It’s hard for me to take the denials of the War on Women seriously, especially if they are muttered by a woman. The right can prop up anyone they chose to firmly state there’s no war, and to those of us living in the trenches, we just laugh. Cathy McMorris Rodgers telling the Republican National Committee, “There’s no truth to it” makes her look out of touch with the rest of us. Focusing on personal power and individual freedom is a nice thought and in line with the Lean In crowd, but McMorris Rodgers and Sheryl Sandberg ignore the fact that their words are fluffy cotton candy, empty of true substance and designed to make the privileged feel smugly superior about their success while giving them an easy means to look down on those who haven’t “made it” and claim that those women just don’t work hard enough, or want it bad enough, to succeed in life.
Wanting something bad doesn’t make it so–especially if you are a woman.
Misogyny is ingrained in our society. This blog post by Una Spenser nicely sets out the reasons this is so, and why it is so difficult to overcome this inherent belief. Those in power want to stay in power, and creating a “loser” as a counter to them as “winners” makes sense when you desperately want to keep the status quo and need a scapegoat to shoulder the blame for what goes wrong. Blaming the victim is easy, and people tend to go along with it (rape culture, poverty, etc.) because they truly, perhaps desperately, wish hard work granted them the benefits they see at the top. Work hard enough, and everything will fall into your lap.
This is the Lean In idea. This is the motivation behind The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Wish hard enough, work hard enough, and you will succeed. Outside interests rarely have an affect on success, it all comes from within. I laugh whenever I hear such nonsense. Hard work means nothing, and wishing will certainly bring nothing unless it’s accompanied by hard work–or luck.
For instance, Sandberg went to Harvard and her adviser, Larry Summers, hired her as his research assistant after he left the university to work at the World Bank. That led to opportunities she never would have had otherwise. Lucky her, that her adviser took her along for the ride. That’s not to say she didn’t work hard, but I know plenty of women (and men) who have advanced degrees, who worked their asses off to attain them, and can’t find work. I know plenty of people who never went to college and break their backs at three jobs trying to make ends meet because otherwise they won’t eat. I’m sure they would love to have a manager move to a different job and ask them to come along for the ride, which includes a pay raise and benefits.
But Sandberg is reluctant to observe the world outside her bubble. When asked pesky questions by bloggers that interfere with her concept of Lean In, she, and her organization, refuses to answer. There is hard work and that is all. You must want it bad enough to succeed or you won’t.
Succeeding is more difficult when you don’t have a wealthy family to back you up if you fail. Yes, Mitt Romney, we ALL have parents who can loan us $20,000 to start a business.
Sandberg, Byrne, and those like them are wealthy white elite. They seem unable to understand that not everyone has their background, their opportunities given by that background, and by pointing the finger at women who fail and telling them it was their fault, they play into the misogynistic world view held by their peers. That is why the wealthy sneer at women on welfare and ignore the hardships that brought those women to ask for government assistance. It is why they blame women for the burdens of misogyny and racism they shoulder rather than the society that placed them there. That is why, when misogyny rears its head in the workplace, it is seen as normal. Expected. Unavoidable.
This can come in the form of unequal pay, a refusal to promote women, harassment, the denial of health care…the list goes on. And on. As a society, this is an accepted norm, and it’s why the media tends to highlight the few women who have reached a seat of power in a company, because then society in general can pretend that their misogyny really doesn’t hold women back. They can pretend that the lazy women get their just desserts, and the hard-working (read “wealthy”) women succeed because of their inherent abilities. Those successful women have earned the right to lead their lives as they see fit, because they’ve proven their worth. It’s too bad for them that, in the end, their achievements do not shield them from the misogyny they propagate (the questions posed about Hilary Clinton’s ability to become president because she will have a grandchild are testament to that).