herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

In which I opt for pearls and wisdom

It says something about the world we live in that the new wave of feminist icons are multi-millionaires at the helm of tech and digital media companies. Some have parleyed their success into book deals. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wants us to "lean in"; Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post invites us to "thrive". Others have become infamous for their quasi-progressive policies. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, wants us to strap that baby into the car-seat and get into the office.

They are self-branded female leadership experts and are often guests of 
honour at industry think-tanks, where they pace the stage, evangelising into a headset microphone about gender 
inequality and work-life balance while punctuating their speeches with emphatic iterations of the words NEED and MUST. We should all be doing MORE, they tell us. I wonder if their PAs, nannies and housekeepers heed their advice.

Cult

Although their approaches vary, success, and how to achieve it, is the message that unites them. Huffington has penned a treatise that advocates "The Third Metric". While it might sound like a radical new cult that worships an intergalactic ruler, the advice she expounds is derivative and dictatorial.

Get more sleep; power off the iPhone, remove electrical devices from the 
bedroom. I've read more compelling advice on the HSE leaflets they give 
out at the doctor's.

Sandberg spearheaded the Lean In movement. Now, perhaps I missed the point, but it seems to involve taking on more responsibility and therefore working even harder. I can spot the women who've read this book. Out of nowhere they start suggesting "quick catch-ups over coffee" and organising charity coffee mornings at the local GAA club.

Sandberg also suggests that women build bridges by forging female networks, though I'm not sure that the best way to take on the old boys' club is to initiate a female alternative.

Mayer was considered a trailblazer by some when she went back to work two weeks after giving birth to her son. She later built a nursery beside her office in the Yahoo! headquarters.

She has a theory that "burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you're giving up that makes you resentful". She is regularly invited to share her pearls of wisdom on female leadership, but I think it's fairly safe to conclude that anyone who works 90 hours a week can barely lead themselves.

And yet these women have their followers who have been inspired and empowered by their words. I'm not one of them.

I don't find their manifestos in any way ground-breaking. On the contrary, I think they are the corporate version of New Puritanism, another example of the post-recession Martha Stewart effect.

The irony is that the most radical thing a woman can do these days is decide to be a stay-at-home mother. I know this from the slack-jawed response I receive from soi-disant feminists whenever I mention that I'd rather like this option.

We should be climbing that ladder and breaking glass ceilings, according to these women. But I don't feel compelled to act when I read their words. Rather I feel like the school prefect has just asked me to consider joining the after-school debating society. Maybe it's the unruly schoolgirl in me, but I prefer to heed the advice of the mavericks, the women who make their own rules and march to the beat of their own drum.

I'm with Oscar Wilde when I say that I like women who have a past… that doesn't involve an Ivy League education. I want to hear the personal philosophies of the irreverent and the radical. Sheryl Sandberg has this to say on the fallacy of having it all. "No one can have it all. That language is the worst thing that's happened to the women's movement". But wouldn't you agree that satirist Dorothy Parker put it so much better way back when? "As I was saying to the landlord only this morning: 'You can't have everything'."

Why have silicon and twill when you can have diamonds and silk? I'll take the Elizabeth Taylor school of thought: "Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together".

It strikes me that this new wave of technocratic feminists avoid talk on fashion and beauty, probably because it might seem frivolous or - God no! - reductive.

Glamour

In truth, dressing for the job you want (and the real job is motivating yourself to march into work with a smile on your face) involves lipstick and glamour.

The technocratic feminists are just too PC for my liking. Give me Katharine Hepburn any day: "If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased." Or Sophia Loren: "Sex appeal is fifty percent what you've got and fifty percent what people think you've got."

There is a whisper of audacity to the words and actions of trailblazing women. I think that explains the enduring appeal of Joan Rivers and Dolly Parton. We appreciate their couldn't-give-a-f**k-ness.

If I'm taking life advice, I'll take it from the women who acknowledge that women are different. We are feminine, nurturing, hyper-intuitive beings that are the backbone of every household, the calm in every storm and the first to pick ourselves up and put on the lipstick after every adversity. And when you think like this, the world acts accordingly.

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