Subscribe via RSS Feed

Feminism and Class at Harvard

[ 179 ] March 21, 2017 |


This is an outstanding essay about the class divisions within feminism, using Harvard as a background. Sarah Leonard and Rebecca Rojer note that both famed Harvard graduate Sheryl Sandberg and Harvard president and historian Drew Gilpin Faust talk about feminism but neither of them cares at all about the 90 percent female workforce at the Doubletree that Harvard owns in Cambridge. Noting how the workers and their student allies had to fight for years to finally win a union while Sandberg spoke repeatedly to rich women at the school and Faust has done everything in her power to hurt the school’s workers, the essay gets at a critical issue in feminism: a feminism that only speaks to rich white women really isn’t a feminism at all.

 What the majority of women want has, in many ways, not changed—economic security, good and accessible childcare, freedom from violence, the pleasures of life with enough education and leisure time to allow us to flourish. But intractable problems remain: Pregnancy is penalized by lack of time off, or time off for women but not for men, which exacerbates the wage gap. Childcare has been deemed unaffordable by the Department of Health and Human Services in every single state. Ninety-eight percent of women in abusive relationships are subject to financial abuse, and a woman without an income has a hard time getting away—a topic that was the subject of Sandberg’s own undergraduate thesis, “Economic Factors and Intimate Violence.” Luckily, we actually know quite a bit about how to fix these things. In Sweden, women and men are motivated to take parental time off (if the man doesn’t take his time, they both lose some), ensuring family time and a smaller wage gap. We know that universal childcare, as organized in Norway, produces happy kids and greater gender equity. In fact, America almost had something comparable in 1971, when a bill for universal childcare passed both houses, only to be vetoed by Nixon under the influence of a young Pat Buchanan.

Lobbying for universal childcare, unionization, or any of the other things we know help most women would mean making enemies in a way that advocating for “empowerment” or “banning bossy” never would. It would mean a fight not just with Republicans (Sandberg gives money mostly to Democrats, although she has paid into Olympia’s List and Facebook’s PAC, both of which have supported several Republicans), but with Democrats, too, and maybe even some of Sandberg’s pals on the Davos circuit. It would mean being political, and it would not serve her as PR. It would not help Facebook. But it would place her considerable resources in the service of women. Without solidaristic feminism, in the words of Osorio, “you haven’t solved the problem. You’ve just solved your problem.”

When I asked Lemus what she would have Sandberg do, she offered that Sandberg had enough money to make the government listen to the needs of women. Osorio noted that Sandberg might listen to women who are unlike her. The problem is not that women like Sandberg and Faust have failed to be saviors; as the DoubleTree workers have shown, working-class women are leading their own movements and stand at the head of their own struggles. It’s that women like the DoubleTree housekeepers are doing the concrete work of increasing equality, and women like Faust and Sandberg are thwarting instead of helping them. It is possible for a woman to sound like a feminist, and serve the function of The Man. We don’t need them to lead us, but if they aren’t going to express solidarity, they can at least get out of the way.

That’s the conclusion but the whole thing is really well worth your time. I will also say that Faust is an embarrassment to the reputation of historians. Faust herself works on issues of justice in her writing and yet has sold out all the way. I really struggle to understand how you can know everything she knows and then want to treat pregnant hotel workers or impoverished dining hall workers in this way. I guess that’s why I will never climb the corporate ladder.


Comments (179)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Nick never Nick says:

    Just a quick observation on your final point — many institutions are constructed to get intelligent, decent people to do narrow-minded, crummy things. For example, by defining legal ‘duties’ very narrowly. I’m on the Board of my housing co-op, obviously everyone expects a housing co-op to be decent, collegial, etc.; but being on the Board we really only have one formal duty that gets measured, our ‘fiduciary responsibility’. It’s easy to hear those two words and convince yourself that you are required to kick people out pronto if they can’t afford rent.

    I’m sure this professor has some position that practically defines her duties as ‘keep wages down, union out’. It’s easy to convince yourself that that is your job, and you’re not a bad person because other people have the job to try and get wages up, union in.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      This may be true. No one forced her to go into this world.

      • Nick never Nick says:

        Yeah, you beat my edit — I’m not excusing it, just pointing out one mechanism for this. It’s the same way that companies excuse anything by claiming they have a single duty towards stockholders, get the share price up.

      • Dave W. says:

        No, but if the problem is the position rather than the person occupying it, it makes little sense to focus your attack on the moral qualities of the person currently holding the office. If the result for the workers is the same whether Faust, Simon Legree, or Ghandi is occupying the office, why criticize Faust specifically as someone who doesn’t care?

        Now I think Nick’s point is a little bit different – that the structural pressures of the position may encourage Faust to believe that her duty requires her to oppose unionization when that in fact is not the case, and that it is in fact a moral failing to succumb too easily to those pressures, rather than trying harder to find a different way forward. That is a legitimate criticism.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Because I am going to demand that historians aren’t hypocrites.

        • rea says:

          It does not require huge mental gymnastics to believe that the company (or here, the institution) will be better off long run with unionized employees with whom it has a good working relationship.

          • Nick never Nick says:

            Actually, it does, when management structure and incentives are organized around the short run. And this isn’t even getting into the unofficial pressures, such as being the one director who suggest something that isn’t ‘efficient’, or is outside the recognized playbook.

    • N__B says:

      I’m sure this woman has some position that practically defines her duties as ‘keep wages down, union out’. It’s easy to convince yourself that that is your job, and you’re not a bad person because other people have the job to try and get wages up, union in.

      I’m also sure that people with this mentality think of themselves as “leaders.”

  2. Derelict says:

    This really hits one of the “problems” I’ve had with feminism as practiced in the US. Non-White, non-rich women don’t seem to get too much shrift from the usual voices of feminism.

    I would really like to so more attention paid, and more effort put into, alleviating the burdens and blockades that, say, poor Hispanic women face on a day-to-day basis. A feminism that lets White suburban girls grow up to be lawyers or US Senators but doesn’t do anything to make those paths available for a poor Hispanic or Black girl is missing something important.

    • Judas Peckerwood says:

      It’s a problem that has pretty much always afflicted liberal/progressive politics, though from what I can tell things are slowly but surely getting better.

    • McAllen says:

      This is really a problem with all movements. They ought to be led by the most marginalized members, but they are almost always led by the most privileged.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        Not all movements. But, vanguardism has a strongly established tradition due to the success of Leninist and Leninist inspired revolutionary and anti-colonial movements. As Barrington Moore noted, peasants are good at overthrowing governments as followers. But, they don’t get usually make up the leadership of either the revolutionary movements or the governments established by those movements.

      • Murc says:

        I’m not sure you can be the leader of a movement and still be marginalized.

        To clarify; I mean within the movement. Obviously you can still be marginalized in other ways. But even that notwithstanding, if you’re leading a movement that has genuine clout and power, some of that is gonna stick to you. You’ll make contacts and acquire social capital. Not sure there’s a way to avoid that.

        • McAllen says:

          Laverne Cox is a leader within the trans rights movement. This does not erase the discrimination she faces as a black trans woman, nor make it so that black trans women are not marginalized in comparison to white trans women.

          • Crusty says:

            But other black trans women are more marginalized than Laverne Cox. Her position as a known actress allows her to lead a movement in a way that somebody more marginalized and struggling for survival cannot.

            • McAllen says:

              Of course, and that’s another example of how movements are not led by their most marginalized members. I recognize that it will be difficult for people struggling for survival to take a leadership role even in movements that are open to that, but they at least ought to have a voice that’s taken seriously.

              • Domino says:

                Sorry, I can’t agree with this. Movements should be lead by competent, hard-working people. Not everyone is suited for it. That doesn’t mean marginalized members get little to no voice – just that who leads the movement requires a skill set that not everyone posses.

                • McAllen says:

                  One of the skills most critical in a social justice movement is the ability to listen to everyone in the movement. A more marginalized person is much more likely to have that ability than a more privileged person.

        • LeeEsq says:

          The most privileged members of any particular group are also going to make for the most effective leaders for the cause in many cases. I can’t think of any significant social or political movement that was legitimately led by the most marginal people in that movement. This covers the entire political spectrum.

          • McAllen says:

            I mean, obviously sometimes it will turn out the person in your organization who has the best traits to be the leader is white or male or whatever, but I don’t think that explains how widespread leadership by the most privileged members is.

            • LeeEsq says:

              They have the most to gain by pushing boundaries?

              • McAllen says:

                Can you explain what you mean? I’m not sure it makes sense to me. Marginalized people need boundaries to move farther than privileged people do.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  A privileged woman pushing boundaries can achieve high political or corporate office or at least a very decent career. A more marginal woman would be helped by feminism but her socio-economic prospects wouldn’t improve nearly as much. This gives the more privileged woman a bigger reason to be at the leader of feminism.

      • Dennis Orphen says:

        My biggest problem with Snowpiercer (the movie) as opposed to Snowpiercer (the comic, three or four of us still read them) is that in the movie the revolution comes from the rear of the train (yeah, right, buddy, in that humble opinion o’ mine), while in the comic book the revolutionaries are a faction of the front car passengers.

        And in comic books don’t have to have Octavia Spencer play an angry black woman in every title, unlike the robots that write chase scenes movie scripts.

        • Domino says:

          In the movie, I couldn’t get over:

          1 – Where are the sleeping cars for the front of the train?

          2 – Do the children have to go through the night-club train on their way to school?

      • LeeEsq says:

        It might be an unavoidable problem. The most privileged members are the ones who have the most to gain from pushing boundaries while the more marginalized members of a group have the most to loose if things go wrong.

      • Karen24 says:

        The most marginalized members need to take care of their own lives. They won’t have the time or energy to be leaders in any movement and really shouldn’t be expected to do so. Those with enough privilege to spend some precious time on these issues need to make ourselves available to the most marginalized and find out what are their most important issues and how much do they want to be involved. Then, we need to cede power as soon as possible. But no one should expect those with the biggest burdens to add to that.

        • McAllen says:

          There’s definitely truth to all this, but there are certainly marginalized people who are willing to take on leadership roles, and I don’t thing you can trust privileged groups to do better by themselves. Women needed to create Feminism because men weren’t going to stop being sexist on their own.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      At best this is unconscious bias. The FMLA was written by well-educated white professional women. Guess who it ended up helping the most?

      I don’t think this is done out of malice or spite.

      • diogenes says:

        Mostly concur. Your point is why disparate impact is a critical analytical tool – so we can see what we are missing in our blind spots.

      • Just_Dropping_By says:

        The FMLA was written by well-educated white professional women. Guess who it ended up helping the most?

        So, out of solidarity/intersectionality, feminists should have taken the position that anything other than paid parental leave was unacceptable in FMLA? I’d predict that had they taken that position, the result would be that there would be no FMLA.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          You are probably correct and the FMLA barely survived a Supreme Court challenge and possibly only survived because Rehinquist was feeling kindly about his daughter allegedly as a likely FMLA recipient.

          That being said, there is still the issue of divergent interests base on class and job that I know. People who get immense psychological satisfaction from their careers want something like government provided pre-K because it helps them balance work and family. People whose jobs are for survival purposes might want a way to spend more time with their families and children even if government provided pre-K would help them.

          • SamChevre says:


            People who get immense psychological satisfaction from their careers want something like government provided pre-K because it helps them balance work and family. People whose jobs are for survival purposes might want a way to spend more time with their families and children.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      The problem is different needs. Government supplies pre-K helps all but the real advocates for it tend to be relatively well off and usually white professionals who get psychological fulfillment from careers but find the cost of preschool too high.

      Working class families seem to want to have the mom stay at home (including the mom) based on polling I have seen and read about.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      Just blue-skying it here, but JUST MAYBE you’ve only been paying attention to a certain very narrow kind of feminist discourse.

    • geniecoefficient says:

      Putting this here because it’s a reasonable (if not perfect) fit with this thread.

      One pastime I really enjoy is to browse “single-red-rose” Twitter (that would be DSA-proximate twitter) and cheer them as they trash (with justice) “liberal feminists”. And by that, they mean precisely the crowd Erik has (with justice) attacked here.

      Since it matters, yes these Tweeting detractors are women.

  3. yet_another_lawyer says:

    When I asked Lemus what she would have Sandberg do, she offered that Sandberg had enough money to make the government listen to the needs of women.

    How much money is it, exactly, that is “enough” to make the government listen to the needs of women and how exactly would it be deployed? This strikes me as either magical thinking or a brilliant plan that’s not being shared with the rest of us.

  4. UnderTheSun says:

    a feminism that only speaks to rich white women really isn’t a feminism at all.

    Seems to me that that’s the Hillary Clinton approach outside of elections.

  5. cpinva says:

    correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Ms. Sandberg from a fairly well off family? if so, her only experience with women in difficult straits would have been with “the help”, and I doubt she spent much time talking with them. she is what she was raised to be.

  6. Mutombo says:

    The most prominent people are generally professionally successful, and that is often harder to accomplish as a woman than as a man. You’re probably going to be disappointed if you expect them not to pursue their narrow personal and professional interests over their general political ideals.

  7. diogenes says:

    See this every day in real life. White soccer moms fight tooth-n-nail to make sure their kids are in the “right” schools (where I live, this comes under the banner of “neighborhood schools”).

    This infer “wrong” schools, but generates no enthusiasm for remedies.

    Beyond avoidance.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      But god forbid you mention around here how these educational choices reflect structural racism. Commenters will jump down your throat for daring suggest they contribute to racial inequality. They voted for Hillary Clinton after all!

      • Crusty says:

        Erik, you know what you do in those near-trolling posts is to go back and forth between things like “reflect structural racism” (passive) and something like is racist or is a racist choice (active). I think everyone would pretty much agree that moving to the burbs to get away from the cities/minorities has a racist impact. But you tiptoe just to the edge of imputing a racist motive. Your position may be that the distinction doesn’t matter, but the posts are clumsily written and/or written to provoke a reaction.

          • Srsly Dad Y says:

            It’s not. You use the term “racist” the way it’s used in academia (“contributing to racial inequality”), while other people use and understand it differently, essentially as a different word (“motivated in some part by ill will or other bad feeling based on race”). This generates heat and resentment. We know you can cite shelves of books demonstrating that you’re “right,” but the meaning of words arises from their use in a speech community, and can’t be “proven” that way.

            • mojrim says:

              Then the obvious solution is for all of us to use Erik’s (correct) definition the same way we (god I hope) use the correct definitions of ‘law’ and ‘theory’ in science. Individual, animus motivated racism is almost irrelevant beside the institutional form. People prefer the former because it insulates them from painful questions and hard choices.

              • Crusty says:

                The problem is that it isn’t a hard choice at all- do what you think is best for your family, or, at their expense,* chip away at a structural problem that you didn’t start and won’t succeed at fixing on your own.

                *I think that “good schools” are overblown and the desire to go to a “better school” is hyped up bologna, unless the school in question is one where there are serious deficiencies in the educational environment like violence, in which case it still isn’t a hard choice.

                • mojrim says:

                  Sure. The problem is that the same person will then refuse to examine how their actions affect the wider community because their cognitive dissonance alarm goes off. In most people, under most circumstances, this can be forgiven as it has little effect and, well, we just can’t expect all that much. When the cognitive dissonant in question made her bones writing about slave mistresses of the antebellum south, that’s a whole different matter.

              • Murc says:

                Then the obvious solution is for all of us to use Erik’s (correct) definition

                Eriks’ definition is in no wise correct just because its the academic definition rather than the way the word is actually used in wider society. Indeed, there’s a strong case to be made that the former should bow before the latter.

                • McAllen says:

                  What society are we talking about, though? I suspect a lot of POC use a definition closer to Erik’s than Srsly’s.

                • Crusty says:

                  You think when people of color in a lousy school district see another family of color move out of said neighborhood to one with better schools for the sake of their children’s education they describe that action as racist? Reflective of structural racism sure, but racist? No.

                • mojrim says:

                  See McAllen, below. Also, that case is just plain wrong. Most people think ‘scientific law’ refers to a theory that has been proven.

              • UncleEbeneezer says:

                Bingo. The simplest guidepost I try to use is: let the Oppressed define the Oppression. In this case the definition of “racism” that I see in mostly-Black/Non-Black PoC spaces is the same as the definition used by the people (any race) who study the problem. It’s on us (White people) to start using the more expansive definition rather than telling the people directly oppressed by racism that their definition is wrong, misleading etc.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  There seems to be a very big exception for the Jews in this matter. Jews are not allowed to define what is or is not Jew hatred.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  It’s amazing what a generation of calling everyone who criticizes Israeli policy toward Palestine an anti-Semite will do.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  An interesting question Ronan and one without any easy answers.

                • Thom says:

                  Maybe that is the reaction by Native Americans in polling (and I suspect you would get different results in group conversations, led by other Native Americans) because this type of naming is so common. When momentum gathers to get rid of these names, attitudes will start to shift, including among Native Americans. Or perhaps you would like to argue that “negro” is an acceptable term now, becuase that is the term Martin Luther King used most of the time. (I am not saying “negro” is racist, just that most of us would no longer use the term, because of shifting attitudes and usages.)

                • Ronan says:

                  Leaving methodological issues aside and assuming the poll accurately gauges native opinion. It’s a genuine question as my personal thought is redskin is racist and should be dropped.
                  But uncle es argument is you should come to decisions on these questions not by logic and principle but by “listening to the oppressed”. Okay, but what if the oppressed mostly disagree with you (and there will always be a large part of any populatikn who will)

          • Murc says:

            That’s bullshit.

            It’s not. I think you’re doing god’s work, Erik, but this is precisely what you do, and your description upthread of what has happened in those threads is inaccurate at best and an outright lie at worst.

        • LeeEsq says:

          There is also the point that we had gentrification is racist debates on this blog to. You really can’t give people a choice between being evil in one way and evil in another way. Your a white person who moves to the suburbs to raise your kids for better public schools, your a racist. Your a white person who moves to the city, your an evil racist gentrifier. When you present people with scenarios like this, the response is going to be FU.

          We also have the fact that people are basically two or three generations into suburban living at this time. There are plenty of White Americans who have never lived in an dense urban environment from the day that they were born and might not have even visited it that much.

          • aturner339 says:

            So I think the key to all this is encompassed in the last words of Diogenes’ comment.

            The choice is not merely whether to exist is a context which incentivized racial inequality. As you’ve correctly implied this is not a choice for Americans. We are already born into one.

            The question is whether we are committed to reform of these institutions or content with seeking our narrowly defined interests.

            • Erik Loomis says:


              And “I vote for Democrats” is not nearly enough.

            • Srsly Dad Y says:

              OK … Let’s try it with the word “moral.” “The question is whether I’m a moral person or content to seek my narrowly defined interests.” Sure! Good question. Every month I pay for cable with money that a charity could have used to buy something for a child who really needs that thing. You could say that’s “immoral,” because I contentedly pursue my narrowly defined interest in wi-fi in lieu of a moral goal. Indeed, I add to the net misery in the world, which sounds damned immoral of me. You can also say it’s racist, since the kid who needs my money is probably of color. That’s fine if you want to use the words that way. I’m obviously not “committed” to morality in the absolute way I could be. Nothing is “enough”! But very, very few people mean that by “immoral.” Do you (Erik and aturner339) mean it that way? It would be useful in these discussions to know.

              • aturner339 says:

                So I generally try and avoid the metaethics of policy because I think discussing it clearly requires a lot of jargon. Here’s my best attempt:

                There are no untainted “moral” choices in an fundamentally immoral context. The best we can do is “more moral” and actions which advance the coming good are “more moral” than those that do not. Choosing to send your child to the “best” school is not “immoral.” Choicing to live in a “safe” neighborhood is not “inmoral”

                Choosing to do all these thing while not engaging in aggressive action to make sure people without your resources can make the same choice is sacrificing a greater good for a lesser one.

                • Srsly Dad Y says:

                  There’s no jargon in my question, and you don’t need jargon in your answer, unless you don’t mean by “racist” or “immoral” what those words mean in ordinary English, which is the point we’re addressing.

                  We all agree we need to be the best we can be! Nothing is enough! Do more! Except that we all pursue *both* our self-interests *and* our political values all the time, every day, so the real issue is whether to pass moral judgment on a person who takes a certain, necessarily imperfect, action at a certain time and place. Erik stands behind categorical, noncontextual assessments of actions in a way that you now say you do not. Good for you, and thanks for engaging.

      • aturner339 says:

        It’s a good point and a broader example of Nick’s point above. No systemic inequality with staying power lacks its own “neutral” motives. This is basically the meaning of systemic oppression. Peonage by the numbers.

      • diogenes says:

        On the one hand, it is a parent’s nature to provide the best they can for their children. Primates are not wired to fight for less because of principles. So given crappy circumstances, mom/dad (apologies for previous sexism) is going to get the “best” of everything they can for their kids. I tend to give such parents some benefit of the doubt until they show me differently.

        A logical addition to that next-to-last sentence is “and let the devil take the hindermost”, and this is where people can show me differently. It takes some imagination and compassion to understand that social Darwinism is not in society’s long-term interests, and to work towards a society where everyone has equitable access to resources.

    • Linnaeus says:

      Careful, now. These are white college-educated folks you’re talking about.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      How long must white feminists continue to hold back America?

      This thread is going to be a shitshow.

  8. FlipYrWhig says:

    By contrast with feminism, it’s so nice the labor “movement” has no embarrassing problems with its membership’s conflicted stances on important things.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      What the hell is the point of this comment? Yes, clearly I have never written any posts about this problem within organized labor……

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        I don’t particularly care for how this post, and the obvious comments it would provoke, sets up the pinata of “privileged feminism” for a bunch of pissy anecdotes about Un-woke White Ladies Doing Feminism Totally Wrong.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Oh, I am so sorry that the privilege of rich white women like Sheryl Sandberg and Drew Gilpin Faust will be questioned. I guess they will have to roll around in their millions of dollars to make themselves feel better. This is very sad.

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            [Very mean-spirited comment by me deleted because I thought better of it.]

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            “I’m with you, Erik, I saw a white lady order a pumpkin spice latte today instead of fighting for massive social change! Why are they always doing stuff like that?”

          • Dennis Orphen says:

            It takes balls to criticize a woman, Erik. (see what I did there?)

            That is meant to be a joke, but if anyone wants to take it seriously, I’m okay with that, even if everyone else isn’t.

        • Justin Runia says:

          Yeah, I’m catching a bit of straw-man vibe here, with a soupçon of Brocialism as well. It’s not that this isn’t a thing–I read a unintentionally hilarious account of women coming to grips with their privilege during a Women’s Empowerment conference held at Terranea resort over in Rancho Palos Verdes, but there’s no reason you can’t simply write about Sandberg and Faust’s failures without ideology-trolling them. Coming from a dude, it’s not a good look–it’s like men last summer trying to say HRC wasn’t Feminist because of her foreign policy.

          • Nick never Nick says:

            I’m not sure what ‘ideology trolling’ is (though I have a guess), but I think that this post is straight-up criticism, which is acceptable (to me); and the bulk of it comes from an analysis by another woman, which on your terms should be acceptable.

            I think accusing a labor historian/analyst/writer of ‘Brocialism’ for writing about unionization policy likely comes closer to ideology trolling than anything Erik wrote.

            There is absolutely space for a feminist critique of HRC’s foreign policy — only like all critiques, the standards for good faith have to be met. The ones you refer to here didn’t reach that standard, but I don’t see anything in Erik’s post that’s beyond the Pale.

            • Justin Runia says:

              “…a feminism that only speaks to rich white women really isn’t a feminism at all.”

              That’s not a quote from the article, that’s Mr. Loomis making that statement. The thing is, Erik Loomis has virtually no standing to decide what feminism is, any more than he gets to decide what BLM is about. I mean, we all hold opinions about these things, about how intersectionality is or isn’t working in any given instance, but crossing over into public statements about what comprises feminism is pretty much the definition of ‘mansplaining’.

              I’m guessing the authors of the original article avoided bombastic statements like the above for a reason; perhaps because they have more at stake in feminism than Mr. Loomis does. And it’s not a bad thing to share the article! It’s a good article! Just, maybe dial it back a bit?

              • Nick never Nick says:

                And yet, you’re doing the same thing by deciding that you are the arbiter of who gets to arbite feminism.

                Just out of curiosity, do you have any examples of feminists who argue that feminism should only speak to rich white women?

                • Justin Runia says:


                  Is it really all that difficult to understand why men don’t get to decide what feminism is?

                  Seems like someone spent all night working on the final for Straw Men 101, and slept through Intro to Woke Baes…

                • Nick never Nick says:

                  Well, there are one of two possibilities here. Either you are trying to police Erik for stating something about feminism that everyone agrees with, or you are trying to police Erik for interfering in a division of feminism that he has no standing to interfere in.

                  If you’re doing the first, it’s stupid. If you’re doing the latter, it could be valid.

                  If you can’t provide an example of a feminist arguing that feminism should only speak to rich white women, then there is an excellent chance that everyone agrees with Erik’s statement. Which, obviously, means that he is not deciding what feminism is.

                • Justin Runia says:

                  First off, nobody is being ‘policed’; criticism of wording isn’t coercion, by any means.

                  Second, there are more than two possibilities, but you seem pretty dedicated to building straw men at this point, so let me make this as clear as I can: feminism, as a political ideology, is about putting women in power, full stop. Yes, this means Condoleezza Rice and Mia Love are feminist ‘wins’–this is the failure of ideology, part 999,999,999.

                  We can prepare our arguments about how this or that person or proposal fails our expectations of intersectionality, however trying to pull a persons ‘feminist’ card on the basis of other ideological failures not only fails on its merits, but is also just gross and oblivious coming from a man. We saw it a lot last year from people who paid lip-service to intersectionality, but ultimately had a preferred ideological bearing, so they felt they had to make the case that while HRC had done quite a bit to promote and put women into positions of power, that she wasn’t a feminist, and therefore had nothing to offer those of us seeking a progressive agenda (y’know, outside of the raising taxes on rich people and spending a bunch of money on services for poor people…).

                  Again, all I’m saying is that I caught a whiff of this odious rhetoric in that offending sentence, there’s no intent to brand Mr. Loomis a traitor to the cause, or revoke his credentials to the Internationale, all criticism is offered in good faith, I swear on the soul of John Dewey.

              • Simple Desultory Philip says:

                oh, i dunno. i’d’ve personally preferred it if erik had just gone ahead and quoted flavia dzodan and finished up with “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  Also, labor will be environmentally just, and vice versa, or it will be bullshit. Problem solved! Now we all agree with all the good and right things and no one ever fights.

                • mojrim says:

                  I fail to see the problem.

          • Origami Isopod says:

            IDK, while I think the point about men lecturing women on feminism as valid, I didn’t get any “brocialist” vibes from the post. Maybe because both Sandberg and Faust have a lot more power than Loomis does, and he’s just writing on his blog, not attacking them on Twitter.

      • Nick never Nick says:

        I guess FYW feels you need to solve it before moving on to fixing feminism.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        All right, this was a needlessly provocative thing for me to do, which I regret. So I’ll take the “what the hell is the point of this comment” as fair.

        But more than the post or the linked essay the thing that set me off was the anecdotes above, which you, Erik, eagerly joined, because they’re pretty much the lefty equivalent of “I saw a black lady with fancy nails use an EBT card!”

        • Nick never Nick says:

          Well, yeah, if in the example given you had the professional identity of the black lady using the EBT card, proof that she had plenty of money, and had bought the fancy nails with the card.

          Or if you don’t recognize the difference between criticizing an anonymous stranger for superficial details of their appearance and actions, and criticizing a well-known public figure for two different aspects of her professional life that are dramatically at odds, yes, then it would be the same.

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            Erik’s jumping-off point is Sandberg and Drew Gilpin Faust, but the post crescendos to the larger concern that (apparently) prominent feminists care only about “rich white women,” which then–predictably–prompted several personal reflections about the actions of anonymous strangers of unknown natures doing things like moving, considering schools, and being feminists in America, obviously all entirely wrong and symbolic of this terrible problem with feminism.

            • Erik Loomis says:

              but the post crescendos to the larger concern that (apparently) prominent feminists care only about “rich white women,”

              Not really except for a passing intention to note that these class-based issues have long been a major problem in feminism that many non-wealthy, non-white feminists have noted in frustration and anger for decades.

              • There are many schisms and fault lines within feminism.

                The idea that feminists should abandon gender parity in middle class occupations and education, or acceptance of women in leadership roles, as goals within feminism itself, for the reason that working class women and women of color can only reasonably aspire to menial working-motherhood, seems new. I guess it’s a combination of difference feminism (only the privileged can afford to challenge traditional gender roles) and class-first socialism, but I don’t know. The idea that women of color and the working class are closer to traditional gender roles than upper-class women is also a bit different from the split of a few decades ago.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  The idea that feminists should abandon gender parity in middle class occupations and education, or acceptance of women in leadership roles, as goals within feminism itself, for the reason that working class women and women of color can only reasonably aspire to menial working-motherhood, seems new.

                  No one is making this argument.

                • It was made rather explicitly in many of the responses to Sandberg’s book.

                • I will admit that I don’t remember who wrote them and a bit of that may have been white Millemials who didn’t want to lean in themselves and attributed this to the nature of femaleness.

              • FlipYrWhig says:

                Yes, it is indeed a problem in feminism, going back pretty much to the inception of feminism.

                I’d prefer to see this as a “Sheryl Sandberg and Drew Gilpin Faust call themselves feminists but have unfinished business with other dimensions of feminism” piece. Fine.

                I took it as, and I think some of the comments suggest others did though for opposite reasons, something more like “as is sadly typical for feminists, Sheryl Sandberg and Drew Gilpin Faust got wrong what feminists always get wrong.” I’ve read a lot of young-ish left-ish essays that sound like that. Perhaps I categorized yours wrong.

            • Simple Desultory Philip says:

              i mean, it IS a terrible problem with feminism, though. marginalized people are often marginalized in feminist discourse, and a lot of discussions about “women”, even in activist spaces, do still assume a default woman who is white and middle-class. what is wrong, given this fact, with talking about white flight, the concept of and competition for “good schools”, and how the everyday choices that white people make in their lives to benefit themselves do often have a *literal* racist impact? these are things that need to be confronted. it’s not helpful to simply dismiss the conflict between wanting to do what’s best for your family, and knowing that by so doing you might be hurting somebody else’s, as a big nothingburger because duh you want to help your family. if you have a liberal or feminist ideology, and you are privileged, that conflict is real, and ought to be examined and discussed, not repressed.

  9. Why is The Nation apparently inherently less ridiculous than Jacobin?j

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      It exists on paper, and has been around longer. Other than that, I got nuthin’ anymore; I finally tried to let my subscription lapse, but somehow it’s still arriving, though I don’t read it myself.

      (P.S. You make three.)

      • I’ve read articles I thought were nonsense in both, but I’m massively more likely to end up feeling a Nation piece was a waste of time. They’re both equally “we’ve got to be as far left as we can even when it seems silly.” It may just be that The Nation has been playing the same note for a few decades too long. The Jacobin’s flaws are different, and therefore novel.

      • MPAVictoria says:

        “It exists on paper”

        Yet more proof that most of the complaints about Jacobin on this website are made by people who have never read the thing. Jacobin is a quarterly magazine that prints on paper. I have a copy on my coffee table right now.

  10. Lee Rudolph says:

    Well, two commenters in this thread (possibly an undercount; sorry if so) are women.

  11. Nick never Nick says:

    Question: Is Erik purposely echoing “God and Man at Yale” in the title of this post?

  12. Lord Jesus Perm says:

    The funny thing about Erik’s posts when he talks race is that he doesn’t even go all that hard on people, yet commenters get really worked up anyway.

    • dbk says:

      Yes, I’ve noted this too, every time I’ve caught the tail-end of those posts where it’s even fleetingly mentioned, as here.

      At the risk of arousing a flurry of overly-eager clarifications, for those who don’t accept that there exists such a thing in U.S. society as “structural racism”, what is it exactly you would call U.S. racism? “Incidental”? “Accidental”? “Occasional”? – and no fair suggesting “historical”, because that leads to systemic, which leads to structural … I am very puzzled as to the terminology and its connotations on these threads.

      Re: the (actual) point of the post, the different objectives and goals (and goal-posts) of upper-, upper-middle, and working-class women with respect to feminism are pretty universally recognized. I don’t know whether women like Sandberg and Faust should be expected to lobby/advocate for working-class women or not. Certainly it would be admirable were they to do so, but would we expect the CEO of Uber, for example, to encourage the firm’s drivers to form a union?

      As a member of the second wave of feminism, and a professional (but a poor one, from the lower working class), I have always rather believed that the past fifty years of feminism are one area in which we see pretty clearly how class trumps sex in alliance-forming and pursuit of mutual interests.

      • Murc says:

        At the risk of arousing a flurry of overly-eager clarifications, for those who don’t accept that there exists such a thing in U.S. society as “structural racism”

        … are there that many commenters who think that here? Because I’m not sure there are.

        • dbk says:

          I haven’t counted, but that doesn’t address my question – why such defensiveness, even by a (small, presumably) number of reader-commenters? Do they have another preferred term with which to replace the “structural” in racism?

    • mojrim says:

      You notice that, too? Happens on class issues as well. I think it’s the particular crowd here, what with all the talk of bernie bros, bernie bots, and brocialism.

      • Origami Isopod says:

        Or, you know, could be that a certain vocal segment of Sanders fans are extremely clueless about issues other than class, which is reflected in, among other things, their harassment of Clinton supporters on Twitter. Especially Clinton supporters of color.

        • mojrim says:

          This was an extraordinarily contentious primary. To assign people a dismissive classification (which, historically, is designed to render their arguments irrelevant) because things got heated is just another version of tone policing.

          • Origami Isopod says:

            TIL that objecting to harassment of women is “tone policing.”

            • mojrim says:

              Harassment? See, this is why I don’t do twitter. Screaming epithets at people on social media is rude, stupid, and generally inversely effective to your goal, but it is in no way threatening unless that person (a) knows where you live and (b) makes genuine threats to your well being. Absent those criteria the label of harassment (you added “women” for dramatic effect) is nonsense. That said, I don’t twitter so it’s feasible there was much I’m unaware of. If that was all there was to this I’d cede the argument. But it’s not.

              The terms bernie bot a and brocialism have both been used in this discussion, the former as a way to dismiss someone’s cognition and the latter to denigrate the very idea of class analysis of feminism. We brown people have all experienced this kind of labeling, wherein a small group’s antisocial behavior is used to create guilt by association, permitting the speaker to dismiss our arguments as coming from ‘those kind of people.’

              It’s unlikely we’re going to agree on why this election went this way, or on what kind of presidency Clinton II would have been, or on the very nature of Clinton I. We’re all opposed to the Rep Party agenda but have, I suspect, irreconcilable views on what should have and should be done to oppose it. That makes neither of us a ‘bot’ or ‘bro’ or whatever the fuck, just highly contentious allies in a rather nasty larger war. Dismissive labeling serves none of us.

    • Murc says:

      The funny thing about Erik’s posts when he talks race is that he doesn’t even go all that hard on people, yet commenters get really worked up anyway.

      The same thing happens when he has the temerity to suggest that economics played some part in Trump’s ascension. People flip out.

      I say that as someone who does think Erik deliberately stirs shit more than he’d admit. But like 99% of his posts are about normal stuff that people seem to feel like they need to go hard on.

    • David Allan Poe says:

      It doesn’t take much prodding to get white people frothed up into a frenzy of attempting to demonstrate how non-racist we are and in fact always have been in every moment of our lives and we do not countenance anyone suspecting otherwise. It’s kind of Our Thing.

  13. Maybe only tangentially related, but it has occurred to me that in most peoples’ everyday experience, the “glass ceiling” is usually an architectural feature in executive suites (including the White House).

    Don’t misunderstand – I’m for shattering glass ceilings wherever they occur. It’s just that solving more bread and butter issues would affect far more citizens, but those things seem to be second-priority stuff – on the agenda for sure, but too often relegated to well-get-to-that status.

    This is not just with issues affecting women, by the way. The “voice” of the Democratic Party – what it sounds like when it talks – sounds pretty unmistakably white and upper middle class, at least to me. We need more fiery union organizers who speak the language, and personally experience the concerns, of ordinary folks, and make sure they often speak for the party.

  14. mojrim says:

    You know, I was all warmed up to ask Erik why he was surprised that class and money outweighed secondary sexual characteristics in the eyes of the well to do. Turns out, he’s getting that better than everyone else.

    We sympathize best with those like ourselves and whose problems we recognize, that’s human nature, evil not required. Faust is simply following Harvard’s current policy of fucking over anyone not already admitted to elite ranks (hell, it’s endowment could cover everyone’s tuition at the ivys if they cared) and the dictates of her race and class. We can go back to the suffrage movement for parallels.

    Sandberg’s book was so transparently awful that it still amazes me anyone besides Arianna Huffington liked it. It’s not a doctrine for women to liberate themselves and achieve (earn) more, but for their employers to exploit them harder.

    • geniecoefficient says:

      Sandberg’s book was so transparently awful

      Yes, if I recall, Anne Applebaum’s NYRB review dispatched it fast and well – punctured every stupid conceit.

      Tossing this out for passersby.

      • Phil Perspective says:

        Yes, if I recall, Anne Applebaum’s NYRB review dispatched it fast and well – punctured every stupid conceit.

        Anne Applebaum ripped Sandberg’s book in NYRB? Wonders never cease I guess. Applebaum is garbage but if she actually blasted a fellow Davos-set jerk, good on her.

  15. corporatecake says:

    I found the article disappointing. Namely, I wonder why the worthy story of Delmy Lemus, the Harvard Double Tree workers, and SLAM working together has to be grounded in Yet Another Story About How Sheryl Sandberg Is A Bad Feminist. The Faust angle is relatively different, but Leonard doesn’t really go very far with it. Much more could be said about how, as you say, a woman whose work is about social justice has not only aligned herself with the powers that be, but actively prevented other women from making social justice gains.

    The “empowerment feminism is terrible” angle at the end is particularly grating, because while I don’t think work like Ban Bossy should be the top of our priority lists, particularly with Trump in office, you can’t throw a rock on the internet without finding someone arguing that women in America don’t need any kind of feminism and we are already empowered, now shut up and read this piece about how terrible it is to be a white man. Even these safe, mainstream forms of feminism are routinely criticized from the right.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      I disagree strongly. The author of the article, Sarah Leonard, is a woman and a feminist. She has every right to criticize her own movement and some of its most prominent figures. “But it looks bad to outsiders!” and “The right wing will make hay out of it!” are terrible excuses that permit all sorts of abusive behavior to go on in the name of social justice.

      • corporatecake says:

        I think you completely misread me. My point isn’t that Leonard shouldn’t criticize people within her own movement (which, you know, is also MY movement) but that Leonard claims that Sandberg’s brand of feminism is safe and apolitical. On the contrary, the right considers even her safe, pro-corporate feminism for ambitious privileged women a bridge too far. Therefore, that particular criticism of Sandberg seems wrong-footed. I see Leonard’s point–that supporting policies like unionization of hotel workers would mean Sandberg sticking her neck out for someone not like her–but she argues it in a way that delegitimizes feminist issues that still haven’t been resolved.

  16. e.a.foster says:

    Its about class first and staying there. everything is secondary.

    these women “talk” about feminism, but really are they? of course not. they’re making a really good living off of it. They write about it, talk about it all the while making money out of it. its a good living. Just don’t ask them to do anything for the working woman or the disenfranchised woman unless of course its a fundraiser for which they get tax deductions. These women are about as much of a problem as men who don’t see women as equals, because these women don’t see other women as equals. They never have, they never will.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      Agreed 100%.

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        because these women don’t see other women as equals. They never have, they never will.

        I was about to concede this (readily) as applied to Sandberg, but dispute the first half of the second sentence as applied to Faust—my hypothesis was that she once did see (at least some large classes of) other women as equals (I had heard good things about her when she was first appointed), but that the institutional press of Harvard had eventually beaten her down.

        Then I checked her biography on Wikipedia, and I’ve decided my hypothesis was very, very unlikely. She is a child of immense privilege (along many axes), and has swum in that privilege her entire life. It would be surprising (to me, given my biases, some based in experience, others in observation, and no doubt many entirely baseless…but right anyway, dammit!) if she needed much if any beating down to become entirely comfortable with (for example) behaving so wretchedly in the matter of (women and other) workers at Harvard. Alas.

        • Lee Rudolph says:

          (I had heard good things about her when she was first appointed)

          This morning the NYT’s obituary page reminded me of where I’d heard them: from the newly late Mary Maples Dunn, “an educator who brought a scholar’s knowledge of the history of women to her long tenure as president of Smith College and who defended the role of women’s colleges in an increasingly diversifying society”. We met at a wake; most of our conversation was about mystery stories and her own life in Philadelphia, but she also spoke enthusiastically about Faust.

    • AMK says:

      I don’t see how it’s different than the male CEO not seeing his doorman as an equal.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      You know what else is a weentsy li’l problem? Basing a political movement on appealing to terrible people who don’t vote for you because they hate everything you stand for, i.e., “social class.” But I’m sure it will all be worth it to teach those troublesome rich white feminists a lesson.

  17. AMK says:

    This isn’t any more or less true of feminists or feminism than any other part of the liberalverse. All the rich left-of-center men at Harvard have the same credibility issues if we’re going to use bank accounts and diplomas as litmus tests for being in the club.

    That said, Sandberg has a long history of not putting her money anywhere near where her mouth is, so that criticism is certainly warranted.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.