#49 Do you want it because you want it or because you think everyone else wants it
On mistrusting yourself, because of the internet
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For the past however many years I’ve read somewhat religiously The Broadsheet, which is a cleverly-named female-focused newsletter from Fortune (Tagline: “The daily dish on the world’s most powerful women”). This week, it linked out to an NYT article about some drama at Chief, which is a venture-backed start-up, now valued at over a billion dollars and one of the few female-founded ventures considered a Unicorn.
Chief is a private membership network for powerful women—members pay about $8,000 a year for access to other female officers, mentorship, education, and events (Michelle Obama and Amal Clooney are examples of past private speakers according to the Times). The article, “Turmoil at Chief, a women’s networking organization, raises a long-simmering question: Is amassing power for corporate women a worthy goal in itself?”, is worth reading if you’re interested in this kind of thing, which I am, but the upshot of it is that here sits an extremely influential community of women, who pay a heavy fee for access, and the turmoil is that the organization is not doing enough with that power in terms of social issues. From the article: “Chief’s founders told The New York Times that their mission was advancing women’s leadership in business, not social advocacy.”
And then there’s this: The Cut, another magazine I read almost daily, has a column called “How I Get It Done” (Tagline: “Successful women talk about managing their careers, and their lives”). I get several digests from The Cut and its affiliates, which are verticals of New York Magazine and include Intelligencer and Vulture, most of which cross-promote each other, and in the last few weeks, I’ve noticed an increase in promotions for the ladies getting shit done and looking good column. When I looked into it, my suspicions were confirmed. The column used to publish weekly, but starting in March began publishing multiple times a week: March 3, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22, 23, 24, 27.
I talked to [redacted] about these two things, implying their co-existence made me feel a little I don’t know what—perhaps a naive astonishment on my part, like: These things are still happening? In this climate?! Then [redacted] said (paraphrasing): “How else are women supposed to get power to stop all this bullshit?” And then I said something like Well, proximity to power, and actual power, doesn’t mean doing anything with it to actually improve blah blah blah, and she waved me off and said “That’s good for you to think, honey”. (Lol.)
Still looking for someone to make me feel less insane about things that make me feel insane, I then called another friend and told her about Chief’s valuation and drama and about how I had a suspicion that The Cut was upping its coverage of Very Efficient and Together Women, and I asked her if these things made her feel a little fucked up, too. That all this stuff is happening in the world and a women’s professional club is valued at a billion dollars and it declines to engage in “social advocacy” and still, it’s viewed as some kind of subversion or Trojan Horse instead of absolutely basic insider capitalism. That all this stuff is happening in the world and The Cut—presumably in response to what we’re all actually clicking on—publishes 300% more articles about how to be more together and more successful. Or, was it just more confirmation that I’m some kind of social outcast who's a few news cycles away from starting a blog about homesteading and desalinating her own urine? [She felt insane about it, too.]
When I sat down to write this essay yesterday, having no idea I was going to write about this at all (I intended to write about satisfaction), I read a just-published article by Kate Manne about the Harder-Better Fallacy (“that which is the most difficult to achieve is deemed the most worthy, regardless of its actual desirability or value”). It was an article on Ozempic and thinness, or it intended to be, but it only made me think about what chaffed about Chief and the increasing number of “How I Get it Done” pieces.
It was not something having to do with women’s empowerment conflated with women’s corporate power, or what’s inherently problematic with articles that valorize a woman who has it all and does it all, and doing it all still means checking your email on your shitty four-week maternity leave, or any of the easy hits.
It was something about how entirely distorting the internet is, and how much it makes us think we want things we don’t even want, because often enough we think everyone else wants that thing, and we’re supposed to want it, too. Because briefly: I thought that maybe I was sitting on an island over here, that I had it all wrong, that my values are entirely misaligned with what I perceive everyone else’s values are especially post-pandemic; that perhaps we’re still unanimously voting that the good life includes a membership fee, a power suit, and a very tight schedule that everyone admires because, like, oh how we wish we could be that kind of disciplined.
Apply this logic to literally anything you see on the internet: Do I really want this? Or do I think I want this because everyone else thinks everyone else wants this?
This week I started reading a book called Meganets (I’m 42% done according to Kindle). While I’m not sure I recommend it (yet), it’s so far been a compulsive, interesting read about the scope of information we’re supposed to take in and how absolutely confusing and ungrounding and impossible that situation is. It’s also about how much we’re already controlled and influenced by existing technologies. As in, forget worrying about AIcontrolling us, we’re already there, or forget about living in the metaverse in some distant hellscape, it’s already happening, we are already mostly living in a virtual reality. (Salient quote: "Anyone visiting our present time from 1985 would find a world of people glued to their devices, listening to streaming music or talking to people across the country, unable to disconnect because technological threads sustain far too much of their daily existence.") The author’s thesis, so far as I’ve interpreted it, is the dystopian future enough of us have imagined is here, that we’re already part of an unstoppable inescapable feedback loop that’s irreversibly reorganized our neurons and our culture. That makes us think we want things we think we should want because apparently, everyone else wants those things too.
There’s a point in this column my brain has not yet synthesized enough to warrant sending this to you (sorry), and it’s not about proximal power or women’s advancement, patriarchy, capitalism, old systems dying, overload of information, information overlords, or an internet that consistently persuades us to compare and shape our own realities and values and beliefs against a narrative that belongs to no one.
It’s more about this: Almost everyone I know in real life is in one way or another struggling, confused, in-between, or barely managing. Almost everyone I know in real life is making hard decisions about how to navigate these times and considering the very real trade-offs and consequences involved. And still most of what I see (on the internet), and I see a lot (on the internet), feels like some hologram of a culture that’s collapsed, like a star you still see because it’s lightyears away, but that burned out a long time ago.
I know how I sound, or at least I know how I feel when I read back what I’ve written, which is a little dark, maybe a little unhinged, which is not how I actually feel about any of this at all. There’s a thing I’m trying to put my finger on, a thing I can’t quite place or find the words to describe adequately. Maybe it’s something about how relieving it is that I find so much of it so obviously noxious, so absolutely illusory and totally frivolous, and so far from the truth of my reality or anyone I actually know’s reality, which is so much uglier and grittier and nuanced and complicated and kind and ordinary and miraculous—and therefore more beautiful—than the internet makes it seem.
I’m sending Ten Things Right Now in a separate email over the weekend but it will go back to being part of the weekly newsletter. A few announcements:
Nic Antoinette, who has influenced me greatly in terms of choosing a life I want to live over a life spent hustling, wrote a book: How To Be Alone: An 800-mile hike on the Arizona Trail, which is coming out next week.
My friend, mentor, and sometimes editor, Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of
Drink, is running her writing program for women in recovery, Writing Your Recovery, April 12th through June 14th. I join each time she runs it to give a one-hour Q&A on writing. Ann has 20 years of experience as a professional editor and as someone who has personally benefited from her wisdom and industry knowledge, this is a gem of a program for anyone who has a book in them and is looking for other women to form a community with who also have books in them.
A few things to add to this, from my own personal experience (both as a former lady CEO, and as a person who has extensively researched organizational dynamics, especially in female-led ventures). First, how many men’s clubs face inner “turmoil” because they aren’t doing enough for social issues? Even that statement in itself is ridiculous because we know it’s a fantasy scenario. There’s no uprising within purely for-profit male-dominated or male-centric organizations the same way there’s no political uprising at Exxon Mobile—the people that get the most shit for not doing enough for the greater good are never the explicitly self-interested or the ones that blatantly sit at the top of extreme wealth and power and privilege at the utmost social cost. It’s always everyone else that should know better, always the burden of the marginalized, even those proximal to power, to carry the weight. (And forget about an NYT article highlighting all that catty drama at the hedge fund—you’ve got to be a lady, in power, doing something marginally wrong like buying too much Topo Chico for your staff, to get this kind of coverage; if you’re a man, you get to be a thousand times as bad, lose billions of fucking dollars, and get a check for a few hundred million to start your next shitty, sure-to-fail venture from Andreesen Horowitz). Second, as someone who ran a venture-backed organization with the goal of subverting capitalism—i.e., who used capitalism to try and subvert capitalism—I can promise you this: it is a fool’s errand to believe that a diverse group of people being very good at capitalism is going to save us from capitalism’s devastation. To be sure, having more women, more BIPOC, more disabled folks, more trans and queer folks—more representation—in positions of power at for-profit institutions will make a difference in policies, wealth distribution, and all things. It is a necessary, important thing. But it will not fundamentally change what is killing us. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Thirdly, I actually applaud these founders for being so clear that they are not, in the immortal words of Omarosa, here to make friends! They are here to do one job—help women amass more power via leadership positions and contact lists—and not pretend that they are in any way able to change gun deaths, misogyny, increasing maternal death, overdoses, healthcare access, houselessness, racism, ageism, ableism, climate change, or whatever. Like at least these bitches aren’t pretending their salutary statements or donations are real game-changing work that justifies their existence as women with power. Some further reading on these things: White Feminism by Koa Beck; this conversation I had with Koa Beck; “The Left is Eating Itself” (podcast on purity politics, Lulu Garcia-Navarro); “Building Resilient Organizations”; We Will Not Cancel Us by adrienne marie brown; [basically anything amb writes]; The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House, Audre Lorde; much more but I’ll stop here.
This was before I verified it
A resource I forced myself to listen to on is AI, I also bought this book after listening to the podcast
A proofreader asked what the metaverse is (most people, like me until a few weeks ago, think it’s Facebook). According to Wikipedia: “In colloquial usage, a ‘metaverse’ is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social and economic connection.