Sandberg, Millennial Journalism, and Evolution

What do they have in common?

Pretty much nothing.

But the Sandberg stuff and the journalism stuff have been pricking people’s underbellies recently. I thought I could helpfully share some of the more helpful entries in these latest blogosphere buggaboos.

The evolution thing is just cool.

So a pro writer got snippety about labor & exploitation when an editor proposed that he repackage an existing article for her site. For free. For exposure. He gave her exposure by publicizing her name and email address in a screed about how writers should be PAID. Which, of course, they should.

Lots of writers online have agreed, disagreed, or grey-area-d the issue. But Ezra Klein wrote a typically fresh take on the broader context.

The source/journalist relationship used to be mutually beneficial. Now it’s not. Sources can get their exposure and publicity without the mediation by a journalist and editor. So web editors are conditioned to expect free content from them.

Eventually we’ll figure out how to pay for the content that we inhale like it’s Cheetos.

In one respect, the abounding free content has made us all extraordinarily literate. Even if it’s TV recaps that we’re snorting, rather than the latest fretting about this or that aspect of feminism or the state of contemporary journalism.

We just need to sort out the model. Still. And hope that increased fees for content won’t squelch our culture’s desire for it.

So Sheryl Sandberg’s book has been getting a ton of mediaspace. Lean In. A book of advice for women based on Sandberg’s years in executive positions and her observation of some ways that women could modify their workplace comportment to effect gender parity in the boardroom. Or start to.

People are mad, people are excited, people are nonplussed. About this book. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably either mad or excited.

But here’s a comprehensive interview with Sandberg that hits every single nail: identifying as a feminist, the difference between personal and systemic change, she and Ann-Marie Slaughter actually AGREE ON EVERYTHING IMPORTANT.

My favorite moment in the interview (and other reviews of her book) was her talking about how women tend to feel like a fraud, or underqualified, for positions. Sandberg has observed this tendency in most women she’s managed, and in hardly any men.

Now, I have never met a single PhD student that did not feel like a fraud. Like we fooled everything into thinking that we had something to say about something. I believe this is a deep characteristic of graduate education that those of us who eventually left that circus must reckon with.

However, I have also never observed a single man PhD student (or professor) ACT like he felt that way.

Systemic problems? Yes ma’am. But I agree with Sandberg: we can all adjust our professional behavior to compensate for these dumb-ass socializations:

Women, be more assertive, pretend more confidence than you feel, “lean in” (still not sure what that means,) all that.

Everyone: recognize that these behavioral differences are endemic to our society. Develop ways to recognize and reward alternative modes (collaborative, cooperative, humble) of leadership. Stop assigning value to a single style of behavior. Recognize that identical go-getting behavior is rewarded as assertive in men and, often, punished as overly aggressive in women.

Etc. Etc.

Finally, because everything I say is really about gender, I was so pleased to read Laura Miller’s review of a new book debunking various myths about evolution and our Stone Age forebears.

The myth du jour is that paleo-diet thing. That our evolutionary essence has celiac disease. That pancakes and tofurkey have poisoned our society.

Marlene Zuk calls mammothshit on the whole enterprise. It turns out that society has shaped evolution for centuries. That blue eyes have evolved only within the least few hundred years. That we were processing grains before we were agricultural. And that, in short,

“We have a regrettable tendency to see what we want to see and rationalize what we already want to do. That often means that if we can think of a way in which a behavior, whether it is eating junk food or having an affair, might have been beneficial in an ancestral environment, we feel vindicated, or at least justified.”

One of my (least) favorite ridiculousnesses is using evolution to justify gender crap. We often employ computer metaphors, there, too, misunderstanding DNA/genes as equivalent to computer code.

Men are programmed to spread their seed! Women are programmed to have sex with tall bankers! It’s evolution!

Does anyone notice that all our science (popular conceptions of it, at least) just happens to mimic our gender norms?

Listen, you can eat your nuts and jerky all day long if you want. Just don’t tell me that evolution explains any single thing about anything about my family, my marriage, my desires, or what I want to frickin eat for dinner.

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