How Not to Pitch: Barnard President Debora Spar’s Team Pisses Off Feminists En Masse

Emi of reported today that she had been contacted by a “Communications Manager at Barnard College” asking for free publicity for Barnard president Deborah Spar’s book:

I posted the screencap on facebook, and quickly found out that a couple of my friends who are also radical Asian women writers have been contacted by this Barnard College person. So it wasn’t a fluke that they contacted me; they are actively seeking non-mainstream, radical women of color writers to promote the work of Barnard College president, a highly successful white woman.

I decided to investigate further: I looked to see if anyone has accommodated their request to publicize the book and podcast on their blog, but found something more interesting. Not only is Barnard sending emails to its chosen “feminist thought leaders,” they are also posting unsolicited, unrelated comments on dozens of other people’s blogs that is indistinguishable from spam comments.

(Read Emi’s post here: Elite white feminism fail: Barnard president’s disastrous attempt at viral marketing.)

So, I received a very similar email back in January, and I have to admit that I had a little fun with it.

As Emi notes, these emails aren’t offering any reciprocity at all. The president of Barnard College wants free marketing in exchange for cut-and-pasted compliments! I have my problems with Lean In, as you are about to read, but at least the Lean In people are trying to get people to form “circles” and engage in leadership at the local level. Also, Lean In is interesting enough that even those who dislike the book are talking about it without being spammed into doing so.

Here was my response:

I sent that response on January 17th, and have received no response. So I’m taking it that the subject heading “Great post!” didn’t mean too much.

The book in question, by the way, is here — and it seems that some fawning five-star reviews have been left since I checked out the Amazon page back in January. Checking out the three-star reviews probably gives a fair view — the consensus seems to be that, whether you loved or hated Lean In, this thing is similar but not as compelling.

Which is fine — Lean In has created a phenomenon few authors can hope to recreate.

But maybe a better way to promote the book would be to actually be willing to debate and discuss, and to attempt to build genuine and mutually beneficial relationships with other feminists (some would call that last part … um … well, feminist).

And, as a side note:

I really think that the “We can’t be Wonder Woman!” rhetoric is aimed at women of a much older generation — and I’m in my thirties. I’ve been hearing “no one can be superwoman” since I became old enough to read opinion articles in the newspaper (and that was before newspapers were on the internet). This shit is tired. I think women under 35 today were never under the impression that they could or should “do it all.” We were raised in an era of Oprah and self-actualization, not suits with shoulder pads.

So, it might have been interesting to discuss that on a panel at Barnard, for instance. No dice? Or, Spar could take me up on my request to interview her, in which case I would prepare thoroughly by reading her book. Or, I will debate Debora Spar in any forum. That would be fun for me, although surely a panel involving a more diverse group of feminists would be a better idea.

I wonder whether [REDACTED] is the mastermind behind this spam campaign, or whether she was under orders to “leave comments on a bunch of feminist blogs” and “email feminist bloggers” on pains of keeping her job. We’ve all had bosses with terrible ideas, no?

Either way, should any of my above proposals float the Spar organization’s boat, [REDACTED] knows how to reach me.

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