She graduated from Stanford with not one but two degrees in computer science (with honors), joined Google in its earliest days and is at the top of her profession.
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Me? I spent an hour looking at up-dos on Pinterest for an hour when I was supposed to be writing this piece.
That’s why, at 37, she was just appointed the new CEO of Yahoo!, and I’m where I am, and we are two different people who make different choices. That message is getting totally lost in the noise over her new job … and the fact that she’s pregnant.
Mayer will be the 20th current female CEO of a Fortune 500 company; 20 women out of 500 total is only 4%. In addition to chatter around her appointment, much of the buzz has centered around her announcement she that plans to only take a few weeks’ maternity leave—three specifically—and will work throughout that time.
What Everyone’s Whining About
Mayer’s getting it from both sides. Sexist online thugs are whining that she only got the job because Yahoo! needed the publicity. That’s expected, nothing new, we all deal with it. Le yawn.
Others say she’s destined to fail at her job of turning around the sinking ship that may or may not be Yahoo!, and that having a baby now makes her especially destined to fail.
But what irks me the most is that she is also getting it from “our” side. Ye Olde Mommy Wars are triggered again. I’m as boob-centric as the next activist, but I snapped at a friend of mine who complained about feeling “conflicted” on Mayer’s decision to go right back to work after having her kid.
My friend’s concern was that this set a bad precedent, would be bad for the women’s movement, that it was worrisome that a woman would feel the need to take so little maternity leave and work throughout it all.
Well, you know what sets a worse precedent? Assuming that Mayer’s going to fail, and that this one choice of hers is what’s going to change—or not change—attitudes toward pregnant women in the workplace.
All this back-fence nattering I’m hearing (“She’s in for a rude awakening! She’s gonna regret this! Why’s she even having kids?”) makes me so ashamed. For feminists, for women, for the human race.
This is just one more case of “You cry-it-out, I co-sleep. You nurse on demand, I supplement with formula. You give birth in your tub at home with a midwife, I head to the hospital and demand an epidural.” Let’s call the whole thing off.
My Views Are Colored by My Own Bad Experience
When I was pregnant the first time, I was a copywriter at the worst company ever, which discontinued its work-from-home policy because the new leadership wanted more “face time.” As I had progressively more troubling symptoms related to my pregnancy, I went to my boss with a note from my doctor saying I needed to work from home. She shook her head. “They won’t go for it.”
A friend who was an employment lawyer told me, “This is what you’re due, legally.”
“But that’s going to cost the company a lot,” I told him, because apparently I’m a corporate enabler.
“If they can’t afford to give you what you’re legally allowed to have,” he said, “then they don’t have a good business model and your pregnancy is the least of their problems.”
But I didn’t grow a backbone, and I kept pushing myself beyond my limits, crying each morning before I left the house, and finally went into labor ten weeks early and spent six weeks in the NICU with a preemie (who is now fine, thank God).
Now. Is that going to happen to Marissa Mayer?
No, it is not, because she’s a CEO and can give herself work-from-home days if she needs to. She can hire a nanny, a nurse, a courier, a cook. She can set her company policy so that infants are allowed in the workplace (which has benefits like higher morale in the office!). Her hot-ass husband is a venture capitalist with a flexible schedule who can take the kid to doctor appointments and whatnot.
You know who’s not a CEO? Almost everyone else. Marissa Mayer is an outlier, and while her actions may make splashy headlines, her situation doesn’t apply to the rest of us.
There’s a Serious Issue Hidden Under These Piles of Snottiness
If you think being forced to go back to work after two weeks is inhuman, stop making it Mayer’s problem and open your eyes to the millions of women who don’t have a choice. The USA is the only industrialized country without a system for state-paid maternity leave.
Things have improved immensely since the early ‘70s for college-educated women like me: In 1971, 27% of working women with B.A.s were able to take paid maternity leave; by 2006, that figure was 66%.
For women whose education topped out at high school, though, 16% had paid maternity leave in 1971. And these days? Why, would you look at that: The number hasn’t improved at all.
The vast majority of women going back to work after two weeks have nothing in common with Marissa Mayer. They’re dragging their weary butts back to work, and wrapping up their boobs because there’s no place to pump at work. They’re getting paid by the hour.
Or they’re military women, like Robyn Roche-Paull, the author of “Breastfeeding in Combat Boots,” who went back to work after six weeks because it was required. When her son wouldn’t take a bottle, she co-slept with him so he could nurse all night and sleep all day while she was at work.
That’s really, really hard to do, and she did it, because she’s a warrior—not the military kind, the mommy kind.
Every mom is a warrior in one way or another. I was a warrior in the NICU. Another mom might be a warrior because she found the resources her special-needs son requires, or just because she found motherhood radically different from what she expected and manages to stay emotionally afloat anyway.
We’re all in this together.
If you care so much about Mayer that you question her choices, then stop gossiping and mobilize to change things for all women. Her choice to take a huge job when she’s pregnant isn’t going to hurt you, or your daughters, or women in general.
If an employer whines that a pregnant woman should come right back to work because Marissa Mayer did, then that woman should be smarter and stronger than I was and advocate for herself. If that woman is you, I hope you have other strong women in your life to lean on. If that woman is your friend, I hope you support her.