One of the readings for feminist theory this week is a critique of Sheryl Sandberg by bell hooks, Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In. I approach this reading as a very biased reader. I am quite fond of bell hooks as she has always been a sort of “anti-Butler” for me in terms of her style and I am already predisposed to a passionate hatred of mainstream ideologies.
As hooks points out, one of the key problems of Sandberg’s work is her reliance on an old definition of feminism which is strongly tied to the gender binary and does not allow for other categories of difference or for the potential for intersectional concerns. With the following comment hooks is very clear in her belief regarding the work of feminism:
“No matter their standpoint, anyone who advocates feminist politics needs to understand the work does not end with the fight for equality of opportunity within existing patriarchal structure.”
I agree with hooks’ statement almost completely. If feminism is only working to improve the status of one group inside of existing structures, then it really is not doing any work at all. Hegemony needs the structure of patriarchy to function, there have to be power relationships to support its white-supremacist and male-dominant interests. Even if it were possible for women to achieve full equality inside the system, it would remain a constant struggle to maintain that position. The only option is to break patriarchy. I do not agree with the tone taken by hooks as it can be read as an attack on a form of feminism that is not the same as her feminism. While I share her dissatisfaction in the approach taken by Sandberg, I do not believe that discrediting her so directly serves any purpose toward the improvement of feminism.
If I were evaluating Sandberg’s approach without the guidance of hooks I believe I would find nothing new or noteworthy about it and I may even suggest that Sandberg is taking a pro-capitalist and almost anti-feminist approach to feminism. Sandberg has produced a book of empowerment for women that gives them no real theoretical tools, only a gimmick of “lean in” to encourage the taking of leadership roles in corporate or pseudo-corporate systems. Corporate systems ARE patriarchy and they provide support for the oppression of women and other marginalized groups. Sandberg is profiting from her book, but can it really be helpful for many women or anyone else? Is Sandberg teaching women how to “play male”?