Why Women Aren’t At the Top: Slaughter v. Sandberg

In her Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, Anne-Marie Slaughter outlines the growing failure to ensure equal opportunities for all women: both in terms of professional development and personal fulfillment. One of her methods for doing so is to undercut the premises made by Facebook C.O.O. Sheryl Sandberg during her Barnard commencement speech and TED Talk. While Slaughter places most of the blame on societal half-truths and the American definition of success, Sandberg holds young women more responsible for the lack of balance. Rather than decry the half-truths that set women up for failure, she (Sandberg) points out women’s own systematic self-destruction, and a solution for advancement.

This solution—both reproachful and encouraging—echoes Slaughter’s own critique of Sandberg herself.  These women, these would-be role models, use their positions of power not only to raise questions about women’s issues, but to brazenly undercut fellow advancing women. Ultimately, Slaughter and Sandberg are guilty of an assault against the coming generation of career women, and those who choose to stay at home. Slaughter and Sandberg critique the generations of the past and future, searching for failures to point out rather than focusing on women as a collective advancing group. This perpetual cycle of criticism from generation to generation of strong women deteriorates the advances made by women thus far, and makes further advancement far more difficult.

Sandberg is not the only woman devalued by Slaughter. In Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, Slaughter references women in their late sixties and seventies “express[ing] dismay that many younger women ‘are just not willing to get out there and do it.’” (31) Similarly, she rails against the poor representation of young women represented “equally…in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders.” (32) Coupled with her thoughts on women’s competition for promotions, she sees many faults in the coming generation. Slaughter criticizes the older generation for sacrificing too much, and the younger generation for not sacrificing enough at times. By the end of the article, it is clear that women cannot have it all, unless they are among the deplorable “superhuman, rich, or self-employed.” (27) Slaughter implies that even those women who do succeed at having it all should not be extolled.

Sandberg is guilty of the same injury to her gender. In her TED talk, she accuses women of “leav[ing] before you leave,” when thoughts of marriage or starting a family begin to form. The coming generation, she says, “leans back,” fails to “dream big” and actively participate. Slaughter echoes this sentiment, “continually pushing the young women in [her] class to speak more…[to] gain the confidence to value their own insights” (48). Even successful women are not a true success until they “own success…not just succeed, but be liked for accomplishments.” (Barnard) Sandberg claims women’s success is devalued because women devalue themselves, and “underestimate [their] own abilities, which doesn’t lead to success” (TED). A woman must not only be kept in the workforce, but make herself more masculine to conform, advance, succeed, and be likable.

It is true that Sandberg and Slaughter used their platforms at the Atlantic and Barnard to search for a way for women to “have it all,” even if what it “all” is might change. Slaughter continues to rally for equality in all fields, and a change in societal values and ideas of a balanced life. But Sandberg may give young women a solution more compatible (however cynical) to the world in which we live—adaptation instead of growth. Finally, at the end of each woman’s diatribe about her peers, solutions are presented.

At what cost? These women, by tearing fellows’ ideas apart, critiquing other women trying to find the same solution, and touting their own ideas as the solution for all women may do more harm to the feminist cause than good. In fighting each other’s ideas, these women forget that they are on the same side. I’m reminded of the split of the suffrage movement, and the wasted time and resources of a group supposedly dedicated to advancement. If Sandberg and Slaughter truly aim for equality, they must lead by example and create equality and respect among all women before it is created among genders.

Why Women Aren’t At the Top: Slaughter v. Sandberg

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