by Annemarie McDaniel
I’m not afraid to say it: I love both Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg. Everyone in the media is making it sound like you can only like one of the other, as if the two women are opposing Super Bowl rivals. You’re either supporting Team Slaughter or Team Sandberg, the only other choice is to support neither. It feels like there is a constant stream of articles that compares one to the other, usually praising one while criticizing the other. In almost all of the articles I have read contrasting the two, both women’s platforms on feminist issues are oversimplified at best, entirely warped beyond recognition at worst.
Slaughter and Sandberg aware this is happening, too. Esquire published an article recently, “Why Men Still Can’t Have It All,” which unoriginally pitted Slaughter and Sandberg on the most superficial level, completely overlooking the deeper message in “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and Lean In. Feminist author Jessica Valenti and Anne-Marie Slaughter tweeted back about forth about the Esquire article:
When this popped up on my Twitter feed, I couldn’t stop smiling. Anne-Marie Slaughter was just as fed up with the media pitting her against Sheryl Sandberg as I was! When the Esquire article labeled Sheryl Sandberg as “altogether more grown-up,” as if the Slaughter only has a childish understanding of the work world, I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes, and it seems like even the famous Anne-Marie Slaughter was doing the same thing. Despite how the media skews their ideas, both of these women appear to have more commonalities than differences. Both understand complex issues such as male privilege in the workplace, the need to change expectations for men at home and in the office, and ways in which the playing field needs to be leveled.
So if both women have pretty similar ideas, why is the media so obsessed with making this catfight, portraying one feminist as “better” than the other?
Pitting women against one another isn’t isolated to Slaughter and Sandberg. The entertainment industry is obsessed with perpetuating the “Queen Bee” syndrome (not to be confused with the fabulous “Queen Beyoncé”). The Queen Bee syndrome is the idea that only one woman can be in power, and all women must compete for this one slot of being the head bitch in charge. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the movie Mean Girls and you’ll get the idea. The media thrives on this dichotomy between two women: you can only love Anne Hathaway or Jennifer Lawrence, but not both; you side with Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie when it comes to Brad Pitt; you’re forced to choose between Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks in the modeling world.
Young women like me are growing up seeing women labeled in the media as rivals, and it’s reflecting in the way we grow up. We are taught that there has to be one female leader in a friend group: the one who is pretty, funny, and seems to have everything going.
This sense of competition, that there can only be one girl in charge, is even a problem for SPARK in the media. SPARK is a team of girls changing the world though activism, but that’s not how the news always portrays it. When team members like Julia and Izzy took on Seventeen Magazine and Emma and Carina tackled Teen Vogue, articles focused on them as one or two girls against the world, when that’s not at all true. We are working together each and every step of the way. SPARK is igniting change not as individuals, but as an intergeneration gang of girl and women activists!
The media loves having one woman in the spotlight. I think this is because, in part, having more than one woman as the hero is scary. Imagine this: if the media stopped portraying Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg as in battle, and instead showed them as they truly are–two women with powerful ideas about the workforce–it would entirely change the dialogue around them. Right now, we’re distracted by the trivial argument of who is “better,” not debating necessary shifts in gender roles and work expectations. It’s easier for the media to do the former–pit people against one another–than actually discuss ways to create progress.
By focusing on non-existent “girl drama,” like we see with Slaughter and Sandberg, or focusing on the efforts of one girl at the expense of girls working together, like we see with the way SPARK’s work is talked about, we lose sight of the most powerful thing: women and girls working together. The media makes it seem like it’s nearly impossible to be a feminist—either you end up being constantly criticized or you’re expected to do it alone. Neither of those is true.
There is no real catfight between Anne-Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg. There is no feminist who instigates change entirely on her own. There are just passionate girls and women fighting for more discussion, more opportunities, and more progress.