Marissa Mayer doesn’t particularly care for feminism

But Marissa Mayer wouldn’t be where she is today were it not for feminism.

Here’s what she told the PBS-AOL series “Makers” about her relationship to feminism:

I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word. You know, there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that than comes out of negative energy.



Mayer is a remarkable woman who’s achieved great things, and I’m sure there are more to come. But I don’t use the word “remarkable” there to mean “impressive” or “great.” I use it to mean “that which merits remarking upon, because it is rare or otherwise notable.” Mayer is a woman, and in the tech world she is a high-ranking and very powerful person. That is remarkable, in that it is rare or otherwise notable. And the fact that it is rare or otherwise notable is a sign that feminism’s work is not done, despite all those “amazing opportunities all over the world for women.” In a world where a hiring decision like this one is momentous, groundbreaking, trailblazing news, being a feminist is not having a chip on your shoulder. It is simply an awareness of reality.

And Marissa, it is too bad that feminism has become a negative word. You know what’s also too bad? Your failure to acknowledge that without feminism, you could never have become the CEO of Yahoo.

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17 Comments

  1. Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    It’s unfortunate that she reinforces the thought that feminism is getting a negative connotation, rather than trying to stand against that. A missed opportunity.
    But in spite of her expressed distance from (militant?) feminism, I do hope she’ll show by example that there -are- opportunities and women -can- get to the top. I hope that she’ll show women to see such careers as an option and inspire them to continue the fight for their own career, future and independent life. She shows both the progress as well as the distance still to cross.

  2. Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I heard this clip yesterday and found it so disheartening. I engage in feminist politics precisely because I find it a much more hopeful vision of how the future can/could be than the vision of anti-feminists and those committed to oppositional gender essentialism. To dismiss all of the amazing, creative, future-building things that feminist men and women engage in every day as being motivated by a “chip on the shoulder” attitude is so, so damaging.

    And really, no quicker way to discredit yourself in my eyes than to reveal that THAT is your picture of feminist activism.

    • Posted July 19, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

      The only way quicker in my eyes is to do that AND throw in a smidgen of pop-psychology/new-age “positive energy good negative energy bad” on top of it–oh wait there it is. LOL.

      OTOH, I wonder if maybe since she’s in a corporate environment she feels she may have to distance herself from anything that remotely smacks of taking a stand for an ideal? Like feminism?

  3. Posted July 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    If her achievements are so laudable why not spend energy and effort understanding why she feels the way she feels and address her concerns in this post rather than just saying she’s just wrong? Isn’t it concerning that “feminism” has this connotation? A very successful business woman is publicly disavowing herself of this label when she should be embracing it.

    What about the fact that she seems to make a clear distinction between being for equal rights, believing and professing that woman are just as capable, but that somehow feminism has a “chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that”. Is it possible this is a reasonable viewpoint? Isn’t it possible that the fight for equality has begun to seem to many as a denial of any kind of gender differences?

    • Posted July 19, 2012 at 1:53 am | Permalink

      Hey, I know I have a chip on my shoulder. But that aside, there’s been plenty of topics in the past devoted to discussing the different misunderstandings and connotations surrounding the term feminism in the media or general public perception. It’s not like none of us has any idea where these ideas come from. So I see no problem in pointing out when someone is mistaken in what they perceive to be fact.

  4. Posted July 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s very fair to acknowledge that Marissa wouldn’t be where she is if not for feminism, but as a woman – strictly by virtue of being a woman before any other role or identity in her life — does she necessarily have a duty and requirement to try and change that negative reinforcement when she herself is clearly alienated from feminism in a positive sense? I don’t think that’s fair. It’d be absolutely friggin’ awesome if she did, but circumstances being as they are, that just isn’t the case.

    I can relate to that similar alienation as well on several topics. The most recent example being this whole spat over rape jokes. Initially, from the vast majority I felt there was this knee-jerk “All of these types of jokes are wrong” reaction rather than any acknowledgement of nuance or complexity to the subject as it combines with gallows humor, comedy in general, how or who the joke is about. (However, I agree without question that Tosh was way out of line in that particular instance and ‘joke’ which really wasn’t. ) Eventually, with the latest posts on the subject particularly the piece from Jezebel posted this past Sunday; it seems folks have stepped back and looked at that complexity rather than fallen back on politically-charged rhetoric.

    My next question is this: why is feminism — a philosophy and political ideology that should be embraced by most rational women — so alienating even today? We’ve got great figures like Melissa Harris-Perry and Rachel Maddow in the mainstream media, for example, but still the image of feminism isn’t changing and that is a reality in itself. My question is why?

    I love how empowering, tolerant, inclusive, and accepting feminism can be and the variety of viewpoints and critiques it can bring to a conversation. It will always be valuable for just those few things alone. But far too often, it feels that knee-jerk rhetoric/reaction gets in the way.

  5. Posted July 18, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    You said it, she wouldn’t be where she is if it wasn’t for feminism. Feminism is the belief that women and men are equal, which is a statement she agrees with, so she’s a feminist rather she likes it or not. I do find it so upsetting that feminism has taken on such a negative connotation because I think if more women embraced it maybe we wouldn’t be going so backwards like we seem to be doing lately. I proudly call myself a feminist and all women who believe in equal rights should do the same. Lets take back the word and give it a positive connotation for once!

  6. Posted July 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Feminist movements reduced to a “chip on the shoulder”? Grrrr.

    And yet… How many other Fortune 500 CEOs would say the same or worse about feminists? Marissa Mayer got asked about it just because she’s a woman. Should we yell at her just because she’s a woman?

    Has any Fortune 500 CEO ever had anything good to say about feminists? (Seriously. I want to know.)

  7. Posted July 18, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    The Green Party, a feminist political party, just put up two “remarkable” women for their national ticket and Feministing didn’t say not even a word. Instead you put out pieces on women who “could care less” about other women and about women who say they are not feminists. Oh yes and course all your snippets and pieces about how great Obama is…Here is 7.of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party: FEMINISM AND GENDER EQUITY
    We have inherited a social system based on male domination of politics and economics. We call for the replacement of the cultural ethics of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting that respect differences of opinion and gender. Human values such as equity between the sexes, interpersonal responsibility, and honesty must be developed with moral conscience. We should remember that the process that determines our decisions and actions is just as important as achieving the outcome we want.

    I’m just saying that Feministing needs to expand it’s mind when it comes to politics and not be beholden to the status quo two-party system. Change never occurs inside the box.

  8. Posted July 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of Mayer. She’s going to do awesome things at Yahoo.

    I think this clip does a really good job of illustrating feminism’s central identity (brand) problem. Most of today’s feminists do a good job of simply defining feminism as a philosophical belief in equality, regardless of gender. (Mayer states that she believes in this philosophy.) However, many people don’t recognize feminism as a mere philosophical belief. Instead, it’s seen, at least in part, as a political movement. And, as a political movement, it’s been cast as negative and somewhat irrelevant.

    Sadly, most people don’t take women’s studies courses. I don’t think it’s reasonable to be angry at them for misinterpreting the meaning of feminism. We should be angry at the people who actively worked to define feminism as a negative, ineffective mess. And we should work our asses off to change this perception. However, in my humble opinion, it’s difficult to shake-off the “negative,” “chip-on-the shoulder” connotations when we’re already complaining about all the terrible things Marissa Mayer said once in an interview.

    Women like Mayer, Katie Cotton, and Sheryl Sandberg have made huge, huge strides for women within the tech industry. Regardless of whether they are fully aware, and appreciative, of the role feminism has played in their success, they should be applauded and encouraged.

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      I’ll be very honest, as long as there are people in government trying to legislate womens’ rights away, or politicians pandering to the Religious Right by throwing our ovaries under the bus, it will absolutely be a political as well as philosophical movement.

  9. Posted July 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I would like to offer kind of a defense, as someone close to a couple of women who’ve been working in Silicon Valley for decades, and also someone who watched this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dyvd9fyXpDM

    In that video, which is really long, Meyer talks about a lot of things that, frankly, we’d want any feminist CEO (albeit this is from January) to say: mentoring up and coming women engineers, working with employees to find what they really don’t want to miss and letting them do that – one example of which was allowing a woman with kids to have a flexible schedule around her kids’ soccer games, participating in a mentorship/exhange program with businesswomen in Africa, etc. For that last one, she specifically talked about a woman in Tanzania who is a pilot and runs an airplane maintenance business, who shadowed her at Google for a month.

    My point is: she is not being facetious when she says “oh, women all over the world, it’s awesome for them”, she’s probably talking about the women entrepreneurs from places like Tanzania that she’s actually met and worked with.

    As for acknowledgement of feminism… on the one hand, yes it’d be nice for her to recognize how much had to change, and how much of it was thanks to feminism, for her to be able to grow up in a school system which never (this is a point she made in the longer video) was told “you’re smart FOR A GIRL” but rather “gee you’re really smart, you should be a doctor” and then of course “you should be a computer scientist”. And that’s HUGE, and she says as much. And just because she doesn’t necessarily tie that to feminism doesn’t mean she wasn’t helped by the movement.

    And lastly, keep in mind the politics of this. She is a woman in a very male-dominated industry, albeit Google does try for more diversity and she references women co-workers frequently in the long video… but woman-male-dominated-industry, and particularly if this clip was taken from AFTER she knew she’d not only be the new CEO of Yahoo, but the new pregnant 37 year old CEO of Yahoo… she has a lot of investors/stockholders fears to allay, I’d figure. (Those fears, albeit, may be totally unfair and on some level misogynist, but they probably exist.) And so… how does it help her to say she’s a feminist? The ~80% of men she works with probably won’t really get what that means, and it may alienate her from them, and that’s not helpful to her.

    I honestly believe that this woman is by and large a credit to feminism, that she is doing and has been doing feminist work in tech, but that she has very little directly to gain by siding with feminism, so she doesn’t.

  10. Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Oh, this is really quite disheartening.

    I guess someone needs to remind her that “I certainly believe in equal rights” + ” I believe that women are just as capable” = feminism.

    Maybe Cailin Moran will send her a congratulations note.

  11. Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    I spent most of my twenties in tech, before heading back to research.

    There was a time when I would have said that being a woman always mattered, but it wasn’t necessarily a disadvantage. I don’t think that any more – in fact, I think I was amazingly blind to some often pretty blatant sexism in the community. (That my work community had so much overlap with my social community was part of the problem here.) But I believed that for a long time…

    …and I think I was also, to some degree, responding to hostility toward feminism. The more I said this wasn’t an issue, hey, look, I’m doing just fine, the more comfortable my male coworkers were. And frankly, I couldn’t afford to have them uncomfortable. Do you have any idea how quickly someone gets a reputation as a whiner who wants special treatment? This can be totally inaccurate – but it can haunt you for a long time.

    And I see similar things in academia. I went to a luncheon for women in science not long ago, and the presenter basically said that yeah, when she was younger sexism was an issue, but it was a non-issue today. This is utter crap. Of course, I grew up on the west coast and now live in the midwest, so the sexism around seems more blatant because I haven’t spent years being conditioned to accept it.

  12. Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Jason that it is worthwhile to explore why “Feminism” has such a negative connotation. Everybody, all the way up to CEOs of megacorporations seem to see “Feminists” as terrible, angry people. Why is that?

    In some cases it’s necessary for feminists to be angry. Like any other social movement, feminism focuses on bad things, things that make you angry or sad or scared the more you think about them. There’s a stereotype about sensitive angry black people for the same reason.

    Most people don’t understand these issues they don’t see why they’re bad, so when someone gets angry over something they don’t understand they just see someone getting angry over nothing, and then calling themselves a feminist.

    “Rape Culture” is a particularly problematic piece of terminology. Once you’ve studied the relationship between common attitudes about sex, and the 1 in 4 women who are forced or coerced into sex, and you accept the idea that being forced or coerced into sex is in fact rape, then the term “rape culture” makes perfect sense.

    But if you’ve never had the motivation or opportunity to examine these things, like MOST people, and then some “feminist” drops the term “Rape culture” it comes off as massively insulting to men everywhere, and more than a little paranoid.

  13. Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I think this post is surprisingly and weirdly sexist. There’s no appreciation for the discrimination faced in the tech industry. I’m the only woman at the small tech company I work at, and talking about feminism and more opportunities for women in my field never helps you. Often it makes your co-workers think you’re just looking for a “free ride” to the top, or manipulating affirmative action to get advancements over more qualified male employees. Affiliating with feminism is not going to help Mayer’s career, and if she cares more about that than politics then that’s her choice. Plus when was the last time anyone here criticized a male CEO of any business for not speaking about feminism or calling himself a feminist?? Just because she’s a female CEO doesn’t mean she owes the women’s movement anything. Feminism is about giving women rights and opportunity, not requiring them to go out and succeed and thank “the cause” when they do.

    Also, this whole post really affirms Mayer’s statement about “a chip on their shoulder.” Getting worked up about one woman not calling herself a feminist to the extent we try to guilt-trip her by saying it’s because of feminism that she’s a CEO in the first place?? To belittle how hard someone worked as an individual to succeed (and against all the prejudice nonetheless), I think that’s a huge chip to have.

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