After an era of cowed silence, noted fair-weather feminist and Facebook demigod Sheryl Sandberg finally spoke up!
Sandberg had not objected to the Trump administration — clearly an affront to her values, the values that have sold more than two million copies of Lean In — but late this week she posted on her platform of choice to decry Trump’s day one expanded global gag rule. That law will yank foreign aid from any nongovernmental organization that so much as discusses abortion as an option with patients. And yes, for anyone with even a passing interest in women’s health, that policy is bad. Sandberg is right about that part! So, um, about that Women’s March.
Sandberg’s only other recent Facebook posts concern a feel-good story about a long-distance swimmer (hashtagged #LeanIn) and a politically defanged feel-good story about a Syrian refugee Olympian, the latter on the eve of the inauguration. On January 21, the day of the unequivocally historic Women’s March, Sandberg didn’t appear in public, nor did she express her support. Instead, she withdrew comfortably into the same “deafening post-November silence” that for many women in tech isn’t going unnoticed.
The streets filled with women from every walk of life, but for Sandberg, who built her personal brand — and some of her fortune — around a particularly virulent strain of apolitical white feminism, it appears to have been all too political. (Sheryl, if you read this, pick up some bell hooks!)
Still, she makes time for closed-door meetings with Trump, just like the rest of Silicon Valley’s groveling elite.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos just days before the inauguration of an administration openly hostile to women, Sandberg mustered up only a few hilariously anemic insights about gender disparity, none rooted in the very real events unfolding around her, insulated as she may be by fame and wealth.
As Fortune reports:
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday narrowed her fight for gender equality to a single enemy: gender stereotypes in advertising.
“I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how important stereotypes are,” she said at a panel in Davos, Switzerland, where the annual World Economic Forum is being held this week. The problem is “at the root of the gender gap we face,” she said.
Thursday, she explained her opposition to the global gag rule in a Facebook post, stepping very carefully among perceived political landmines:
(Notably, Trump, or rather Pence, who Sandberg was seated next to just a few weeks prior, has expanded the rule to an “unprecedented degree,” applying it to all global health funds.)
You know what’s less controversial than taking a strong stand against domestic policy? Taking one for all those women in other countries who will be affected by a policy that, while deeply bad, is hardly exceptional situated in the context of the Trump administration. Though it does jibe well with her personal brand of do-gooder imperialism, not unique among Silicon Valley types.
One week into the Trump administration, it appears to be her only objection (if it isn’t, please get in touch!). Given its long straightforwardly partisan track record, Sandberg’s statement against the global gag rule is far less controversial than denouncing any number of other truly very alarming things happening under Trump because her criticism is aimed at Pence and the GOP establishment. Facebook doesn’t really need anything from them.
As Vox explains:
The global gag rule has become something of a political seesaw since Ronald Reagan first implemented it in 1984 at a United Nations population conference in Mexico City (which is why it’s also called the “Mexico City policy”). Bill Clinton repealed it immediately when he took office. George W. Bush immediately reinstated it when he took office. Then Barack Obama immediately repealed.
Indeed, Pence is the one hung up on abortion — Trump’s just along for the ride. Sandberg’s business dealings and tax repatriation skittishness concern Trump, not his far more ideological vice president.
It’s true that this is more of that liberal infighting you keep hearing about. But the truth of the matter is that as a feminist, it’s perfectly acceptable to hold other feminists to certain standards. Particularly ones in positions of vast power that at times find themselves seated next to arguably the most powerful man in the country (hint: it’s Pence!). And ones that have sold millions of books promoting a diluted form of feminism that might have got us here in the first place. Oh, and ones making a fortune off of a sandbox for fake news stories, or as Sandberg playfully likes to call them, “hoaxes.”
Sandberg’s is not an intersectional feminism, nor is it really feminism at all. Like much Silicon Valley hypocrisy, it’s lip service that never quite takes it to the next level. Leveraging your particular strain of politically expedient pseudo-feminism to sell books is fine and all, but don’t expect us not to call you out — not when you have a literal seat at the most powerful table in the world.