A New Model For Female Emancipation - English

The Superwomen Complex

By Juliane Mendelsohn8.03.2014Culture and Society, Economics

The female CEO narrative wants women to model themselves on Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer. But we have fought too hard to be judged merely by success and self-sacrifice.



This year Germany witnessed it’s second round of the great feminist debate. Spoiler alert: it was fairly unspectacular. Apparently, “a lot of women could make great CEO’s but, because the laws of nature or social constraint, they aren’t”. “If it takes a quota to change this, then so be it.”

This proposal is a nationwide campaign targeted at making the lives of perhaps 1% of women better. Sometimes the many participate in furthering the cause of the few – this is essentially the reason why we hold elections: their success promises to benefit all of us. In the case of female CEOs, it is the participation of women in decisive power structures but also the creation of a new narrative about what women can achieve and how serious we should take them. On the individual level, the aim is to create more role models. We are told to admire highly successful women and it is working.

Detached from reality

In the past two years two women have been catapulted into that role: Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer: two international heavyweight female CEOs. The only problem is that in comparison to the men we admire (and the many we don’t), we don’t exactly know _why_ we should admire these two. We have all seen them in their signature heels, and we know that they hold the title “CEO”. And?

We admire them without really knowing what they stand for or what they do, other than being Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer. Sandberg’s “Lean in” is an organization _“committed to offering women the on-going inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals.”_ Really? Just one platform that can help, support and inspire all women?

Like Sandberg herself, this platform looks too good, feels too good and is entirely detached from the reality of millions of women. Rather than offering support, it, like the entire Sandberg persona, tells us how to act, how hard we should work and what to sacrifice, but more importantly it tells us what to want: *success*. The kind of success of personal success that comes with a title, a name-tag and a stamp of approval.

There are two feminist schools directly and most effectively targeted at the creation of equality: the School of Judith Butler, who enlightened us with the fact that, “gender is not who we are but what we do.” And the Marxist ideas of Silvia Federici, Laurie Penny _et al_, who equate the gender struggle with that of any other disenfranchised and oppressed classes and races. The School of Sandberg is the opposite: antifeminist and exploitative. Her CEO narrative essentially reduces the value of women to her labour and degree of self-sacrifice.

That pinnacle of perversion is not reached with our deification of female CEOs. The labour-sacrifice narrative is even more harmful when it comes to women pursuing “motherhood” not as an all-encompassing life goal but as a profession, _a job like any other, or as it is frequently quoted in magazines and on Facebook, “the hardest (yet entirely unpaid) job in the world_”. A job accompanied with an obligation of self-sacrifice and measured in the beauty, talent and intellect of their children. Mothers that no longer find time to read, who abandoned a million other dreams along the way.

Sandberg and the soccer-mommies

Karl Marx was opposed to the concept of the family, not because he hated women or children, but because it meant that the breadwinner, the man, could be asked to do the job and the labour of two people, provided the woman was in the home, taking care of the children. A century later, if anything, both men and women should be paid reparations!

Instead, we choose to invent an even more capitalist and patriarchal narrative that will never lead to greater mobility of the genders or the classes. The superwomen narrative, be she an extraordinary mother or businesswomen, isolates 99% of mortal women, for whom the sacrifices that the Sandbergs and soccer-mommies make, remain a luxury.

I am not going to end this piece by telling you which women I admire, why I live to work and why on most days life is shit but could be worse. All I’ll say is that we have come too far and fought too hard to have our eyes dusted by the Sandman and the Sandberg, creating nothing more than a generation of deeply unhappy and isolated women.



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