My best friend has a theory that Marissa Mayer is an android. Not the phone operating system, but an actual humanoid robot created by Google, then gone rogue. I think this would explain a lot. I don’t think it explains how Mayer manages to be a new mom and also the CEO of Yahoo – I think this is the sort of thing some human women can accomplish if they put their mind to it (though it helps if you have a few million dollars lying around, too). I do think being an android might explain why Mayer doesn’t call herself a feminist (I’m pretty sure robots are too busy planning their Matrix-style takeover to worry about feminism).
So if you’ve been reading the internet at all, ever, over the past few weeks, you know that an internal Yahoo memo was leaked, the subject of which was eliminating the ability of employees to work from home. At first glance, this seems backward and unfair. However, are we taking Mayer to task for this decision because she’s a new mom? I know there’s a part of me that thinks “She’s got a new baby, she should be more sympathetic to these people that have obligations outside the office.” And on one hand, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect compassion of people, but on the other hand, I don’t think people would be as likely to think that way about a male CEO who’s a new dad. If a man made the choice, it would just be “Well, he’s fighting to save a failing company, gotta do what you gotta do.”
So while I don’t agree with Mayer’s decision, it’s tough to blame her personally. In the U.S., we’ve created a culture where we’re constantly working. If we’re not in the office, we’re checking our smartphones for e-mail. The line between work and home has blurred so much it’s practically nonexistent. The U.S. has one of the worst parental leave policies in the world.
As a young female CEO, Mayer is in a unique position to challenge this status quo. And she’s not. If anything, she’s taking a step backward. This is her prerogative. She’s openly stated that she’s not a feminist. She’s a woman doing her job (very well!), and there’s technically no obligation for there to be more than that.
This brings me to a completely different topic – my girl Taylor Swift complaining about my girls Tina and Amy making fun of her at the Golden Globes, and bringing up this quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Is this true? By being women, are we all part of some giant sisterhood where we have to help each other out? Does feminism mean that women are supposed to put setting an example for others above what’s required for their own success? Has feminism triumphed if we have women in positions of power, or does it not count unless those women are willing to say they’re feminists? The thing is, those women in power aren’t alone. There are a lot of young women who aren’t exactly embracing the term feminism, though that doesn’t mean they’re in a rush to stay at home and bake pies, either. There are two great pieces on Slate and Jezebel discussing whether maybe feminism isn’t a term we should be using anymore.
Just because the term might be out of date, I don’t think feminism, or at least the fight for women’s rights, whatever you might label it, is over. But maybe it’s time to redefine who we’re fighting, and what we’re fighting for. I’m pretty sure we fought for equality so that we could have female CEOs of major companies, not so that we could tear them apart for every decision they make. I don’t want to say we need to pick our battles because I think they all need to be fought at some point, but maybe fighting over a policy one woman has enacted at one company isn’t one of them at all. If Mayer had made the opposite choice and encouraged more people to work from home, people probably would have accused motherhood of making her soft, and more importantly, it probably wouldn’t have had an impact beyond Yahoo. The fight here should not be over Mayer, it’s about legislation for better parental leave for everyone. So to all the mommy-bloggers who are taking Mayer to task, maybe save those keystrokes for a well worded letter to your congressperson.