The Unbelievable Conversations with and About Sheryl Sandberg

With Sheryl Sandberg's already much talked about "feminist manifesto" Lean In out today, the conversation about the topic has reached new lows, with a lot of women (and men) reverting to pre-Betty Friedan era form. 

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Women in the workplace as a "hotly debated" issue. The 60 Minutes segment that aired on Sunday night began: "Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of the social networking giant Facebook -- but that's not what's putting her in the headlines. She's decided to jump head first into one of most hotly debated and intensely personal issues out there: women in the workplace." Really? That's a sad statement in 2013 since women having jobs outside the home has not been controversial at all for decades. 60 Minutes interviewer Norah O'Donnell likely meant that there has been a lot of heated talk about work-life balance, the new code-name for women's issues, which has also been the norm for decades. But, the phrasing makes it sound otherwise, characterizing a lot of her questions throughout the interview.

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Women want romance over anything else. About halfway into the interview Sandberg and O'Donnell have the following exchange:

Sheryl Sandberg: It's more pressure on women to-- if they marry or partner with someone, to partner with the right person. Because you cannot have a full career and a full life at home with your children if you are also doing all of the housework and child care.

Norah O'Donnell: Doesn't that kind of take the romance out of everything?

Sandberg puts forth a pretty uncontroversial point that women choose supportive husbands, which O'Donnell sees as a war on love? Nothing brings the romance like a man telling a woman his career is more important than hers. Believe it or not (!), having a nice husband can be sexy, counters Sandberg:

You know what? It turns out that a husband who does the laundry, it's very romantic when you're older. And it's hard to believe when you're younger. But it's absolutely true. Actually, the studies show this. Husbands who do more housework have more sex with their wives.

(It's unbelievable she has to justify marriage to a supportive husband in the first place.) At that point, O'Donnell still doesn't believe her: "There are studies that show this?" she asks. Because if studies didn't show this, then women would have no reason to pick a man who isn't selfish, right? 

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Everyone loves a cat fight. Meet the Press this Sunday had a similarly archaic discussion about the book in which Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus justified the worst elements of the discussion as a good old cat fight. "Look, if nature abhors a vacuum, it loves a good cat fight. And she is attractive, she is smart, she is young, she's impossibly rich and impossibly successful," she writes. "What's not to get the claws out?" Sandberg brought that gendered terminology upon herself, using the term "cat-fight" in her book to describe the way women unfairly judge female leaders. So, this diminutive take on the discussion is partly her fault. But, comparing critiques of the book to bikini mud fights kind of seems like a step backwards.

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Related: Sheryl Sandberg must hate Anne Marie Slaughter because they both talk about women and stuff. Two women who have slightly opposing views on work-life balance must hate each other because women love cat-fights and can't not hate their competition. "Is it true that there is bad blood between you guys?" asks Salon's Irin Carmon in her interview. "No, not at all," answers Sandberg, because actually they believe in a lot of the same things:

I think Anne-Marie and I basically agree on the exact same things, which is we both think we need more women in leadership roles, and she has focused on institutional barriers, and I think there are basically two sides on what has to happen and both are necessary. You can’t have just one.

Things will never change for women. Again, from Marcus: "I suspect that, not us, but somebody's going to be sitting here 50 years from now having the same conversation." Well, hopefully not. That's the point of Sandberg's book, that we won't be talking about how corporate women can make just as much money as corporate men. That would be terrible. 

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Bonus: Steve Schmidt is back to defending Sarah Palin. When it comes to women with awesome husbands, Sarah Palin is a perfect example, says Steve Schmidt, the man who has, since convincing McCain to pick her as his running mate, made a career out of calling Palin stupid. "Todd Palin was a full partner and he's a great partner," he said during Meet the Press, suggesting that Palin did at least one thing right. 

So, yeah, the conversation has taken a turn for the antiquated. Perhaps it's because Lean In is essentially a guide book for getting ahead at work and there's not much more to say about the 172 page manual with a pretty simple and not all that controversial guidelines than has already been said? Or maybe this all just proves that Sandberg is on to something: Some women who live in this century need to Lean In.