Silicon Valley’s superwoman should stop writing and start campaigning (Running in Heels)

Sheryl Sandberg (Photo: Jolanda Flubacher)

Sheryl Sandberg (Photo: Jolanda Flubacher)

It might be when she talks about sauntering up to her Google bosses and demanding a better parking space that Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to women starts to rankle. Or perhaps it’s the anecdote about finding nits in her children’s scalp en route to a business meeting – while on eBay’s private jet – that makes your blood boil, just a little. Or the way that each interview she’s done has been full of diversions – about being a geek, breaking down at work, or being terrible at walking in high heels – that are clearly designed to prove how much of an everywoman she is but instead come across as characteristics of the modern feminist icon that her publicist has selected straight from central casting. Here she is: Silicon Valley superwoman, Facebook’s second-most recognisable face, well-coiffed with the perfect family to boot, plus  a litany of career successes under her belt – and all before her 45th birthday. And she’s telling all the other women out there that it’s easy to be just like her; they’ve merely got to be more assertive.

Sandberg discussing her book Lean In…

To be fair to Sandberg, that’s a slightly narrow interpretation of her new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, which is being marketed as something of a manifesto for the 20th century career woman. In the extracts and interviews with her I’ve read so far (of which there have been several – her marketing team needs a rise), her advice follows a familiar thread. Women, she explains, need to be less afraid of success and learn to appreciate achievement as the other half do.

Shesays: “Women internalise the negative messages we get throughout our lives-the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men-and pull back when we should lean in.” Sandberg isn’t wrong, and her advice is far more tolerable and constructive than that of women who have broken through the glass ceiling and can’t see why everyone else is making such a fuss about it. She’s absolutely spot on when she talks about the phenomenon of women feeling like “frauds” when they are successful, rather than simply soaking up praise for a job well done. Her suggestion that women hold themselves back rings true; in my own experience, it’s noticeable how male writers are usually willing to pitch opinion pieces out of the blue, while female writers seem surprised that they might be able to float an idea. They wait to be asked, a trend that Sandberg acknowledges, in a way that men simply don’t.

Of the women I know – intelligent, capable and qualified twenty-somethings with bright careers ahead – many speak of the very concerns Sandberg raises. They confess to feeling inadequate, as if they were imposters in their roles, to believing that they need to better than the best just to keep up with their (mostly male) colleagues. Most assume that the myth of “having it all,” sold to us during our school years, is just that, that something, somewhere, will have to give.

The problem isn’t that her advice is unwelcome, unreasonable, or even that she’s stating the obvious. It’s that, ultimately, it’s meaningless. Sandberg is correct that pregnant women should get better parking spaces; that we should be demanding equal pay, and the appreciation men in the workplace take as their birthright. But it’s hardly a revelation – we’ve known for years that we should be heeding these feminist rallying cries. The problem is that we don’t. We haven’t yet, and it’s unlikely enough of us will.

This week Sandberg – former chief of staff to a US treasury secretary – told The Times: “really, honestly, I’m not going into politics.” Perhaps she’s just fooling us, or even herself. Let’s hope so. For if more women like Sandberg – the ones that have “leaned in to overcome their fears and sit at the table – were in politics, maybe some of what she is urging would take effect. If Sandberg could secure that parking space with minimal heartache, just imagine what she could do as a politician if she took on businesses over maternity rights or flexible working. Surely in the fight for more affordable childcare, someone like Sandberg should be leading the charge?

Ultimately, as she admits “the blunt truth is that men still run the world”. No amount of well-meaning advice is going to change the fact that this is, for many, a reality. Books and words advocating equality are great. But they would be far more valuable if she turned them into action.

This post originally appeared on Running in Heels.

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The Facebook generation

The Facebook film goes on release across Britain this weekend, and if US box office figures are anything to go by, it’s going to do pretty damn well. 

 You can read my interview with Ben Mezrich (author of The Social Network’s literary inspiration, The Accidental Billionaires) here. But the arrival of the film in cinemas got me thinking; Has it really been only six years since Facebook was created?

 I am undoubtedly a member of “The Facebook Generation”. I joined the site in May 2006, on the recommendation of American gap year friends. Initially i liked it, but I was also a MySpace member at the time and had no inkling of how important the site would become. Very few of my British friends were on it; it was fun, but limited. A passing craze.

Then I started university in September 2006 and suddenly everyone in my world was on it. Suddenly every party was organised on it, every morning spent studying Tagged photos. We wrote on people’s walls, we poked them. A birthday was no longer registered by text message or phone but by a generic Facebook post. Now everyone Facebooks (verb). Even my octogenarian grandpa announced recently that he had inadvertently joined.

It’s crazy how short a time it has taken for the vocabulary of Facebook to enter common usage, for the etiquette of the site to become part of normal behaviour. As a journalist, my job has been made far easier by the availability of private data, by the erosion of the personal into the public.

It’s funny, because I remember when I gained my first email address (age 12, on the school computer, under the questionable moniker of littlemisschatterbox2001) and boy did I think I was cool. But entering the email community, while exciting, wasn’t lifechanging. It became a feature of my life, but only gradually.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article marking Google’s 12th birthday. I had been surprised that the web emperor was still a preteen, so comprehensive is its involvement in our lives. But Google simply streamlined a process already in existence; it did what Lycos and Yahoo already did, but better.

You could say the same about Facebook, that it just improved the MySpace, Friendster and Friends Reunited mould.

It didn’t. Those sites were, variously, uncool, awkward, messy and limited.They were about utility, about practical pursuits; MySpace for music, Friends Reunited for high school reunions.

Facebook’s primary purpose was never to help people live more efficient or productive lives – it was the exact opposite.

Its agenda was gossip, snooping, Schadenfreude.

Facebook was from the outset geared towards replicating the best parts of social life on-screen. Not only could your internet alter-ego be a photoshopped fantasy, but you could use the site effectively to find out about friends, partners and anyone you damn well pleased.

Think back. Can you count on one hand the number of paper invitations you’ve been given this year? When was the last time you went to a party only to recognise half the guests from the dubious practice of stalking? How often have you messaged a distant acquaintance with a favour you’d probably never dare email or phone?

And even more importantly, can you believe you lived a large part of your life without being able to do those things?

There’s a wonderful moment in the film when Mark Zuckerberg (played disarmingly well by Jesse Eisenberg) comes up with the “Relationship Status” feature. It’s a stroke of genius, a lightbulb, a great scene.

But it’s also a pointed reminder of how one website can change the world.

Aaron Sorkin vs. Andrew Marr

After Andrew Marr registered his dislike for bloggers – calling them “socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting” – it’s good to see that one prominent public figure considers them worthy of engaging with.

 Aaron Sorkin, writer of the West Wing and more recently The Social Network, was so upset by remarks below a blogpost about the so-called Facebook film that he responded in the comments section.

After facing criticism by “Tarazza” for “the lack of a decent portrayal of women” in the film – they “were basically sex objects/stupid groupies” – on the blog of Emmy winning writer Ken Levine, Sorkin wrote back:

 “This is Aaron Sorkin and I wanted to address Taraza’s [sic] comment….

“….Tarazza–believe me, I get it. It’s not hard to understand how bright women could be appalled by what they saw in the movie but you have to understand that that was the very specific world I was writing about….

Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Aaron Sorkin, Justin Timberlake (Photo: J Lipman)

 “….More generally, I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren’t the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80’s. They’re very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now.

 “….I wish I could go door to door and make this explanation/apology to any woman offended by the things you’ve pointed out but obviously that’s unrealistic so I thought the least I could do was speak directly to you.”

Having seen the film, I’d agree to an extent with the complaint that there are very few positive representations of women in it. But to my mind, that’s more about how male-dominated the web/tech world is than any failure on Sorkin’s part.

Nevertheless, all credit to Sorkin for taking the time to talk – and for doing it in the forum of his fans, rather than via a press spokesperson.

 I wonder if Marr would tell Sorkin his comments are simply “the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.”

Gossip Girl recap: Class Warfare

In a world where social networking is everything, what happens when the portal to it all stops working?

Yes, I’m talking about the unthinkable. If Facebook can crash for a few hours, so too can Gossip Girl. As with Twitter I’m betting there is a fail “headband” for such emergencies.

In what was the first of several bizarrely post modern interludes in the episode, Blair posed the Descartes-esque question: “How is my first day supposed to matter if Gossip Girl is not around to tell people about it?” A question Tweet-happy people like Stephen Fry might well emphathise with.

But no matter. Summer is over, the Parisian adventures a distant memory. School is back in session, with Blair in her rightful home of Columbia.

It seem’s less Serena’s rightful home when her biggest concern about starting university is revealed to be what to wear.

OK, we all think it. But you don’t say it!

Actually, what matters for the first day is entrance to some swanky student club. Blair gets in, but in a distinctly unusual twist of fate, Serena doesn’t. Mainly because Nate’s stalker girl is the gatekeeper and she has some bizarre vendetta against serena, ostensibly because she fancies Nate, but as we learn later due to some strange convict dude. Oh and Penelope, erstwhile Waldorf minion, is also a member.

Stalker girl tries a divide and conquer strategy with B and S, but they out fox her with a live-streamed faux fight complete with Polyester hair and judgemental sniping (as I said, post-modern). Then Lily makes sure she’s in the club, because apparently she’s on the board (is there a single pretentious organisation she’s not involved in the entire New York area?).

Still, good to see nepotism alive and well on the streets of Manhattan.

Back in Brooklyn, the woman most likely to steal Lily’s mother of the year crown has left Dan holding the baby. A baby who, as Rufus explains, is not actually his. And it seems Georgina has been at a spa for the better part of a century. Not ideal.

When said spa turns out to be St Barts, Danessa come up with a stellar plan to live in the loft and practice parenthood based on the guidelines of a very awesome early 90s fatherhood comedy starring Tom Selleck. Sadly for their domestic bliss, Georgie returns with a sob story and takes Milo with her. Bye bye, baby Humphrey. But hello, new and inevitably troublesome living arrangements.

Chuck, meanwhile, is a changed man. So besotted with European blonde is he that he discards his prized Little Black Book with the comment: “If a good woman can change me.” Bleugh.

Imposter-Chuck waxes lyrical about how she nursed him back to health (apparently we’re actually in the Manhattan of 1810) so Lily does what every loving stepmother would do and invites the pair to a fashion show avec the family.
Except, the family in question comprises of Rufus, Eric and the absent-but-not-missed Little J.

As in, the girl he nearly raped in season one, and successfully deflowered in season three (as Eric helpfully reminds Rufus during a touching bow-tie fixing scene). So, obviously, Rufus is just thrilled to have Chuck back.

Cue drama, but French girl doesn’t mind. Unsurprising, given that Chuck goes all Richard Gere on her and takes her on one hell of a shopping splurge – provoking possibly the best snobby socialite monologue Blair has yet delivered.

Luckily by then Gossip Girl was back up and running to tell the world about it.

Friends: not there for you anymore

“Surely you’ve seen this episode,” my dad says, as he comes into the living room to find me watching yet another old Friends episode.

“So,” I say. “You can never watch too much Friends.”

But apparently, you can. Channel 4 are axing the reruns of the popular series, fifteen years after the world first tuned into the antics of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Joey and ugly naked guy. E4’s popular 8pm to 9pm slot wil be filled with something new from October 2011.

“It’s time to say goodbye to old Friends and welcome new ones, in the form of more comedy, drama and entertainment from the US and UK,” said Channel 4’s head of acquisitions, Gill Hay.

Forever Friends? not exactly!

Fifteen years is a long time, and after showing each of the 236 episodes around the same number of times (ish) it makes sense for Channel 4 to close the doors on Central Perk for good. But Getting Lippy was quite sad to hear the news, and wasn’t the only one as the web erupted in a show of emotion for smelly cat et al.

On Facebook, a keen fan named Daniel Wheeler showed his contempt at the decision by setting up a group to ‘SAVE FRIENDS! – E4 TO STOP SHOWING FRIENDS’.

“Lets try and get them to show more episodes!” it appeals to its 201 members.

One Benjamin Howard tweeted that hew as ‘deeply saddened’, adding that “when Richard and Judy left [sic] it was only thing that kept me going between 5-6 :(“.

“devastated […] who doesn’t love eating their dinner in front of Friends?!” said SpannerBristow.

Over on the Watch With Mothers blog, the vitriol was intense as the noted the ‘horrific news’ that Friends would no longer be there for us.

“Clearly, you only meant “I’ll be there for you every day, twice a day for 17 years and then that really is it.”

“Call that commitment, do you? Damn you, Friends! Damn you all to Hades!”

“What will we do when there’s nothing else to watch on an evening?” mourns blogger Joseph Seager.

“I might have to buy the boxset,” he said.

So it seems someone will be emerge a winner from this then.

The tragic end of reindeer mail

This may just be the saddest story I’ve read all year.

Writes James Bone in The Times:

“Children who write letters to Father Christmas this year will no longer receive an answer from the North Pole — in case the jolly old man turns out to be a paedophile.”

Apparently there was a scare at the North Pole last year, when a sex-offender somehow wangled his way into the US Postal Service’s Santa Claus letter reply writing operation.

So now, although the perve didn’t actually do any damage (he was stopped before he got round to writing back and offering any personal visits!), kids won’t get their ‘Dear Father Christmas ‘ letters answered. Lots of anger about this – you can join the ‘Keep Santa Letters’ Facebook group here.
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