Home > rant > WTF happened to feminism?!

WTF happened to feminism?!

March 6, 2013

I usually don’t talk about feminism per se, because honestly I usually don’t think about it. Thanks to role models like my mom, who was an MIT co-ed in the ’60’s and an original nerd, helping develop the internet at Bolt Beranek and Newman and teaching computer science at UMass Boston, I’ve never for one second doubted my personal right to be a thoughtful, argumentative, and ambitious woman. I learned from my mom, and from other trailblazers, that I can pursue my personal interests and trust that the world will welcome my contributions.

Two events in the past week have made me think about how confusing this message has become for today’s growing girls, however.

First, the Sheryl Sandberg thing. To be honest, I haven’t read the book. But I have read this Washington Post article describing the book, and here’s my take on it: a corporate branding campaign loosely tied to women, but mostly pushing forward the agenda of how to be a company drone. From the article:

Sandberg’s understanding of leadership so perfectly internalizes the power structures of institutions created and dominated by men that it cannot conceive of women’s leadership outside of those narrow spaces. Does this also explain why, for Sandberg, the biggest threat to our ability to occupy a position of leadership is a woman’s desire to have a child? This is what men have been telling us for years.

Sandberg may miss so many women in her movement simply because her brand of gender equity is almost entirely privatized, doled out from employer to employee. Women, she advises, will find their way to the top through telling employers upfront about their childbearing plans, through learning how to negotiate pay raises (say “we” instead of “I,” Sandberg cautions, though the collective here is the corporation), through comportment exercises, as taught through Lean In’s web videos.

Like I said in this post, wouldn’t an actual feminist agenda include saying “The hell with this!” to a corporation that is so stifling that all our imaginations could bring us is better maternity leave negotiation tactics with the Borg? Resistance is futile, man!

Here’s the second thing that pissed me off this week. Harvard MBA Rachel Greenwald tells women what makes men not call back after a date.

Answer? As it turns out, anything where you have an opinion and they feel intimidated by you. Solution? Dumb it down, sex it up, and act like a toy. That way, in her words, you’ll be empowered, because they’re all calling you back, and the choice is yours. The choice, I’d add, from a long list of wimps. No thank you.

The video:

Can we do better than this, people??

Categories: rant
  1. Leon Kautsky
  2. March 6, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Perhaps Rachel Greenwald’s advice to “dumb it down” has nothing to do with sex at all; rather, empowering others to feel more intelligent, in control, or attractive, makes people warm up to you you because you make them feel better about themselves. It’s also possible this behavior does not just make people feel better, it makes people better. Presumably this works because it instills confidence in people. Does confidence motivate people to persevere through tough problems when learning? Do more confident people have better body language and smile more, actually making them more attractive? Regardless, if the sexes were reversed in the above scenario, you’d likely find the same desire.


    • March 6, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Oh please. Point me to the video telling men to soften their posture, to use qualifying words like “I think” or “maybe” to appear less assertive in order to attract women, and then we can talk.


      • Leon Kautsky
        March 6, 2013 at 9:04 am

        Probably because the example you gave is malicious advice.


      • March 6, 2013 at 10:22 am

        No kidding!

        Women: if you are in the market for a decent boyfriend/husband, don’t go to self-serving “experts” for advice, and don’t take advice from your single women friends. Go talk to women who are married to men like the one you hope to meet, and listen to what they have to say. It won’t sound anything like that video.


        • Kaleberg
          March 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm

          That’s excellent advice.


      • March 6, 2013 at 11:13 am

        The closest thing I’ve found is using “softened startups” when discussing contentious issues. It’s not about attracting the opposite sex, but rather maintaining relationships.

        I don’t know if you’ve followed or read about John Gottman at all, but he can pretty accurately predict marriage success from just watching 15 minutes of a couple’s interaction.

        Click to access 6signs.pdf


    • March 6, 2013 at 10:53 am

      The key issue for me in this scenario is that in order for a man to feel confident, a woman has to debase herself. Thus, women willing to do this are participating in a charade. They are living a lie. They are strong and intelligent, but their man is too weak to partner with them. He must have a weakling partner, so they pretend to be that weakling. This is a very sad situation indeed. I feel compassion for both such individuals.


      • March 6, 2013 at 10:55 am

        Thanks for so perfectly articulating what’s so fucked up about this.


  3. March 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Another great post. I think you hit on one of the most important factors for women (or men)…their role models and mentors. My mom was at home when I was growing up, but she taught me to speak my mind and talk to everyone. Sometimes I find her example getting me in trouble, but it’s too much a part of me now to change.

    I think the bigger issue missing from the Sandberg piece (I am going to ignore the lovely video for now) is that women bring a diverse set of skills and aspirations to the workplace. Some women morph well into the typical male model, but many don’t, don’t want to, and shouldn’t have to to be productive. Women won’t always contribute in the same way to work as men do (and honestly there’s way more diversity of contribution within genders than across) and yet it bothers me to see the more female-typical contributions, like consensus-building, cooperation, negotiation downgraded relative to the male-typical contributions, like competition, risk-taking, arguing. Both have their value. I worry with Sandberg’s Lean In training that the meetings I attend would devolve into shouting matches…without some Lean Out (or listening) training for men (and the ‘lady bosses’).

    There is no a one-size-fits all solution and I worry when the feminism debates sound like it is.


  4. JimH
    March 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

    It’s not a video, it’s a book. A classic, in fact. Everyone knows the title: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. No matter how knowledgeable you are, if your delivery is rude the message won’t be received. There’s still a difference between “assertive” and “aggressive,” the former being the way to go in most situations.


    • March 6, 2013 at 9:21 am

      Jim, did you watch the video Cathy posted? … not the book you cited? Greenwald encourages women to make themselves appear “vulnerable” which is a step beyond toning down aggressive. I think there’s some truth to her deeper message…if you approach relationships like work projects you are going to have some trouble connecting, a gender neutral piece of advice. But the presentation in the video, unless trying to be funny, was a bit much.


      • JimH
        March 7, 2013 at 9:31 am

        Yeah, I did. “Curry, how can you not like curry?” That’s rude, especially in the tone she said it. How about a simple “Curious, why don’t you like curry?” in a simple questioning tone instead? I definitely agree that her advice went too far, though. Somewhere in between is where I think the appropriate balance is struck. I’m focused on the verbal aspect here, and skipping the clothing issue entirely.

        Just about everyone I meet could use a refresher on the fundamental principles from Carnegie’s classic. We waste an awful lot of time and energy on poor communications.

        On a personal level, I strongly prefer intelligent people who can state an opinion clearly and succinctly, regardless of gender. Unfortunately I find that trait rare, which is why I enjoy Cathy’s blog.


    • March 6, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Irrelevant for three reasons. First, there’s a huge difference between “rude or aggressive” and “assertive” – I would have no problem with someone telling anyone not to be rude or aggressive, but I definitely _do_ have a problem being told not to make declarative sentences.

      Second, it’s not about dating, it’s about negotiation and salesmanship. Big difference.

      Third, it’s not written for men only, unless I’m mistaken.


      • JimH
        March 7, 2013 at 9:38 am

        Declarative sentences are fine unless delivered rudely or laced with sarcasm.

        Carnegie’s classic isn’t about negotiation or salesmanship, it’s about relationships in any context. There is a slant toward business in the later chapters, but it’s great fundamental advice that has stood for decades.

        True, it’s not for men only. But I don’t think we should be giving advice to women that’s different from advice to men. Depending on your interpretation of feminism, that may or may not seem like far enough.

        Love your blog! I think we’d converse just fine in person.


  5. sekunder
    March 6, 2013 at 9:15 am

    OK, I stopped watching that video about halfway in, after the “How can you not like curry?” example. Holy shit, that guy, and Rachel Greenwald, need to jump off a cliff, or something. “You don’t like [thing]? How can you not like [thing]?!” can equally well be interpreted as passion for [thing], not this stupid “argumentative over little things that don’t matter” bullshit they’ve got going on. OK, Rant over.

    So, Have you heard of pick-up artists? It’s a… movement? I’m not quite sure what to call it, in particular because I don’t know the collective noun for a group of idiots. The best summary I can give is, it’s men who “think women are sex safes, that can be cracked with the right code.” If you’ve ever heard of “negging,” you’ve heard of pick-up artists. The gist of it is, websites/books/twitter accounts/courier pigeons bear messages claiming that with the right combination of asininity, you can have sex with women.

    I bring them up because to some extent I’m seeing something sort of similar here. It’s very much got the vibe of “there’s a secret code to getting men to call you back! You just have to use the right combination of asininity!” Basically, it’s people preying on other’s insecurity (about getting laid). Assuming that these “techniques” work, in either direction, you’re absolutely right: you’ll be dating wimps and idiots.

    That said, I have no finished watching the video and it’s as awful as I thought. It left me with a feeling of “does this actually work?” Sort of the same vibe I get from pick-up artists: “what sort of idiot believes this works?”

    Of course then I come to the ultimate conclusion, which makes me kind of sad: Both pick-up artists and this video are basically just good old-fashioned misogyny, or whatever you want to call it. The existence of these things doesn’t make anyone look good.


  6. Lee Stephanie
    March 6, 2013 at 9:42 am

    We sure can try to do better. But I’ve never rbeen married & now 64 (‘will you still love me when…?’ on DailyKos.com). For years always surprised when men of all types (or did I keep geting same type?) declared at some point usually in passionate political discussion: ‘You scare me!’) Never take advice of girly bs! You’ll only get boy bs calling back. Too bad woman who gave this advice is one of many who I, apparently, also ‘scare.’


  7. Rama
    March 6, 2013 at 9:49 am

    That video was ridiculous. If I had seen it out of context, I would have assumed it was a spoof.


  8. March 6, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Video was advice from “the horse’s mouth.” Meant for horses.


    • March 6, 2013 at 10:44 am

      Charles, you made my day.


  9. John
    March 6, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    A couple of comments: Be yourself and eventually you will find someone you want to be with. That said, in the examples Rachel shared there were two inconsiderate behaviors. 1) Making a big deal about the curry. Showing some basic empathy for others’ tastes and feelings goes a long way, whether one is male or female. 2) being constantly tethered to electronics. Those of us who did not grow up with the current crop of gadgets find that inconsiderate. But this isn’t new – when my wife and I were in grad school, her prof. would always answer the phone during their meetings – and not just schedule a return call. She finally gave up scheduling meetings and just phoned him…


    • March 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Agreed. But let’s be clear, there’s a huge difference between texting while you wait for someone to show up on a date and texting during dinner. And why is the guy late, anyway?


      • JimH
        March 7, 2013 at 9:52 am

        Absolutely! Getting things done while you’re waiting is good time management. Ignoring the person you’re with to attend to something else is rude, and should only be done in emergencies. Some people do use this sort of thing to try to lower a person’s self esteem. As others have noted already, though, it backfires when the target is thoughtful.

        I must admit I’m anti-feminist in this area: a gentleman should/would never leave his date waiting for him.


        • JSE
          March 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm

          Were you under the impression that feminists think men should show up late for their dates?


  10. aalasti
    March 6, 2013 at 12:14 pm
  11. March 6, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I was raised by a single mother with a large vocabulary who nurtured my innate curiosity for words by leaving hefty dictionaries around the house and directing me toward them regularly. As a result I have a life-long love affair with all things linguistic: poetry, hip hop, learning new languages, etc. I would think that any personal passion would be an asset in a dating setting, but to my surprise I have discovered that my vocabulary is a deterrent to most men. How many times have I been told by a man on a first date during what I consider normal conversation, “Can you use smaller words?” As often as this has happened, I’m flummoxed every time. I want to retort, “Can you use a dictionary? There’s an app for your iphone,” but I understand that would end the exchange rather quickly. I marvel at the expectation that I should dumb it down, and recognize that for most potential male partners, my looks are more important to them than my troublesome intelligence. The problem, of course, is power, which neither Rachel Greenwald nor Sheryl Sandberg names or addresses. I wish Rachel Greenwald had conducted exit interviews from the 1,000 women leaving those dates to see whether they even wanted to be called back by men who would undermine their intellects.


    • March 6, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Next time can you use the dictionary line and I’ll stand behind you and videotape the event? Pretty please???


    • JimH
      March 7, 2013 at 9:56 am

      A good vocabulary is a serious turn on! Keep looking, not all guys are shallow and stupid (… and lazy and rude). Not all the intelligent ones are geeky, either. I happen to be a triathlete, too, though I was pretty geeky in my youth.


    • P
      March 13, 2013 at 11:23 am

      I’m guessing being put off by people using obscure words is a not a sexist thing. I don’t like people of either gender that try to show they are better “educated” than the person they talk to.


  12. Rethinkecon
    March 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    On the bright side, Rachel didn’t come out in favor of women becoming anorexic or cutting themselves in order to get called back. Maybe that’ll be in her sequel?

    That was one of the most vile videos I have seen in quite a while. Ew, we, ew, ewwww!!

    What she should’ve said was, I interviewed a bunch of guys on they didn’t call back, and what I learned was that… we need to bring back a full throttle feminist movement! Because holy cr@p there are a lotta guys out there who can’t deal with strong women. Here are 5 strategies for changing this situation in the long run. For ex, maybe we need something like the anti-bullying school campaigns, only focused on helping guys learn not to have such low self-esteem as to be scared of strong young women. Or something like that.


  13. rethinkecon
    March 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Cathy, you might want to reserve judgement on Sanberg’s book until it’s out. Feminists like Joan Allen, Jessica Valenti, and Michelle Goldberg are saying Sandberg’s getting sandbagged — that the book has flaws but that it’s far better than a lot of critics are saying.

    Allen: http://www.salon.com/2013/03/02/trashing_sheryl_sandberg/

    Goldberg: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/03/01/the-absurd-backlash-against-sheryl-sandberg-s-lean-in.html

    Valenti: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dear-fellow-feminists-ripping-apart-sheryl-sandbergs-book-is-counterproductive/2013/03/01/fc71b984-81c0-11e2-a350-49866afab584_story.htm


  14. Brian Dewhirst
    March 6, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Why are women waiting to be called back? Why would those watching the video seek the affections of members of their preferred sex who behave this way?

    This touches on lots of normative assumptions people are making.

    Speaking as a privileged white male, it was very hard for me to grasp the concept of normative assumptions and recognize that I was making them. (Yeah, I know, “boo hoo”). A not-entirely-unrelated point is that I was intimidated by the idea of dating someone smarter than me. I matured, and got over it, but many people believe “that’s just the way things are.” (Well, it is, but for rather circular reasons.)

    The target audience of this video (as opposed to present company) presumably believes men -should- act a certain way, and this would lead to dating men who might react in this fashion. Possibly, they’d be happier with men who acted differently, but at some point people probably can’t choose the sort of person they find themselves attracted to. (If those people are emotionally toxic, of course, they should do what they can to try.) Certainly, the idea that “All men are emotionally fragile babies, and you don’t want to come off as a *****” is not good for either sex (but, of course, worse for women.)

    In a -professional- context, as you know better than I, women are in something of a bind– behaving as a male colleague would will result in a different subjective impression. (This is testable and repeatable– e.g., blind auditions for female conductors, various job interview and resume studies. Congress and the DOL/BLS have also done quite a few studies.) Advice exists, principally geared for negotiation-heavy professions.

    All of that said, women shouldn’t have to put up with that in their personal lives as well.

    Mature adults talk about their lives, express themselves, and seek rational compromise where possible. Honestly, they do. Men who don’t act like that aren’t mature. Older Men and women who don’t act like that have been poisoned by a toxic, misogynistic culture. (Fun party game: denying that our culture is misogynistic is a symptom of living in a misogynistic culture; this is not submitted as conclusive evidence that our culture is misogynistic.)

    Data-driven adults recognize they’re full of cognitive biases, and seek to avoid pitfalls by spotting situations where their biases are overriding their reason.


  15. March 6, 2013 at 11:26 pm



  16. unfinishedscript
    March 7, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Reblogged this on A Collection of Selves and commented:
    my thoughts exactly. EXCEPT, coming from a working class family, I’d say the biggest trouble with feminism right now is not just this crap, but also that working class woman are basically ignored as ‘yes, clearly, that needs to be fixed, but anyway…” NO, ACTUALLY, THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO FIX, NOT ANYWAY, RIGHT NOW. Why is no one reading your terribly intelligent and witty column? Because you have no idea what struggle is. Why are the women feminist writers well-educated, privileged white women? No one cares. We have real life to deal with.


    • March 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      Although I agree that the working class woman has it mighty rough and deserves better, I would not say that modern feminists ignore the needs of working class women. Consider the nation-wide backlash that hit when the Susan G. Komen Foundation tried to pull out their funding for Planned Parenthood – a lot of activism and money flowed from women throughout the society, for the benefit of women who don’t have the insurance or income to obtain services elsewhere. Chicago-based Women Employed is a powerful advocate for working class women. Widespread public support for new health insurance programs also reflects public concern for the needs of working women.


  17. Eugene
    March 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I haven’t read the Sheryl Sandberg book either, but I think the fair thing to do is to read it before piling on. I’ve seen a couple pieces suggesting that the quotes generating the most heat in the press might have been taken out of context. Reserving any judgment until I read it. Or until you do. 🙂


  18. Dave C
    March 7, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Come on people don’t we already know the evolutionary forces that drive attraction? The number of times I have heard women dismiss a man as a possible mate due to his earning potential are legion. Being outraged that a man may like a more demure, soft, non-threatening woman is the same as being outraged that women are more attracted to taller men.


    • Becky Jaffe
      March 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      The cognitive leap here is that a woman’s intelligence is threatening to men. Why is that? Can you explain that part?


      • dave c
        March 7, 2013 at 5:16 pm

        I think that is misattribution. In the cases cited I don’t think it was the women’s intelligence that was off putting to the men. I think it was more of the “challenge” rather then the content or validity of the challenge. We are talking about dating here right? And we are talking about generalities. Dating is a sexual game and people play out their gender roles. If a man and a women are “role playing” then the man will tend to want to have the “appearance” of being strong, resourceful, and reliable. If his dates behavior is giving lie to that appearance making exercise he may feel uncomfortable and not want to revisit it.

        Are women (as a whole) attracted to demure, shy, powerless and resourceless short men? I am guessing so otherwise we would have calendars of shoe store clerks instead of firemen.

        There are extremes of all types of behavior. There are men who are so insecure that there are put off by women of even modest intelligence or means. And on the other side there are women who gauge men based on height and year and model of car.

        But just because both extremes are distasteful doesn’t mean that we can’t understand and accept that there are natural and reasonable differences in how men and women evaluate potential mates. And in the broad mean of society this is reflected in harmless role playing type behavior in dating.

        disclosure: It’s been a long time since I have dated. Married for 25 years and 5′ 11″ 🙂


  19. ddf
    March 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Both Sandberg and Greenwald are pathetic, in their own way. Sandberg is living in the illusion that what she defines as success is the result of her own personal merit; Greenwald is lucky that, as the French say, ridicule doesn’t kill… Perhaps what is interesting is that their flimsiness is in a way, gender neutral. Giving in to the Borg or settling for a life companion that would make you a lesser person, are choices faced equally by men. The imbalance between the opportunities offered to men and those offered to women is not as great as it used to be a generation ago. So perhaps being a feminist now is following your own set of values rather than someone else’s and that is a way of life that is probably more gender neutral than 30 years ago.


  20. March 30, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I have two quick confusions regarding the video:

    1) (Why) do we think men have an accurate perception of the date, particularly of the reasons they don’t call back? Shouldn’t we at least record the dates themselves, if we’re not going to bother getting the women’s perspective?

    2) When did the idea that the woman would call the man after the date get lost in this narrative? Being shut out from the initial “call or not call” decision process is empowering in *what* way again?


    • March 30, 2013 at 9:53 am


      You’re getting right to the heart of the matter. The research described in the video isn’t done well, and the conclusions the author draws from it aren’t justified.


  21. Marti :-)
    April 13, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    As a young guy who hasn’t experienced first hand much of the historical transition from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd wave Feminism movements, I have long wondered how the origins of the movement have developed into this current culture. It seems counter-productive.
    Were the reasons for removing the gender barriers because they didn’t like the boudaries and gender-roles they set, or just didn’t like the male oppression of liberties that these represented?
    If the former then is it not possible that some women like some of the traditional gender-roles that those whom fought against them did not? If the latter then surely it was about the ability to choose what one does and how one acts, so whether they choose to act like a sexual toy or an unitellectual subordinate, isn’t that just as valid a choice as that to assume the newer opportunity to be equal in every way possible, or even to exert control over men?

    I’m not advocating or opposing any of the above, but if feminism is about freedom of choice then I think that is what has been abtained to a significant degree, but if it is about creating a culture where-by men and women make more similar choices, live similar lives, have similar jobs etc. then it cannot be presumed that given said choice that most women will want to make a similar one to men. If women should be making choices different to that than they want to at present then there must be substantial, reliable and un-biased evidence for all benefits and disadvantages of the choice for all parties involved so that both men and women can make well-informed decisions regarding such a matter. Who’s with me on this?


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