By now I have seen Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, on three different television programs, essentially trying to convince women to be more aggressive in their goal-setting. Sandberg and her interviewers seem to agree that there need to be more women in “leadership” positions, such as corporate CEOs.
I agree with parts of Sandberg’s message for women. For one thing, she points out that women are often not anxious to negotiate the best salary for themselves. I agree that the same work should pay the same, regardless of gender.
What concerns me is that she and her interviewers seem to agree, to take for granted in fact, that greed and/or megalomania are good. Not only are they good, but so obvious and desirable as a characteristic, that it’s hardly worth mentioning.
This was evident by the nature of the discussions during Sandberg’s interviews. In fact, the interviewers were quite careful to cover the angle that Sandberg might be saying that something is “wrong” with women, and that’s why there aren’t more of them leading major corporations. But of course, that’s exactly the point – that there’s something wrong.
A jaw-dropping moment came when Sandberg complained that only about half the percentage of women, as compared to men, want to become CEOs. Wow. Women don’t even know what they’re supposed to want! Get with it!
I can relate. I’m supposed to want a big house, with a three-car garage dominating and uglifying the facade. But I don’t. My wife and I would really like to, someday, be able to afford a decent condominium, maybe three or four flights off the ground, with an OK view, and not overlooking a freeway. We’re such losers.
At least my wife wants to be a successful author. But I basically want a part-time job, where I make a quiet contribution to environmental/economic policy, or something like that. I would love to be able to work in this area full time, but my damaged brain (come on… like you couldn’t tell?) makes that difficult. But even before my brain went bad on me, I just wanted to be a biology/ecology professor.
You see, my parents (I have four, thanks to the miracle of divorce and re-marriage) never instilled in me the desire to be a chipmunk. A chipmunk is greedy two different ways – in the short run, and in the long run. They pack their cheeks as full as they can with nuts and seeds that they find on the ground, then they hide as many loads as possible in various places in the forest. They never stop working. They never feel that they have enough.
The human chipmunks are the hoarders of society. And you are supposed to aspire to being like them. In fact, the chipmunks are completely certain that you ARE like them, you’re just not as good at being a chipmunk as they are.
Some of us, the non-chipmunks of the world, have non-megalomaniacal goals. A lot of these people, as it turns out, are women. I applaud those who see the world not as a field of competition, but as an organic substrate on which to create happiness and cooperation… and contentment. Even if a person is only watching out for his or her own family, these are much more admirable goals than being in charge of a huge, money-making operation.
It’s true that concentrations of wealth have yielded some benefits, things like MRI machines, for example. But, once again, these represent the exception, not the rule. Most of this concentration simply goes to toys (like yachts) and dominance of geopolitics through power.
I hereby give recognition to all those women (and men) who have chosen a path not acceptable to the chipmunks. No, there is nothing “wrong” with you. I wish you much success… in providing a decent life for your families, in trying to save up enough to enjoy a decent retirement, and in vying for the local bowling-league championship. We all have noble challenges in our own lives, and we don’t need to be told that we “should” want something bigger.
There are worthy goals that don’t involve outrageously lofty ambition, and sometimes those goals are right in front of us. Sometimes our noblest accomplishments are simply getting through our everyday challenges. Heck, my parents deserve a freakin’ medal for dealing with me through my teenage years. I wish I could pay them back someday, but I’m not a chipmunk, either.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.