Yes, we still have to call out sexism against Marissa Mayer

The news that former Google executive Marissa Mayer had been appointed President and CEO of Yahoo – just a few days before announcing her pregnancy – was met with feminist glee back in July. But the honeymoon between Mayer and feminists is long over, following revelations that Mayer doesn’t particularly care for feminism, nor does she fully understand how her actions could have wide ramifications for working moms or promote the kinds of policies that have long been considered the most family-friendly and, by extension, feminist.

Frankly, I’m as turned off by all of these disclosures as the next feminist blogger. As Chloe put it when the video of Mayer’s rejection of the feminist label surfaced, Mayer’s rise in a male-dominated field would have been virtually impossible without the gains made in large part as a direct result of the very feminism she decries. “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,” she wrote. “It is too bad that [for Mayer] 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.”

Even before Mayer’s controversial decision to end the practice of remote work at Yahoo, Katie Baker at Jezebel described her own process of disillusionment with the CEO, asking  “Is Marissa Mayer…a feminist trailblazer if she doesn’t want to be one?” and pointing out that while it may be merely “frustrating that Mayer doesn’t want to proudly proclaim herself a feminist” it’s downright “irresponsible” for her to completely distance herself from the movement and pretend that equality for women in tech isn’t still a huge issue.

I don’t support Mayer’s anti-feminist policies or rejection of the very movement that got her where she is today. I’ll say it again: I think Mayer’s rejection of feminism is whack and her remote work policy is harmful. BUT, and there is a big one here, I still think it’s important to call out sexism against her. And believe me, there’s plenty of it. Here’s a representative piece reducing criticism of Mayer’s policies as “mommy bloggers tearing her apart”. Here’s a piece echoing many, many others criticizing Mayer for simultaneously “building a nursery by her office” while “dissing working moms”, which strikes me as an incredibly below-the-belt and wholly gendered dig. (It makes sense to point out hypocrisy as it relates to anti-feminist policies, but shouldn’t we also acknowledge the hypocrisy inherent in attacking a working mom for her child care choices to make our own political points?) Even BusinessWeek  is acknowledging the sexism inherent to some of the “excessive” reactions to Mayer’s policies.

This is not to say that anyone who disagrees with Mayer is a sexist – far from it – just that it’s important to call out the sexist aspects of some of the criticism aimed against her. (Here’s a good example of a piece that does a good job of focusing on what’s wrong with Mayer’s remote work policy and less on her own child-rearing choices.) In this imperfect, wholly sexist world, so many of us are socialized to react negatively to female authority, and, in many cases, to undermine and belittle it. If feminism is to avoid hypocrisy, we need to understand and even embrace the fact that our movement can’t be selectively applied, for better or worse. Everyone benefits when we call out sexism — even people who have publicly distanced themselves from the movement or espoused anti-feminist views. And that’s a good thing, whether they know it or not.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • Steve

    First off why does the author think Mayer should call her self and be a feminist let alone be one? Why can’t Mayer be who she wants to be? Isn’t that what feminists want after all for women? Secondly if the author actually did their homework (clearly they didn’t), they would have seen Mayer did this due to the abuse of the work from home program at Yahoo. There where people collecting a pay check from Yahoo that no one knew about. This was a business decision made to restructure Yahoo which is what Mayer’s job is right now. But I guess its more important to allow working moms to stay at home than take actions so that they still have their jobs down the road.

  • John

    “I don’t support Mayer’s anti-feminist policies or rejection of the very movement that got her where she is today. ”

    This is part of the problem. Feminists want to take credit for what she achieved and she believes that it was something she earned on her own and who’s to say that she didn’t or wouldn’t have? Throughout history there have always been extraordinary men and women who defied convention. Wasn’t Ada Lovelace just honored for being the first computer programmer? Tech may actually be a lot more female friendly than most industries. From the Huffington Post.

    That doesn’t include Meg Whitman, Virginia Rometty, Carli Fiorina or Sheryl Sandberg, who are the most recognizable female names in tech (or formerly before Fiorina messed up) aside from Mayer. People may need to start differentiating between IT and IT management when they assert that tech industries are hostile to women.

  • honeybee

    I’m torn about this b/c if a male CEO made the same move we’d be castigating him and probably using some pretty sexist language and ideas as well. That happens all the time but is rarely called out.

    Personally I’d rather focus on Mayer then the people calling her out, but then I haven’t read all the criticisms so perhaps I underestimate them.