Silicon Valley and the Pentagon may not yet be especially close, but yesterday they symbolically got at least one little step closer. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and author of the hit lady empowerment book Lean-In, is the sponsor for the new USS Massachusetts, a Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, whose construction is set to begin in 2018.
Sponsoring ships is a tradition that goes back centuries if not longer. In the United States Navy, sponsors attend the keel-laying of the ship, etching their initials into it. When it comes time to christen a ship, the sponsor will be the one who smashes a bottle upon its bow, and at the commissioning, the sponsor is supposed to say “Man our ship and bring her to life,” imbuing the whole affair with an aura of reanimation.
In 2010, the Navy began the process of opening service in submarines to women. It began integrating women earlier this year. In May, Sandberg took to Facebook to praise Navy secretary Ray Mabus, writing:
It is perhaps in this spirit that Mabus named Sandberg the sponsor of the vessel. If the future can give us a Captain Janeway in the Federation, then surely the present can make way for submarines crewed and commanded by women.