurs of the highest level, who lament inequalities facing women today and have made it their public purpose to push for women’s “success.”
From the Tory Burch Foundation’s Empowering Women conference to Mika Brzezinski’s Know Your Value program to the World Economic Forum, women leaders in politics, business, media, fashion, and technology regularly gather to talk about how women need to stand up to implicit (and explicit) bias in the workplace, resist the urge to fall into traditional roles, and better “embrace ambition.”
Most recently Facebook COO and new-famed women’s right’s activist Sheryl Sandberg spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. During the session Progress Towards Parity she made the startling statement that “we have a toddler wage gap.” Explaining further she noted: “We assign our chores to our children in the United States, and it can be worse in other parts of the world …The boys are taking out the trash, it takes less time than cleaning the dishes and they get bigger allowances. We start out in our homes with these very different expectations and the time spent on these tasks is incredibly important.”
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that Sandberg is grasping at straws in a quest to stay relevant. Do we really think that asking our sons to take the garbage out and asking our daughter’s to help set the dinner table is reinforcing negative gender stereotypes? Is it really telling our daughters they can “only” be early childhood educators but not Wall Street titans? Is it telling our sons that they can get away with less work for the same “pay?”
To put this into context, time and time and time again, I’ve been sympathetic to Sandberg’s message to women that they should “Lean In” to work. I’ve applauded her for stressing ways women can better help themselves succeed in the professional arena, without an emphasis on government. And I have criticized traditional feminists who accuse Sandberg of being a “pompom girl for feminism.” Initially she had a message that ought to have resonated with all women – from the stay at home mom trying to find purpose in her new life as mother to the woman headed toward the c-suite.
Were he alive today, de Tocqueville would certainly acknowledge that women – who even in the early 19th century he recognized occupied “a loftier position” than anywhere else in the world – have enjoyed more educational, professional, and financial success than ever before. Still for this “Female Entrepreneurs Club” success is still described as forever remaining an arms-length away. They’ve taken a page from gender feminists and are never satisfied with women’s choices or their success. For these women it’s not sufficient that more women graduate medical school than men, because too many choose to be pediatricians rather than surgeons. It’s not enough that more women elect to be veterinarians than men – because not enough women are coders in Silicon Valley. And it’s not enough that women are choosing to do just about everything, because in Brzezinski’s words, for instance, women still “get in our own way.”
The goal posts in this new feminist paradigm continue to shift. No longer is it sufficient for women to pursue their interests in business, medicine, law or media; but we must in fact being making choices that lead to parity—equal numbers of men and women in all walks of life.
This ignores simple fact that, on average, men and women – no matter how balanced the circumstances – have different strengths and preferences, and are going to make different choices.
Sandberg needs to accept that most women don’t want to be leaders at a Fortune 100 company. Not long ago Pew Research found that only 23 percent of working moms would choose to work full time if it were an option. The reality is that most women have to work. Many want to pursue careers and be successful; but many also want to have some balance in their lives, see their families, and perhaps even enjoy some of the domestic arts of cooking and keeping their home in order that Sandberg almost certainly looks down on.
Sandberg and her fellow female entrepreneurs should spend a little less time misstating facts about the so-called “wage gap” and more time going back to her original message: that asserting oneself – whether at home or in the workplace – staying focused on specific goals, and building important relationships will help all women succeed in what they choose to do.
Sabrina Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.