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Resounding silence from Sheryl Sandberg


dove, facebook, remove ads, women's rightsShe should have used her feminist influence to address gender-based hate speech on Facebook.

When Sheryl Sandberg’s book  – Lean In – was released earlier this year, there was a great furore about how wonderful it was that a feminist had finally reached the dizzy heights of board membership of Facebook.

According to Guardian writer Zoe Williams, in ‘Lean In’, Sandberg – who has been chief operating officer for Facebook since 2008 –  says that women hold themselves back because of a raft of factors: social expectation, a lack of domestic assertiveness, and a sense that, from the minute women reach maturity, they are forward-planning for their own subservience.

Kate Losse, previously a Facebook employee, also wrote an interesting review and feels that the book’s goal is ‘to push women forward into their work so as to overcome … women’s universal internal resistance to career velocity’.

And Losse said that Sandberg assumes that the feminist question is ‘ how can I be a more successful worker?’

Losse also pointed out that the book does not offer a structural feminist critique of the workplace, preferring instead to focus on the work that women need to do within themselves in order to get ahead.

It is at this point that I have to admit to not having read the book myself.

I know very well what held me back from being on the board of a major organisation – namely my gender and all that comes with it; from being a working class girl who was never encouraged to aim for a career to no possibility of university and then being a single parent, to name just a few.

But more pertinently, as one of WVoN’s organisers of a campaign in 2011 aimed at getting Facebook to take responsibility for adhering to its own community guidelines, I found the praise that Sandberg was getting for the book and her success somewhat nauseating.

In my view, a woman making it to the top is not news unless she uses her influence to change things for the better for other women.

If she does not, she is nothing more than a corporate drone.

Responses to this line of thought have included me being firmly told by one blogger that just because a woman is successful, she shouldn’t be held accountable for the position of the rest of us who are languishing in the shallows.

I beg to differ.

The latest campaign against Facebook’s irresponsibility regarding its own guidelines, using the hashtag #FBrape, took off in a big way, fuelled by 60,000 tweets, over 5000 emails and a number of advertisers pulling their ads from the site.

Sadly, Sky, American Express, Dove – which promotes its products as empowering women – and others were not included in this list.

However, Facebook did listen: see WAM and Facebook’s statements here.

But, going back to Zoe William’s point – that Sandberg thinks women hold themselves back because of social expectations, a lack of domestic assertiveness, and subservience: hmm, now let me think – could Facebook be perpetuating and reflecting the very problems that Sandberg exhorts women to get over?

Could upsetting images of domestic abuse on Facebook, frequently found ‘not to have violated Facebook’s standards’, have anything to do with ‘a lack of domestic assertiveness’?

Could being exposed to extreme and violent misogynistic images hosted on one of the world’s largest social media platforms have anything to do with women finding it difficult to overcome ‘societal expectations’ – namely that we are nothing more than objects for the male gaze?

Could Sandberg’s own organisation – and she sits on the board – be playing a part in the perpetuation of the cultural and societal norms that dictate that women are still seen as ‘less than’ when compared to men?

My take would be yes, yes and yes.

And so, Sheryl Sandberg, I exhort you – woman to woman – to sit at your next board meeting and drag the men that you work with kicking and screaming into the 21st century by outlining to them that women are people and gender-based hate speech has no place on your platform.

As you yourself stated in your book ‘more female leadership will lead to fairer treatment for all women.’

Really Sheryl?  Really?

Let her know what you think: @sherylsandberg

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