Style

No, Sheryl Sandberg Does Not Have To Talk About Clothes

Another bullet on the growing list of Sandberg criticisms is that she fails to address fashion in Lean In. But so what?

Pascal Lauener / Reuters

Financial Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman takes Sandberg and Lean In to task for not addressing fashion.

Friedman acknowledges that obviously clothing is a touchy subject for Sandberg, whose biggest critics say her workplace advice only serves women of privilege, and that if she talks openly about the expensive Prada and Calvin Klein things she wears, she will only fuel their fire. Yet Friedman argues, “The implication of her silence is: you wouldn’t ask a man the clothes question. But I think the real answer is: a man wouldn’t be afraid to answer it. She shouldn’t be either. She should address it — face-on.”

But why should Sandberg have to talk about clothes? She shouldn’t. Friedman is right that she would only get more attacked if she did. But also, maybe Sandberg thinks as little about her attire as the average person who gets dressed in the morning without knowing who designed every little thing in their closet does — like the Facebook employees who work alongside Sandberg and would be unable to state the provenance of their hoodies if pressed.

Besides, the subjects tackled in Lean In — like how to engage with older male mentors or advance to higher-level positions — simply seem more complicated than how to dress for an office. If Sandberg, who’s proved plenty controversial already, thought women were failing to attain equal footing with men in the workplace in large part because of their wardrobes, she very well could have leaned in and addressed that.

There’s nothing wrong with making fashion part of your public persona, as Marissa Mayer has done (though she certainly got more attention for asking Yahoo employees not to work at home than for caring about her shoes). Most people seem to understand that powerful women can be interested in fashion without being shallow or dumb, just as men can be interested in sports without being airheaded. (Though many still suggest Obama is wasting his time by filling out March Madness brackets.) But it’s not Sandberg’s job to make women’s interest in fashion less scary to the world at large. Some people just don’t care about clothes, and that’s OK.

Despite all the nasty comments she got about her pantsuits, Hillary Clinton didn’t feel pressured to dress “better” — or even talk about it. Rather, she tackled the sexism head-on in this now-famous exchange with an interviewer at a talk in Kyrgyzstan in 2010:

Interviewer: OK. Which designers do you prefer?
Hillary Clinton: What designers of clothes?
Interviewer: Yes.
Hillary Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question?
Interviewer: Probably not. Probably not.

And now she’s downright celebrated for her disinterest in apparel.

Give Sandberg a few years, and she probably will be too. That is, if she’s not already.

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