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DSpar Writes About Women’s Guilt

As Barnard’s 2011 Commencement speaker, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and one of the most powerful women in America, catalogued the industries and positions of power in which women are severely underrepresented. It turns out, that’s most of them. She encouraged Barnard’s graduating seniors to change these troubling statistics, adding the caveat that career decisions would be difficult and come at a cost.

Then, for reasons related to the national debate over women’s reproductive rightsBarack Obama announced he would speak at Barnard’s 2012 commencement. This was a BFD. Despite DSpar’s initial, perhaps hopeful, dismissal of the comments in response to this announcement as the workings of “19 year-olds writing at 4:30 in the morning,” she later addressed commenters with disappointment.

So Obama delivered some politically convenient platitudes. Summer came, and people stopped thinking about it. DSpar had more thoughts, though.

The Atlantic’s summer issue’s front page article was entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Political science big deal Annie-Marie Slaughter indicted the “fiction” she says the feminist movement sold her on—that women can “have it all.”

Slaughter’s article made the rounds. One of the many Internet commentators was Barnard President Debora Spar. DSpar’s Atlantic editorial, which ran today at a reasonable 1:20 pm, argued that Slaughter’s article provoked the response it did because women today feel guilty for their choices no matter what those choices are.

The irony, of course, and the sadness, is that two women of Slaughter and Sandberg’s stature even feel the need to speak about guilt. Did Bill Gates feel guilty as he built the behemoth of Microsoft? Was Bill Clinton racked by personal failings as he advanced his political career? Maybe, but neither of them really dwells upon these topics in public. Contemporary women, by contrast (and I count myself among them), seem positively obsessed with our own trade-offs and misgivings. We feel guilty about leaving the halls of power too quickly, or too late. About pushing our children too hard, or not hard enough. About not home-making cupcakes that are sufficiently organic, vegan, and nut-free.

A little more:

Why is this happening? Because women born in the wake of feminism—women like Sandberg, Slaughter, and me—have been subtly striving all our lives to prove that we have picked up the torch that feminism provided. That we haven’t failed the mothers and grandmothers who made our ambitions possible. And yet, in a deep and profound way, we are failing. Because feminism wasn’t supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competitions over who is raising better children, organizing more cooperative marriages, or getting less sleep. It was supposed to make us free—to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling that we’d somehow gotten it wrong.

Calling it as she sees it via Barnard

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  • no offense but says:

    @no offense but how the hell is “Sheryl sandberg one of the most powerful women in america”? She has a lot of equity in a billion dollar social network that, according to several PhDs and a billionaire entrepreneur on the board at my summer investment bank, could very well collapse within 10-15 years, much like myspace.

    and sheryl? i mean, i’ll admit – what she did to get to where she is, is very very impressive and personally as an ambitious man, i dont even know if i can be in her position in 20 years. BUT, is she really worth THIS much of hype? i mean, really? i can understand why ambitious ivy league girls everywhere look up to her but really now, i think most of you are just looking in the wrong places. What is there to do at facebook, operations-wise? im just a dumb intern but we have teams of old rich men at my firm analyzing fb every day and honestly, she doesnt have much of a job to do, at least it pales in comparison to say, what the former Apple COO had to do. my 2 cents: she’s simply riding the success trail of smoke zuck built for her.

    if she quit FB tomorrow, nothing would happen to the world. nothing in politics will happen. we will not invade pakistan. fb will not collapse. volcanoes will not erupt. she is not one of the most powerful women on this planet. not even CLOSE.

    1. cc2015 says:

      @cc2015 1) because there aren’t many powerful women in america to begin with. the bar isn’t set nearly as high as it is for men.


      you make valid points but they overlook a little bit of her history and her context

  • confession says:

    @confession Not all women at the top are like this but I feel like there are a few who aren’t what they seem.

    I was given a director job right out of college. I know there were guys with 3-7yrs experience who wanted the job but i was given it instead. I guess I was pretty attractive at the time, one of the senior mgmt began hitting on me during a summer intern cocktail party and given that i was a tad bit tipsy, i slept with him thta night. then a couple more times thereafter. I was then given a pretty damn good job after graduating, reporting directly to him. I was paid pretty damn well for a recent college graduate. And I confess I was NOT QUALIFIED at all for that director position. I majored in civil engineering with a 3.3 GPA. Comparatively, the other men in the pool for the same position had things from MIT, Princeton, Columbia and also with 3-7 years experience. I less than a 1 yr experience……….. 2 summers as an intern there. now what does that tell you?

    that was yrs ago. i’m now back at columbia for my mba. the admissions dean, during my interview, was quite impressed that i landed a director position at age 22 right out of college and inferred i was some kind of ‘genius.’ they let me in.

    now what does that tell you?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous THIS is what they mean by “networking”? Career development, I underestimated your trampyness

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous you are a disgusting human being. that is all.

    3. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Who….are you?

  • Van Owen says:

    @Van Owen I love my Columbia College women!

    1. Van Owen says:

      @Van Owen But Barnard girls fuck em

      1. cc '14 says:

        @cc '14 class. you have it in spades.

  • Barnard 2012 says:

    @Barnard 2012 One of the things I kept thinking during my commencement is, “I wonder if DSpar is really upset she doesn’t get to see her son graduate from college?” She had mentioned at the beginning of the ceremony that Barnard’s Class Day and her son’s graduation were the same day. If she hadn’t been present at our ceremony to see her son graduate, I would’ve understood completely, but instead she had to be there to see strangers graduate, rather than her own family. It’s a small sacrifice to make in the grand scheme of things, of course, but I definitely bet there was a bit of guilt in that decision.

    1. Totally agreed says:

      @Totally agreed but I don’t think that’s a uniquely female guilt — I feel pretty confident that if any of the male presidents of colleges within the University were in an equivalent situation each would have some guilt, regardless of his final decision

    2. working mom says:

      @working mom I actually think that her absence at the Barnard graduation to attend her son’s graduation ,would have been a more important message to the Barnard class of 2012 than anything Obama said.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous and not a single shit was given….

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I think that it’s wonderful that women are able to take top positions that would not have been open to them a few decades ago (though of course there is much more work to be done to open more positions and give women the self-esteem and opportunities to reach those positions). I also am so grateful that my family, my peers, and Columbia make me feel like nothing is standing in my way from having a successful and gratifying career. However, I do think that I will experience guilt and conflicting feelings at trying to have the high-level foreign policy career I want and the family I want. For both biological and societal reasons, women generally feel that they are meant to be the primary care-givers for their children. Most men are used to the idea that they will go to work in the morning and come back in the evening and see their children then. They’re used to the idea that business trips may take them away from their families for days or weeks on end. They’ve seen other men and their fathers do the same. This is not the same for women. It’s hard for me to imagine having the kind of job I want, which would require a lot of travel and long hours in the office, and having time to spend with my family. I personally would feel guilty having someone else raise my children (not every woman feels this way, but I’m sure many do). I don’t think a man would feel this way. Being a mother and woman in a high-power career at the same time just seems so tough- a CEO on maternity leave, a government official missing a meeting for a parent-teacher conference. That’s why this conversation is relevant- so we can try and figure out how the modern woman can “have it all.”

  • The Cloaked Mask says:

    @The Cloaked Mask I understand this this is perhaps off topic, but I wish to direct the readers of Bwog to the spec-sucks blog, at which there are many fine posts on topics which may interest you.

    1. I love how says:

      @I love how the spec-sucks troll changed his name from “the dark hand” to “the cloaked mask” following a previous responder who observed that the “dark hand” is similar to the “invisible hand” concept of capitalism, something believed by most members of the college republicans, some of whom created that famous debacle to screw over the spec where the college republicans president had to resign.


      1. Time says:

        @Time to readjust the tinfoil.

  • impressed says:

    @impressed a post mentioning women and the trolls have held off? glory be!

  • blah says:

    @blah Every decision comes with trade-offs. The idea of ‘having it all’ is an impossible ambition that no man or woman can achieve. We all understand that we have to make decisions based on our goals for life. It’s no different for women, except that we somehow bought into the myth that we could have it all. That phrase is never used with respect to men.

  • cc woman says:

    @cc woman As a female CC student, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn among hundreds of some of the country’s most intelligent people. And, not to degrade my own gender, but I have discovered along the way that almost all of the students who I would place in the category of “brilliant” or “genius” are men. That is not to say that I have not met women along the way who are not equally as brilliant, but I have encountered far more standout men than women. If you look around our country, the people at the true forefront of things, the ones who have really spearheaded revolutionary concepts and innovations, are men. And let’s not blame it on the fact that it’s because women are denied the same opportunities as men. In fact, I happen to think that us women sometimes have it easier now a days, particularly with affirmative action and all that jazz. It’s just a simple fact. And that is why, as many of the commenters above recognized, the bar is set lower for women than it is for men. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s a reality.

    1. COMEON says:

      @COMEON “this may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s a reality” <– any sentence precedented or followed by this statement almost ALWAYS needs examining. what does "it's a reality" even MEAN? a discussion of women/power almost always hinges on the idea that today/yesterday's circumstances depend on power structures of the past.
      are you suggesting that men are biologically superior, intellect-speaking? or that it's just the "reality" of today's society that you meet smarter men? in which case, sure, it's the reality that most of the rich assholes i meet are dudes, too. cool!
      what is the point of pointing out the "reality" if you're not doing anything to understand that reality, how it came to be, and where it's going? what's the point of CC if you're content to uncritically generalize a few experiences, and then posit this generalization is if it's some kind of politically or socially relevant argument?
      tl;dr i guess, whatever though, i'm headed to the beach!

    2. ehhhhh says:

      @ehhhhh on the troll scale of 1-5, I give that a solid 3.5

    3. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous you guys are dumb as fuck. why do I even go to school with you affirmative action nimwits? cc woman was speaking the truth but you all are too pathetic to accept reality.
      keep living in fantasy land, fucktards.

      1. CC says:

        @CC i’m sure you’re ‘joking’, but affirmative action doesn’t help women at all. in fact, the biggest affirmative action initiative at highly ranked schools is for white boys. last i heard of anything resembling “affirmative action” for women is the debate goign on in western europe over possibly replicating scandinavia’s quotas for women in the leadership of companies (particularly in finance and related fields).

        also, crazy girl–since you’re assuming your categories of “brilliant” or “genius” are an objective affirmation, you must be assuming you’re pretty brilliant then to judge. the person who places people in categories of “brilliant” or “not brilliant” must be on an entirely superior plane of brilliance. as a woman, are you the exception to your rule? and you are absolutely insulting your own gender. don’t pull that “not to degrade my gender” bullshit.

  • Wimmen says:

    @Wimmen Can’t live with ’em, can’t live with ’em, amirite?!?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous This is a pathetic comment thread. Women are not a homogenous group, and to say that men are smarter/more successful/whatever is completely overlooking the social determinates of what some people consider to be “success.” Also consider that women get paid less for the same job, have to spend more on healthcare, and are often burdened by childbirth, and it’s obvious why it is harder for women in general to break into the upper levels of any big corporation. That being said, I can think of numerous extremely successful women that I look up to. As we all get older this will only increase. The people who are at the top now are typically older and from a generation where women didn’t always have the option to go to college. Now women outnumber men in higher education and have children later, so this will change and the glass ceiling will break.

    Second of all — to any woman who depreciates her own gender: I understand that you probably have a strong case of internalized sexism and that somewhere along the line you became disenchanted with not only the other women in your life, but clearly yourself as well, but you are a fucking embarrassment to us all. Find a strong role model (I can think of plenty off the top of my head) and stop sucking so much man-dick and spend time with strong, confident women and maybe your penis envy will go away.

    Lastly – to the broad who slept with her boss for whatever reason. Sometimes people will do whatever it takes to get to the top and you seem to have less integrity than others, but you shouldn’t be judged for this (I think MANY guys would fuck their boss for any type of reward). However, that you would let this change your worldview and assume that other women do the same is downright foolish. I didn’t fuck anyone to be successful, don’t project your behaviors and faults onto others.

    Ya’ll need some therapy to get over issues you’ve had with your parents and overcome negative messages you receive from a society that spews out sexist and heterosexist attitudes. Be a role model to other younger girls. Just don’t hate yourself and then push it onto other women.

    A successful woman with integrity and confidence

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