When Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg died unexpectedly two years ago, something strange happened. Amid widespread sympathy, some of her detractors sank their teeth into the news with unnerving zest. Author Christine Carter told SFGate, “We don’t know how many nannies she has. We don’t know if she has a cook. We just know she did half and Dave did half. She’s going to have to revise that formula, and I’m just really hopeful that she’ll be more transparent by how she’s doing it.” Blogger Penelope Trunk was even less circumspect, speculating (without basis, before the autopsy results came back) that Goldberg might have killed himself. A year later, Trunk remained unrepentant about this comment, and called on Sandberg to admit that she “wasn’t really being a parent” when she wrote Lean In: “She says she’s leaning in and doesn’t tell us how many hours a week she sees her kids, or how much child care costs. She tells us she’s a single parent but she doesn’t tell us if she regrets missing time with her kids, or if she’s still working part-time or what?”
Such remarks reflected the difficult position Sandberg has found herself in since publishing Lean In, her 2013 best seller. The book drew criticism for its privileged perspective on navigating the corporate workplace as a woman; in certain feminist circles, the conventional wisdom on Sandberg has slowly shifted from “impressive but problematic figure” to “laughably blind, bubble-dwelling elite.” She was a natural overachiever with a penchant for mythologizing her own rise to power, who had a high-profile job at one of the most simultaneously beloved and loathed tech companies in the world, plus an unfathomably tall stack of cash — it was a recipe for one of the most divisive feminist figures in recent history….