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.