Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO and reluctant mommy wars poster-woman, announced her second pregnancy this week; she’s having twins. She’s also already decided that a two week maternity leave will suffice — it’s the same leave she took with her first child. The internet is going nuts, because Marissa Mayer isn’t just a CEO, she’s a CEO with a uterus. A woman can never separate herself from the contents of her uterus, even when that woman is one of the most powerful CEO’s in America.
People who shouldn’t be furious are furious. Take Anne Weisberg, senior vice-president of the Families and Work Institute in New York. She told The Guardian, “Mayer’s announcement is disappointing. She’s a role model and I think she should take whatever Yahoo’s parental leave is – the mark of a great leader is that they have a strong team and don’t need to be there all the time themselves. And she’s having twins – just physically that’s a big deal.”
Is that physically a big deal? Really? Thank God for that insight, because I’m sure Mayer hasn’t even considered what a “big deal” pregnancy and labor is — even though she’s done it before. Dismissing a very smart woman’s decisions and then infantilizing her by speculating that she doesn’t know what she’s in for isn’t helping anyone – least of all women. And Weisberg wasn’t the only one to do it. Linda Aitchison wrote for The Guardian, “Two weeks off with twins? Good luck with that!”
Maybe Mayer is a control freak. Maybe she loves her job. Maybe work keeps her sane. Maybe she’s a CEO and is used to investing a very large amount of her time and energy in her work. Whatever the case may be, Mayer doesn’t owe anyone an explanation.
Mayer has certainly walked the walk when it comes to supporting women in the workplace. She changed Yahoo’s parental leave to give biological mothers 16 weeks paid time off after baby and fathers and adoptive parents eight. She also gave new parents a $500 stipend to help with groceries and baby clothes. She has definitely been an ally for professional women.
Another high-powered CEO announced some baby news recently. It was met with a decidedly different reaction than Mayer’s. When Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, announced that he and his wife were expecting a child, there were no think pieces dedicated to the amount of time he was planning to take off work. No one questioned whether he would be able to balance career and baby. The decisions he makes about his parental leave once the baby arrives will not be placed under a microscope. It seemed as if the entire internet showed up to congratulate Zuckerberg — no one demanded answers about how he would cope with baby, and if he gave those answers you could be damn sure no one would dismiss him. You can’t say the same about the overwhelming reaction to Mayer. Everyone seems to feel that they are owed an explanation for her choices.
We can’t truly support women in power until we can allow them to detach themselves from their reproductive organs. It takes a woman and a man to make a baby. Either take men to task as well — forcing them to answer a laundry list of questions about their reproductive decisions and family planning choices — or shut the hell up.
Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values At Work wrote for CNBC, “Most male CEOs behave similarly to Mayer. Let’s be clear: Our goal in urging companies toward gender diversity at the highest levels isn’t to get women to act like male CEOs, but to change the workplace culture altogether. We need fathers to take the whole time allotted for leave as well — and for company culture to encourage, rather than punish, those who do so.” So now we should not only offer the time, we should force people to take it off?
It takes a certain amount of drive and time commitment to be a CEO: that’s a fact. Let’s give women the room to answer that call without begrudging them their choices, dismissing their ability to make those choices, and judging them as mothers because of them. Mayer made $6 million her first year as CEO at Yahoo. She simply doesn’t need 16 weeks off. She has every resource available to her to make raising her twins manageable – including an office nursery. But she certainly can’t just stand up and answer critics with, “I’m rich, idiots. The whole work-life balance struggle doesn’t apply to me.”
Let’s stop forcing professional women to answer questions we would never pose to men. Then we’ll be making strides.