The new groundswell of corporate feminism lives up to its name: the real benefactors aren't women, but the corporations that might employ them. So then, how does Facebook COO and celebrity author Sheryl Sandberg get such good press? She has her own employees write it for her.
The corporate feminist conference circuit works like this: wealthy companies (American Express, AOL, Microsoft) pay wealthy women (Arianna Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg, a Harvard Business School dean) to exchange tips on how to have already made it in corporate USA. Slate's Amanda Marcotte summed it up perfectly: "Corporate Feminism: Rich Women Congratulating Each Other for Being So Inspiring."
For Sandberg, the trend (and the conferences it props up) are a lifeline out of Facebook and into the greater occidental influence sphere. Glowing articles in the New York Times that directly label the Sandbergian agenda as feminist are part of the propaganda machine. This wouldn't be the first time Lean In and its supporters get a free pass in the press—but what you'd likely miss in the above article is the fact that the article's author, Jessica Bennett, works for Lean In, which she joined as an "editorial director" last year. Bennett makes one direct reference to both Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In, while the rest of the piece are peppered with references to other corporate conferences at which Sandberg has prominently appeared as a speaker. No disclosure about the writer's affiliation appears.
I asked the Times why this wasn't noted, and received the following message from Styles editor Stuart Emmrich:
The editors of Styles were aware of Jessica's affiliation with Lean In — she edits occasional special projects for the Lean In Foundation, in addition to her main job as a freelance magazine writer and a columnist for Time, Inc. — and considered including that disclosure in the piece. But once we realized that the only reference to Sandberg was the single parenthetical mention in the sentence below, we decided that it wasn't necessary.
This is misleading at best. Lean In tells me she's now classified as a "contributor"—Time, where she writes a regular column, describes her as a "contributing editor" at Lean In. Lean In is listed as Bennett's employer on both Facebook and LinkedIn. But even her alleged career as a "freelance magazine writer" doesn't take her far from Sheryl Sandberg: many of her articles are either direct or indirect promotions for her sometimes boss.
A recent article in Cosmopolitan includes a direct plug for LeanIn.org.
Another, for NBC News, includes an inspiring quote from Sandberg, and a link to her site.
Several of her articles for Time, where she is supposed to be an independent freelance journalist, include references to or promotions for Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, or both. This is a full-fledged freelance career in the eyes of the IRS only: Bennett is essentially working as a publicist for Sandberg around the web under the auspices of journalism. Writers these days disclose far worse sins: why stop now?
Jessica Bennett did not reply to an email request for comment.