The double-edged sword of representing a community
After 14 years of leading Facebook (now Meta), Sheryl Sandberg, one of the world’s most influential business leaders, stepped down as the COO yesterday. In so many ways, she’s inspired a generation of women. (Read a note by Julie Zhuo) She’s been vulnerable and powerful. She took up a demanding job while she was parenting two young children.
Being from an under-represented community in tech, she was able to have a larger impact on society and the ambitions of an entire community than her male counterparts. At the same time, she’s faced a lot more scrutiny, and backlash — for example, for supposedly being tone-deaf to the hardships women face — and risked her shortcomings being attributed to her gender and being used to measure an entire community, rather than her individual weaknesses.
In another news today, Amber Heard lost her case against Johnny Depp. She’s been accused of trying to misuse the #MeToo movement and damaging the cause for all women. Her individual loss is looked at as a representative case and has fueled plenty of misogynistic abuse and victim-blaming. She’s being tried on social media, amidst a sympathy wave for Depp. In fact, Amber herself has portrayed her loss as a loss of women.
The Assassination of Amber Heard
“If you were being strangled, would you or would you not try to save your life any way you could?”
I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously. — Amber’s statement
Unfortunately, whether or not Amber has falsely represented information, her case is scaring other survivors.
My social media feed is flooded with opinions on these two women — strong and extreme opinions. Would that be the case if they were not looked at as a representative figures? With social influence and power also comes great responsibility. Higher benchmarks apply to all forms of celebrity and public figures, but members of under-represented communities have the power to have a larger impact, at the same time they’re also expected to set a higher bar. Marissa Mayer, ex-CEO of Yahoo!, was widely criticised for not doing enough to uplift women. She influences policy around women in the workplace and has to stand accountable as a role model for women. Is the community support also manifesting as social pressure?