Dave Goldberg: Pro-Feminist Role Model or Super Rich Regular Guy?

150504084526-sheryl-sandberg-dave-goldberg-780x439After Dave Goldberg’s tragic sudden death on a treadmill last week, numerous condolences and accolades poured in from around the world.  Many praised his leadership as CEO of SurveyMonkey.  Several lauded him as a technological visionary.  And of course, he was always listed as Sheryl Sandberg’s beloved husband.

However, one surprise among all the tributes was that Jodi Kantor of the The New York Times called Goldberg a lifelong women’s advocate.  Leadership consultant Rebecca Shambaugh, in an article for the Huffington Post, even called him the ultimate mentor to women.

When comparing Goldberg to other men in his profession and social class, it wasn’t hard to see why Kantor and Shambaugh were so glowing.  In the frat boy culture of Silicon Valley, Goldberg’s equal opportunity policies at SurveyMonkey were a standout – 38% of his management team was female.  In a society where most upper class moms still stay home, his two-career marriage to Sheryl Sandberg was exceptional.  In a world that still believes that the husband’s profession should come first, it was refreshing to see Dave relocate for Sheryl’s career, in part so that he could share the child rearing.

However, quite a few people, including some of my friends, were not so impressed.  As “Greenmountainmom” said in the comments section of the NYT article, “Many men of my generation – I am 70 — do these things as well, with or without household help . . . Mr. Goldbeg’s “feminism” is quite routine in many households in this world.”  Others noted that Goldberg never risked social ostracism or made a career sacrifice for his feminist beliefs.

A friend summed up the Goldberg riddle quite succinctly:  “I feel a lot for Sheryl because my beloved husband died in a car accident.  And Dave seems like a cool guy.  But he and Sheryl never went beyond Feminism 101.  If they had ever reached the 102 level, they would have realized that their nannies, housekeepers and gardeners were the ones who did 50% of the housework and childcare.”

These criticisms are valid and I have no problem admitting that Kantor and Shambaugh’s articles are overblown.  Nevertheless, something needed to be said about Goldberg’s support of women in the workplace, if only to help inspire the next generation and motivate the “boy kings” of the Silicon Valley to grow up.

When you live and work in a progressive environment, it’s easy to think that the Dave Goldbergs of the world are “quite routine in many households.”  When you see a father diapering his baby or a husband doing the dishes, it’s tempting to think that he’s doing 50% on the home front.

However, the studies don’t bear that out. Most middle and working class fathers do far more housework and childcare than their dads and granddads ever thought of doing, but it’s still not close to 50%, even when the woman makes more money. Most upper class men still leave the domestic work – and the management of the domestic staff– to their wives.

Sociologist Kathleen Gerson noted in her research that when push comes to shove in a two-career marriage, most millennial men want their wives to make the sacrifices and stay home. It wouldn’t occur to these guys to do a Dave Goldberg and relocate.

The “lean in” feminism of Sheryl and Dave is superficial but after seeing so many women and men take the path of least resistance, especially if the husband makes a good salary, it is desperately needed step forward. A young male friend who believes that “it’s easier when the man has the bigger job” told me that he became more open to moving for his wife’s career after he read about Sheryl and Dave.

So no, Dave Golberg was not quite a pro-feminist role model but he was far ahead of most “regular guys” on women’s rights. The Dave Goldbergs of the world are not going to write classics like Allan G. Johnson’s The Gender Knot and they’re not going to call out their bosses and colleagues on their misogyny and risk getting fired.

But they are still contributing their “stubborn ounces” of activism to making the world a little less patriarchal. As long as we ignore their contributions, nothing will ever change.  But as long we keep acknowledging them without gushing over them – who knows – the tide may keep changing and it may finally be safe to assume that a father who is feeding his child is really an equal partner at home.Sheryl and Dave


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Kathleen Trigiani

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