First, she was slammed for being too rich and too white to write Lean In or champion a social movement. Now, Sheryl Sandberg is getting heat for identifying as feminist, but still not being feminist enough. Both times, it was by other feminists.
Why do we insist on putting ourselves in double binds? Powerful women are pointed out for being powerful, but then are deemed as unfit for feminism when they don’t use that powerful correctly, even when these women have taken strong stands on several gender-related issues throughout most of their career. PolicyMic writer Lauren Rankins recently devalued Sandberg’s contributions to workplace equality because she hadn’t taken the time to tweet about Facebook’s lack of a hate speech policy, which has allowed for the proliferation of misogynistic content.
Sheryl Sandberg has used feminist networks to promote her book and organization, but when it comes to actual feminist activism and groundwork, her loyalties remain with a corporation, not genuine activist change.
So let’s get this straight. Facebook has already publicly agreed to review these policies while working with women’s groups. Sandberg has created a successful personal campaign encouraging more women to lead at work, and more men to lead at home. And unless her personal accounts in Lean In are a total sham, she’s putting her money where her mouth is. She may have chosen to exert her influence more privately or give her input in private meetings, informal chats with colleagues, or in absolutely any other way than social media. As Facebook’s leading feminist, it seems unlikely that she was not at least consulted about a plan of action.
Yet because she didn’t take a minute out of her C-level day to make a tweet, she’s somehow not a real activist, much less a feminist activist.
Sandberg is not a hypocrite for not speaking up where we could all hear it. She’s just human. A powerful one, but like us, she also only has 24 hours in her day, and kids to go to home to after work. You are not a bad mother, employee, or feminist just because you need to have a life outside of these identities, as Gender Studies 101 taught us.
Rankins has also previously called for Ms. Magazine readers to stop questioning whether Beyonce was feminist enough to be on that magazine in the first place, though she does only seem to be defending coloured women from white ones, while Rankins herself goes onto downplay the contributions of another white woman. Contrary to popular belief, just because two people are of the same race doesn’t mean bigotry can’t happen. Just look at Hong Kong and Singapore’s attitudes towards China.
Throughout popular culture, all kinds of women who sort of identify with feminist politics while not having all the right academic thoughts get constantly questioned by cool feminist blogs whether they are “feminist enough.” Tina Fey is a classic example, whose fem-cred dipped as 30 Rock progressed, but then skyrocketed again with the release of Bossypants. Lena Dunham’s show was promptly scowled at for being “white girl feminism,” its achievements hardly looked at with the same kind of scrutiny. Low representation of feminists among our celebrities causes us to idealize the ones that do exist. We hold them to higher standards, but when they fail to keep up, we try to snatch away their identity and downplay their contribution.
There isn’t a clear line where “us” becomes “them”, so don’t waste time looking for it. Focus on the big picture. Focus on our side. Focus on celebrating anyone who fights for us rather than smacking them down for not winning perfectly.