This is Part Two of
Three Four. Part One is here. Moment of self-doubt here. Based on some of the comments on Part One, I feel like I have to point out that, although I’m being critical, skeptical, and a bit cynical, I am working my way towards a defense of the Reality-based Community.
Kevin Drum knows stuff.
Everybody who reads his blog knows this. Of course he knows stuff. And he thinks about stuff. He’s a smart and thoughtful guy.
Sometimes, though, he mixes up what he thinks with what he knows.
Happens to the best of us.
Happens to the rest of us.
Happens to the me of us more than I would like or like to admit.
Sheryl Sandberg has written a book. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. When Mark Zuckerberg says jump, Sandberg makes sure everybody jumps the right height and the right distance in the right direction and comes down on the right spot. Among other things, her book offers advice to women on asserting themselves at the office. The world needs more women in positions of influence and power, and Sandberg believes that if young women follow her example at least some of them will rise to those positions and from there they can help make the world jump to a better place.
At least, I think that’s what’s in her book. I don’t know. I haven’t read it. I have read a lot about it. Mostly by women who didn’t like what Sandberg had to say in her book. Or rather what they thought she had to say. Most of them hadn’t read Lean In. It hadn’t been released yet.
Boiled down, it seemed to me, their main objection was that, as far as they knew, Sandberg hadn’t written the sort of book they thought she should have written.
Other women came to Sandberg’s defense. Sandberg had the right to write any sort of book she wanted, they said, not that they knew what sort of book she’d written either. They hadn’t read it for the same reason the first set of women hadn’t. But they were pretty sure that whatever Sandberg had written, there was a message in it that needed to be taught and Sandberg was just the person to teach it.
What it came down to, though, was that both sides were made up of a lot of smart and thoughtful people who knew what was in a book they hadn’t read.
I noticed that the actual release of the book wasn’t followed by many blog posts, op-eds, or reviews in which writers on either side revised their initial judgments or stepped up to declare how right they’d been.
Probably this was because editors and producers decided the subject had been pretty well exhausted already. No more page views in it. No ratings increases.
But I knew better.
I knew that what had happened was that people in both groups realized that Lean In turned out to be what it always sounded like to me, another version of a sort of memoir a certain type of reader can’t get enough of, another How to be Me by a corporate careerist preaching a gospel of self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment through climbing the corporate ladder, this one being a little different in that the author appears to have more of a social conscience and more self-awareness than the usual perpetrators of these straight to the remainder table soporifics.
See, I knew what was in the book already too.
At any rate, as far as I know, Kevin Drum hasn’t presumed to know what’s in Lean In without having read it.
He does know something though.
This passage from tonight's 60 Minutes interview with [Sandberg] was striking:Norah O'Donnell: You know, Sheryl, people are going to say, "Oh she's got a charmed life, She went to Harvard. She's a billionaire."
Sheryl Sandberg: Yep.
Norah O'Donnell: "And she's telling me what I should do?" Do they have a point?
Sheryl Sandberg: I'm not trying to say that everything I can do everyone can do. But I do believe that these messages are completely universal.
....Norah O'Donnell: And for those who say, "Easy for you to say?"
Sheryl Sandberg: It is easier for me to say this. And that's why I'm saying it.
Can you imagine anyone posing questions like these to Richard Branson or Jack Welch? Last I looked, they were pretty rich too, and they've also written bestselling books providing advice on business and life. Nobody ever asks them why they think they can offer advice to the masses from their lofty perches, but apparently it feels natural to ask Sandberg these questions just because her primary audience is other women…
Makes sense to me. Except…
These are exactly the sort of questions guys who write the sort of book Sandberg appears to have written get asked. They’re old standards. The first question even the most gullible customer lining up at the wagon to buy the snake oil asks is How do I know this will work for me?
All those guys must have been asked variations of that question every time they sat down for an interview.
Of course I don’t know this. I don’t have the transcripts handy and my memory doesn’t serve because, as I’m sure I’ve made clear, the subject bores me silly so any memory I have of those guys being interviewed is a memory of when for some reason or another I couldn’t change the channel. Even so, my memory is pretty good, but it’s not so good I can remember every question asked and answered in every interview I caught in passing God knows how long ago.
And I’d bet it’s the same for Drum.
I doubt he has the transcripts handy either. If he did any googling, he’d have probably put it in his post. His memory may be way better than mine, but it’s probably not that good. And, in fact, since he’s only human, whatever memory he does have of any of those interviews has probably been…emended…by the assumption that questions like that wouldn’t have been asked.
We’re very good at “remembering” what it’s convenient for us to remember.
Drum's post isn’t a statement of something he knows. It’s just something he thinks.
He has good reason to think it, based on things he and we do know.
We know women in the public eye are subjected to different standards. We know they are patronized, that their opinions are trivialized and marginalized, we know they’re treated (and dismissed) as more emotional and reactive than men, as less logical, less practical, less intelligent. We know that if they are young and attractive, like Sandberg, they’re sexualized and in that way demeaned and dismissed as unserious. We know that women who resist this sexualization, either deliberately and consciously or because they just don’t fit the prevailing standards for sexy, are blamed and derided, insulted, mocked, and openly despised and attacked as if it’s their job and their responsibility to be young, pretty, charming, deferential, and willing to at least give the impression they’re open to, you know, the possibility.
We know women are discriminated against generally and more specifically on the job. We know they are denied promotions, raises, and perks that their male coworkers receive as a matter of course. We know they’re expected to defer to their bosses and take orders without complaint in a way the men around them aren’t and wouldn’t stand for. We know they have their ideas stolen when they aren’t outright dismissed. We know they’re harassed and we know that harassment isn’t about sex, it’s about asserting male dominance and often the goal is to drive them from the workplace.
We know all this happens.
And we know it happens not just in the business world but in areas that ought to be and routinely congratulate themselves on being more enlightened---academia, the sciences, the arts, the comic book and gaming communities, the liberal blogosphere.
But how do we know it?
We know because we’ve seen it happen. The women among us have had it happen to them, time and time again. The men among us have watched it happen. Sometimes we’ve even made it happen or let it happen by not speaking up or by not even noticing. All of us have read about it. Heard about it. There are studies! I can’t point to any at the moment. I don’t have any copies handy. I can’t remember any specifics. But I’ve read them or at least read about them, so I know they’re there and I know what they show.
So we know!
And if it happens in that many other cases, then we can assume it’s happening in this one.
It’s a good bet, at least.
Anyway, if it’s not happening here, it happens often enough that it might as well be, so I’m not really wrong if I talk about it as if it is happening even if I don’t know that it is.
Here’s the thing.
Much of what we know, we don’t know, we just believe. We accept it, usually without thought.
There may be lots of good reasons for believing it, but that doesn’t change what’s going on. We’re treating an opinion as if it’s a self-evident fact.
We do this. By we I mean people. Our thinking is lazy and besides there are only so many hours in the day. If we had to think everything through we’d never get out the door in the morning. We have to make decisions based on what we know, even though we know that a lot of what we know we don’t really know. We just assume.
And we have bad habits of mind. We over-privilege our own experiences. We are all subject to confirmation bias. We treat coincidence as causation. (That last one’s the basis of all religion.) We reflexively defend our egos and argue not about what’s happening but about what we want to happen or need to be happening to flatter our vanities and advance our self-interests.
And those of us who are politically minded have the really bad habit of applying our political beliefs as if they are scientific theories, proven beyond question and universally descriptive and prescriptive.
What Kevin Drum saw happening in that 60 Minutes interview with Sandberg might very well have been happening, but not in the way he thinks. It might not have been in the questions themselves that the double-standard was being applied against Sandberg but in O’Donnell’s tone or in her attitude or in her eyes. It might have been in a single, quick nod of the head or raising of an eyebrow or recrossing of a leg. Drum might have seen right but assumed wrong.
His assumption being that he knew what was going on based on stuff he remembered and not on what he was seeing and hearing at the moment, privileging his base of knowledge over his own instincts, a common mistake among intellectuals and another form of temptation for members of the reality-based community.
We don’t just think that because we respect the facts we have the facts. We think that if we think something, believe something, know something it must be based on our stored knowledge of the facts.
It can’t be based on something so fleeting as a casual observation or---ha!---a momentary impression.
End of Part Two. Don’t worry I’m getting there. Part Three is on the way.
Photo courtesy of CBS. Here’s the transcript and a link to the video from the 60 Minutes interview with Sandberg.