A couple years ago, I read No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power by Gloria Feldt, the former CEO of Planned Parenthood. While reading the recent criticism all over the internet of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, I thought of Feldt’s similar book. I couldn’t remember a feminist backlash against that author. Was I remembering Feldt’s thesis incorrectly?
Here is how No Excuses is described on Amazon:
In No Excuses, feminist icon Gloria Feldt argues that the most confounding problem facing women today isn’t that doors aren’t open, but that not enough women are walking through them.
Whoaa– Feldt wrote about that? Did feminists freak out?
From the boardroom to the bedroom, public office to personal relationships, she asserts that nobody is keeping women from parity — except themselves.
OK, that’s not a true statement about the world, obviously, and having read the book, from what I remember, that is not what Feldt writes either. In the book, Feldt teaches women how to think about power in a different way in order to embrace it. For example, she talks about how women, having been on the bad end of the power spectrum for so long, often identify power negatively, as “power over,” as dominance. Feldt encourages women to, instead, look at power as “power to,” as competence.
The synopsis goes on:
Through interviews, historical perspective, and anecdotes, examines why barriers to gender equality still exist in American society and discusses how to break them down through organized efforts using movement-building principles.
Ah…this sentence seems seems more ambiguous than the last one. Barriers still exist. The book discusses how to break them down with organized efforts and movement building.
Feldt employs a no-nonsense, tough-love point of view to expose the internal and external roadblocks holding women back, but she doesn’t place blame; rather, she provides inspiration, hope, and courage — as well as concrete “power tools” to aid women in securing equality and justice for themselves — articulated with personal warmth and humor. No Excuses is a timely and invaluable book that helps women equalize gender power in politics, work, and love.
So does this thesis sound familar to you? Can you imagine if Sandberg called her book No Excuses? She’d be tarred and feathered, which she basically has been, in our contemporary way. Sandberg was quoted out of context in the New York Times and Washington Post, not to mention all over the internet, to make her seem like a selfish bitch.
The Washington Post piece is headlined:
Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ campaign holds little for most women
Here’s the lede:
”She had it all — a husband, children, a beautiful home, a seat on the board of a billion-dollar company, a nine-figure net worth of her own. But there was one thing Sheryl Sandberg didn’t have. “I always thought I would run a social movement,” Sandberg said in the PBS/AOL documentary series “Makers.”
But Sandberg wasn’t actually saying she wrote a book because she wants a new toy. Her quote is from a documentary, “Makers,” when she was being interviewed about her career. Sandberg explained that she always thought that she would work at a non-profit and not in the private sector. Here’s the full quote:
I always thought I would run a social movement, which meant basically work at a nonprofit. I never thought I’d work in the corporate sector.
The New York Times printed a correction. The Washington Post has not.
As Gloria Steinem wrote on her Facebook page in her defense of Sandberg: “Only in women is success viewed as a barrier to giving advice.”
Sandberg did what feminists are always asking powerful women in business and politics to do – stand up for gender equality – which is why it’s so disappointing to see many in the feminist camp essentially telling her to shut up and sit down.
Feldt started out as a teen mom from rural Texas. Most of us know Sandberg as a rich exec at Facebook. So is class bias a good reason to determine that Sandberg has nothing to say to help America’s women? On the contrary. Didn’t anyone just watch “Makers” for goodness sake? History has shown that when feminism can’t overcome its own prejudices, the move forward is much slower than it needs to be.