I feel like I should just stop right here, because everything that (still) needs to be said about commodified women, corporate branding and feminism, or the lack thereof, is neatly implied.
But instead, given the hue of current corporate sexual politics, let me lean in to chat about this ever so briefly.
In her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg discusses the need for women to overcome their inner doubts and lean in to the management table, thus taking a larger share of corporate leadership roles and, hopefully, someday, delivering trickle-down gender equality. “We can reignite the revolution by internalizing the revolution,” Sandberg writes, encouraging women to join “Lean In Circles” to share experiences.
Reaction to the book has been loud—it’s been embraced by Oprah, Gloria Steinem and generic corporate public relations statements everywhere. And it’s been criticized by feminists who assert that the conservative corporate structure itself—which favors the privileged and glosses over ground-floor issues like child care and student debt—needs to be changed (not leaned into) in order for all walks of women to achieve more success. Additionally, authors such as the controversial Pulitzer Prize-winner Susan Faludi argue that significant change would mean rejecting the real role Corporate America has fine-tuned for women: objects for marketing. Cue the sexy Coca-Cola bottle. And 90 percent of the Las Vegas image.
In discussing Lean In, Faludi reminds readers on TheBaffler.com, “In 1929, at the behest of the American Tobacco Company, Edward Bernays, the founding father of public relations, organized a procession of debutantes to troop down Fifth Avenue during the Easter Parade, asserting their ‘right’ to smoke in public by puffing ‘torches of freedom.’ Women’s quest for social and economic freedom had been re-enacted as farce.”
Here, in Las Vegas as in pop culture, that farce has long fueled an economy. Although the city famously profits from commodifying women, we almost never talk openly and robustly about feminism. Would our economy collapse?
So credit Sandberg with that: She’s reignited a mainstream discussion about a concept—feminism—that postmodern media abandoned in favor of sex-positive commercialism, previously known as sexploitation. (Wouldn’t we get more page hits if we had a photo of a hot chick with this?)
Some of Sandberg’s recommendations for “reigniting the revolution” are distinctly applicable to the middle- and upper-class woman, such as find peer mentors in the corporate conference room—which leaves a lot of Las Vegas, a primarily working-class city, out. Take, for example, workforces in key Las Vegas industries, such as various flesh-for-cash enterprises. What’s the length of paid maternity leave for the average stripper? Is there a union? Or, perhaps “Lean In” applies more aptly to the corporate resort-casino industry: Does joining a Lean In Circle to discuss ambition address the plight of even one of thousands of immigrant housekeepers? Possibly. And if so, maybe she will negotiate better child care at her workplace.
Meanwhile, it would do the Las Vegas community good—in terms of cultural growth and economic diversity, in terms of luring the Creative Class or whichever sought-after population is expected to revitalize Downtown with more than bars—to have a real conversation about gender equity here. Why aren’t there more female casino CEOs? Aren’t there enough women entering the casino business on the ground level with the opportunity to move up? Conversely, why aren’t there more scantily clad male cocktail servers? Are heterosexual female and gay male consumers unable or unwilling to support that?
Lastly, if only because I’m out of space, if you’re going to be an “Adult Sexy Coca-Cola Bottle” for Halloween, by all means have fun. And then, maybe lean in and demand stock options.