The personal is political.
September 3, 2015 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Marissa Mayer will take two weeks of maternity leave following the birth of her twins. In 2013, Mayer changed Yahoo policies to allow more generous family leave. New mothers can take 16 weeks of paid leave, while fathers are offered 8 weeks. However, when it comes to her own pregnancy with twins, she has announced she will keep working straight through the pregnancy, and will only take two weeks of leave after the birth. How much obligation does she have as a role model, and how much of the scrutiny around her choices is sexist in itself?

Ellen Bravo, the executive director of Family Values @ Work thinks Mayer is sending the wrong message and undercutting the fight for maternity leave in the US.

The view of Samantha Allen at the Daily Beast is similar: "In a vacuum, Mayer’s decision would not affect other women at Yahoo or elsewhere. But in the context of a competitive tech industry, many critics are predicting that Mayer’s announcement will alter perceptions of female employees who do not want to “stay in the rhythm of things” after giving birth."

Emma Brockes at the Guardian questions whether this scrutiny is fair: "While the law in the US should be strengthened to guarantee paid parental leave, there is also an awful lot of puritanical nonsense around when it’s considered decent for mothers to return to work. "

At the Mary Sue, Teresa Jusino takes an even stronger position and writes that Mayer's maternity leave choices are none of our business:

We need companies to ensure that parents can prioritize their work and their families in the most optimal way for them so that both are taken care of. We need workplaces to recognize that people work better when they know that the rest of their lives are in order. And we need our laws to protect workers from being fired for daring to prioritize their families over their jobs.

But as for how individual women choose to approach motherhood in relation to their work? That’s their business.


previously, previously, previously
posted by frumiousb (117 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I guess I think that it is none of our business, but I also think that it's tempting fate to announce in advance that you're only taking 2 weeks of maternity leave. She sounds awfully confident that she's going to have a relatively easy delivery!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:42 PM on September 3, 2015 [63 favorites]


Emma Brockes at the Guardian questions whether this scrutiny is fair: "While the law in the US should be strengthened to guarantee paid parental leave, there is also an awful lot of puritanical nonsense around when it’s considered decent for mothers to return to work. "

At the Mary Sue, Teresa Jusino takes an even stronger position and writes that Mayer's maternity leave choices are none of our business


Indeed.

I am trying to think of the last time that a male CEO's paternity leave was a major news event/story. And yet here we are scrutinizing Marissa Mayer for something many women experience in the workplace.
posted by Fizz at 4:43 PM on September 3, 2015 [19 favorites]


Well, ya know, good for her, I guess, but this assumes she's well enough to go back to work. Not every delivery is whiz-bang uncomplicated, and some infants need extra attention for whatever reason.

I guess it boils down to choice. For those that want to take a year's maternity leave from work, it should be possible and there should be supports in place, like in the rest of the civilized world.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 4:44 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am trying to think of the last time that a male CEO's paternity leave was a major news event/story. And yet here we are scrutinizing Marissa Mayer for something many women experience in the workplace.

There was some commentary about how Zuckerberg should set an example for paternity leave when he becomes a father. Your broader point, however, is a good one. We do not judge male CEOs on their fitness as parents when they do or don't take leave.

I'd like to see that change -- well, mostly in the sense that I'd like to see more dialogue about the tradeoffs between professional and personal priorities for high-achieving working parents of any gender. I think it's bullshit that right now, we treat parental leave and career impact as a primarily female issue.
posted by sobell at 4:48 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I had a supervisor at a finance internship who was very proud that she only took a week or week and a half off for the birth of her children. She was a great person. I personally couldn't see myself doing that but whatever floats her boat.

I think to each her own. If that's what Mayer hopes and wants to do (God forbid there are complications), then good for her. She should be allowed to change her mind though.

The tiring thing is hearing men and women act as though their own experiences and feelings are right, good, and universal, if people weren't so weak and lazy. "Oh so and so lost all the baby weight in 3 weeks after birth, so anybody can!" Or the women who are like, "I have 5 kids and childbirth is easy and it wasn't hard to be a new mom and work FT and do it all. I did." Jeez, have some empathy or admit that you can't speak for others experiences, that no one is you or has to be you.

It's kind of like when people want to seem down to earth as a means to mask their desire to judge and make everything seem simple and straightforward. "Oh, I grew up in abject poverty and became a wealthy banker. Everybody else is just lazy."
posted by discopolo at 4:48 PM on September 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


It's so cringe-worthy that her decision about how much maternity leave she wishes to take is being subject to scrutiny by the press. Her choices about Yahoo policy for maternity leave - sure, that's newsworthy. It might be newsworthy if she granted herself more leave than regular employees, but critiquing her for a choice to take less than the maximum? Ugh.

Besides, isn't there enough about Yahoo's lackluster performance/direction to critique without having to question Mayer's life choices outside work?
posted by jzb at 4:50 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


While I generally want to say that her choices are none of our business, I think that the boss's actions send a powerful signal to the rest of the company where actions speak louder than words. If you're the boss and you stay late at the office every night, you're sending a message to your employees that you expect the same from them. If you're the boss and you spend your entire vacation sending and receiving routine non-emergency emails, you're sending a message that this is how your employees should act on their vacations too. Similarly, if you're the boss and you take a fraction of the available leave, you send a message, both to the future parents who work for you and their managers, that two weeks is good enough. That message, for better or worse, speaks louder than the one you sent when you changed the policies to grant more leave a few years ago.

So while I feel we have no business criticizing her personal decision, I am concerned about the signal it sends both to Yahoo employees and, given Mayer's status in the industry and in business, to the rest of the world.
posted by zachlipton at 4:52 PM on September 3, 2015 [97 favorites]


Phew! She can get right back to the hard work of running everything that Yahoo! touches into the ground!

pours case of 40s on curb for Yahoo Pipes, Delicious, Upcoming, Konfabulator, FoxyTunes, IntoNow, Summly, Tumblr, RockMelt, Flickr,
posted by jeffehobbs at 4:54 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


It shouldn't matter what amount of maternity leave or paternity leave a new parent takes because it should be there for the taking, federally guaranteed. This is why we have laws.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:55 PM on September 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


I tend to agree with those who say that the reality is it makes things more difficult for other women in the workplace, probably men as well. Part of that leave is MEDICAL leave, the same leave you get if you need to have a major surgery. The model should not be for women to be superhuman in the basics of childbirth, nor in the basics of having a family.

No, men's decisions are not weighed publicly in the same way - in a fair world all would be equal and just. But that's also how things are. It doesn't mean that what Marissa Mayer is modeling is not actively harmful.
posted by vunder at 4:57 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I like to think of "the personal is political" as a way to generalize personal issues and turn them into motivation and shaping of political movements and for social and civil rights. In this way, a shared experience becomes a good reason to try to change the world around us for the better.

I am significantly less happy with what seems to be the current trend of judging peoples' political dedication and beliefs by analyzing their personal lives. I feel like this is the latter, rather than the former; I agree about the social pressure, but I disagree with interrogating her personal choice (and wish her well and all health with her pregnancy).
posted by Deoridhe at 5:00 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't care how much leave she takes and I wish she had kept this to herself. It's no one's business how much leave she plans to take unless it directly effects them at work and I don't think she should have shared this information with the press.

Many women would love to go back to work after two weeks but can't because of health issues or financial reasons - getting someone to take care of two-week-old twins cannot be cheap. She shouldn't be making this choice so public. It is not public business.
posted by sockermom at 5:00 PM on September 3, 2015 [32 favorites]


Marissa can afford to have a team of nannies, and being the boss, can take her baby into the office with her every day if she wants to. I'm not criticizing her, I'm saying she is not a typical case, and her extra resources let her get back to work sooner than the average mother, if that's what she wants.
posted by w0mbat at 5:00 PM on September 3, 2015 [42 favorites]


I am trying to think of the last time that a male CEO's paternity leave was a major news event/story. And yet here we are scrutinizing Marissa Mayer for something many women experience in the workplace.

I'm trying to remember the last time a male CEO gave birth to twins and then showed back up at work two weeks later, creating a work culture in which other pregnant male employees are discouraged from taking the entire leave that they're entitled to take after giving birth, lest they be perceived as not being a team player or whatever.
posted by palomar at 5:06 PM on September 3, 2015 [76 favorites]


> I am trying to think of the last time that a male CEO's paternity leave was a major news event/story

While usually I think it's fair to compare maternity leave and paternity leave, or to just call it "parental leave," I can't set aside the physical aspects of delivery and how long it takes to recover from that. I wouldn't have been ready to go back to work after two weeks.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:06 PM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Perhaps a little bit of machisma on her part...
posted by jim in austin at 5:08 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Marissa can afford to have a team of nannies, and being the boss, can take her baby into the office with her every day if she wants to. I'm not criticizing her, I'm saying she is not a typical case, and her extra resources let her get back to work sooner than the average mother, if that's what she wants.

Yes, she's a terrible example to use to represent the average working mother and doesn't have the obstacles, limitations and lack of resources that most other mothers have. It's a straight-up bullshit comparison.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 5:12 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much less time other women might need for leave if they had a nursery installed at their office as well.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:16 PM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


While I agree that the scrutiny around her is a product of sexism, I am also deeply disappointed in her choice. She is in a rare position -- as a woman with power, visibility, and a whole bunch of folks just ready to make her into a role model -- to make a difference and help dismantle some of the sexist attitudes and structures that weigh all of us down.

It's totally her choice to make the decision not to fight that fight. But I do believe that she could make a positive difference is she choose otherwise, so it's sad and disappointing to see her instead choose to be part of the problem. Because as a woman with power and visibility she is actually becoming a big part of the problem. Now, instead of a woman in her position, say, taking a good six months off while leading a huge corporation successfully and forcing a conversation about how maybe we really should rethink our whole attitude toward family leave, we have another example of how women just have to work harder than everyone else, have kids, and get back to work cause that's what success looks like in this country so maybe its ok to go ahead and find a reason to pass over all those young women candidates for promotion since maybe they'll have babies someday and stop being productive.

It makes me feel like that scene in Braveheart where Wallace is begging Robert the Bruce to just lead the Scots already, and then he gets betrayed and its really too bad.
posted by cubby at 5:22 PM on September 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think when a CEO announces what they're going to do, around childbirth or something else, it's as much a signal to employees as it is to shareholders.

However, I'm not holding my breath for a world in which male CEOs regularly announce how much paternity leave they're taking.
posted by zippy at 5:22 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even the two weeks is strictly for show. She'll probably induce on a Friday evening and have her assistant at her house / hospital bedside at 9 a.m. Monday and with her 50 hours a week thereafter. There won't be any important call or email unhandled. In fact, she'll be meaningfully more in pocket than when she's on a regular business trip or vacation, simply because she'll be in the right time zone, won't be at dinners or clubs where she can't have her phone in her hand, etc.
posted by MattD at 5:25 PM on September 3, 2015 [19 favorites]


That's what I was thinking, too, MattD.
posted by palomar at 5:28 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Perhaps a little bit of machisma on her part...


At least a bit. I mean, I can identify with wanting to be tough and go right back to work - I came out of surgery recently, all swaggering and thinking I was going back to work in a few days but NOPE.

Childbirth is hard on the body, and she is having twins. I don't know if she fully grasps how much this is going to take out of her - intellectually, sure, but as tough as you want to be there is no way to predict how you will feel after something that physically traumatic.

I suspect it is going to be a very long two weeks.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:31 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't consider CEOs people in the same sense as the rest of us so don't really see the contradiction between her increasing parental leave for employees but taking none of it herself. In the same way I would think it unfathomable for a CEO to take a 2-3 week vacation but perfectly reasonable (and in fact desirable) for pretty much everyone else in the company to do so.

Now my knowledge of CEOs is less than zero so maybe they can and do take time off but if they don't then I wouldn't expect Mayer to do it in this case either.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:45 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


This seems like the sort of problem the Soylent guy should be able to solve.

It's kind of irritating to have to read stories about Steve Jobs, Marissa Meyer and other Type-A narcissistic tech bosses (Jeff Bezos is literally a dick-head) all the time, kind of like listening to stories about your asshole boss' kids.

If she wants to have a water birth with her twins in a wading pool on the break room foosball table, that's none of my business. Why is there this cult of personality?

And why, just because Meyer is a woman, do we have these expectations that she is somehow going to be different than every other technocrat knob that runs a technology company?
posted by Nevin at 5:47 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


How much obligation does she have as a role model, and how much of the scrutiny around her choices is sexist in itself?

She can do what she want - it's her personal business and no one else's. Her absence from work is a matter for Yahoo's Board of Directors and no one else.

But if she didn't want scrutiny on her personal decisions, perhaps she shouldn't have drafted what is effectively a press release about it?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Mayer is already a mother with childbirth under her belt. It's baldly insulting to question whether or not she knows what she's getting in to.
posted by muddgirl at 5:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


It's totally her choice to make the decision not to fight that fight. But I do believe that she could make a positive difference is she choose otherwise, so it's sad and disappointing to see her instead choose to be part of the problem.

Yeah but women - even women with buttloads more privilege than most other woman - are not obligated to "fight the good fight" or be good feminists or whatever. True equality means the freedom to choose. Whilst it could certainly be viewed as a... dispiriting example to set, you could equally argue that Mayer is in fact setting a great feminist example by a) choosing the options that best suit her b) in the face of a tsunami of judgment and c) refusing to pursue the stereotypically 'female' or assumed desire for women and in fact putting her desires and needs first.

Feminism is at its best thriving on heterogeneity, not used as an enforcement of one particular constructed ideal. You can change the bars from iron to rubies, but it's still a cage. Mayer's choices sure as hell wouldn't be mine or my family's - but neither should they be.
posted by smoke at 5:51 PM on September 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I wish Mayer a safe and healthy delivery. It's unfortunate that she felt the need to announce this private choice so publicly, presumably to calm the nerves of shareholders. Many other mothers don't have this choice, especially since the US does not require any paid parental leave.

From a recent and relevant article:
"Nearly 12 percent of those women [who took time off work to care for a new baby in the previous year] took off only a week or less. Another 11 percent took between one and two weeks off. That means that about 23 percent—nearly 1 in 4—of the women interviewed were back at work within two weeks of having a child."

And the case of a woman who went back to work five weeks after a C-section:
"“Physically, I was a wreck,” she says. An infection around her C-section wound hadn’t yet healed when she went back to work. “I was still bleeding, my incision wasn’t closed.” Pus dripped down her leg under her work clothes."
posted by cushie at 5:51 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


In the same way I would think it unfathomable for a CEO to take a 2-3 week vacation

I once met a CEO, with a boat called "Where's <name>," who would leave for weeks at a time for boating events.

CEOs indeed are not the same as the rest of us.
posted by zippy at 5:51 PM on September 3, 2015


If I worked at a company where the CEO made a lot of noise about how she was only taking 1/3 of her permitted leave, I would know what was expected of me, and it would be to do what the CEO does, not what she says.

If I were a CEO who wanted my employees to take all their leave, well, maybe I would do that "personal assistant at home within days of delivery" business, but I would not be showing up in the office.

At my job, I certainly can't take as much vacation as senior people - that's the expectation, and I haven't had a whole week off since 2010, and that was just because we had a furlough due to the economy during Christmas week, so I had three unpaid days and two vacation days. In theory, I have plenty of vacation. In practice, I know that I'm already pushing it when I take a couple of long weekends a year to see my parents.
posted by Frowner at 5:54 PM on September 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


It should be obligatory six months with an option to take a year. For both parents.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:59 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Because if you don't have a serious amount of time that is obligatory, then quickly de facto parents are allowed only two weeks again.
posted by persona au gratin at 6:01 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish Mayer a safe and healthy delivery. It's unfortunate that she felt the need to announce this private choice so publicly, presumably to calm the nerves of shareholders.

Yahoo's share price has been plummeting since last November. The pregnancy isn't what has shareholders worried.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:01 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I absolutely judge the snot out of men who take no leave time when their children are born, if leave time is made available to them. Your new kid needs you, your partner needs you, and you have the ability to take time to attend to them. What are you doing at work? What kind of priorities are those?
posted by 1adam12 at 6:02 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


making the time obligatory harms women who deal with postpartum depression by going back to work.
posted by nadawi at 6:06 PM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I absolutely judge the snot out of men who take no leave time when their children are born, if leave time is made available to them. Your new kid needs you, your partner needs you, and you have the ability to take time to attend to them. What are you doing at work? What kind of priorities are those?

Parental leave in the US is unpaid. It is often difficult just to take maternity leave, and losing both incomes may not be realistic.
posted by decathexis at 6:07 PM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't understand the criticism of Meyer here. Does her decision somehow weaken the arguments in favor of longer-than-two-weeks maternity leave? I don't see how.
posted by ben242 at 6:24 PM on September 3, 2015


On the one hand I feel very strongly that women should be able to do absolutely whatever the hell they want and not have to deal with any backlash that men in similar scenarios would not have to deal with.

On the other hand, I feel just as strongly that our work culture is deeply fucked up; especially in the way that we tend to make working long hours, not taking vacation or even sick days, into some kind of a moral issue. And while this culture of overwork definitely hurts everyone, it can hit women especially hard, as they often tend to be the ones tasked with childcare/home/family duties outside of work, making it harder for them to work endless hours or be on call all the time, which in turn makes it harder for them to advance into higher positions/better benefits/better wages.

So I am the person who encourages everyone I know to (if they're in a position to do so) push back against this system - by taking their full vacation allotment, not coming into work sick and not being always available outside of normal work hours. I also do it myself, because I can now. Because if the people who are able to do so don't push back, there is no way that a single mother who has no real choice in the matter will be able to do anything about it. She'll just have to hope that the work she can get done in an eight hour day will compare favorably to the work of a person who is able to put in a 10+ hour day because they don't have to leave every day at 3:30 to pick up the kids from school. And that's an uphill battle.

So, I'm feeling pretty torn about this.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:34 PM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


That message, for better or worse, speaks louder than the one you sent when you changed the policies to grant more leave a few years ago.

Totally agree with this. Have y'all never worked with someone who replies to emails at midnight and then gets chuffed when you deign to wait until you get into work to reply? When everyone at the top is doing something, it sends a very powerful signal. We just saw from the Amazon story that working 80 hour weeks is what happens at the top, and it flows downward. Why would anyone think this wouldn't affect pregnant people at Yahoo deciding how long to take leave?
posted by mostly vowels at 6:36 PM on September 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I don't understand the criticism of Meyer here. Does her decision somehow weaken the arguments in favor of longer-than-two-weeks maternity leave? I don't see how.

Because if the CEO of a a major company, who works the hardest, most important, most high-pressure job in the company only needs two weeks, with twins no less, then why do you, Jennifer, 2nd from the bottom level accountant, need more than that, huh? Are you somehow better than the CEO? ARE YOU? ANSWER ME, MAGGOT!

CEOs have a tremendous influence on corporate culture. They set a standard. If they don't take leave, no one else will feel comfortable doing so. Mayer could change that, within her own company, by supporting maternity leave for her staff and encouraging them to take it, and enabling flexible working conditions...etc., irrespective of her personal choices. I don't know if she has, or does. But that doesn't seem to be the way that most major American tech companies do it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:41 PM on September 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


Yahoo's share price has been plummeting since last November.

Hmm, yeah. I'll wager that is what motivated her decision to publicly announce her plans, though. If she were to announce (for example) that she is going to take six months off, that would be interpreted like a power vacuum-->uncertainty-->nosediving stock price.

Since her pregnancy is public, no announcement might be interpreted as uncertainty as well (maybe she'll take extended leave, maybe she'll quit, maybe whatever). Even completely unfounded speculation would lead to uncertainty-->nosediving stock price.

My guess, she just wants to nip any uncertainty or speculation in the bud by announcing a buttoned-down, simple plan that will pretty obviously have no impact one way or the other on Yahoo's future.

That's the actual topic of this public information release, not maternity leave or parenting or the coming baby, or anything else.

Like it or not, stock prices rule all.
posted by flug at 6:44 PM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not thrilled to feel like I'm criticizing a woman's private choices, but I don't see how this doesn't affect perceptions of other women who don't necessarily have the resources she has.

To make a less gender-specific analogy, imagine there's a giant blizzard predicted to hit overnight, and the CEO sends out an email saying, "Everyone should decide whether they can make it into the office or if they need to work from home, but FYI, I'm going to be in the office". On the one hand, yeah, they've said you can work from home, but on the other hand, the CEO's own stated plan of action is heavily implying that you should suck it up and drive in too. It's the same story, too, when managers pointedly take little to no vacation -- "yes, you have vacation time, but you're not supposed to use it".
posted by tocts at 6:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


Do many women admire and emulate Marissa Mayer (in SV or elsewhere)? I really don't know.
posted by michaelh at 6:56 PM on September 3, 2015


I changed jobs right after my wife became pregnant because I am suspicious as fuck about a place where people don't automatically prioritize their family higher than this. Damn right it is a sick society where people, men or women have to or even want to leave their babies after 2 weeks. It's a sick society when I can't take a day off work to go see a school play, or hold my puking sick child. Yeah, I'm pleased you make enough money to pay others to raise your kids and you can do whatever the fuck you want, but I think we can do better as a society with our work/family prioritization and I've made enough career sacrifices to be judgy as hell.

I hope her kids don't grow up to be coke heads who steal cars for kicks because seriously that's what most of the rich kids with disengaged parents I went to high school with in Silicon Valley did.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:59 PM on September 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


And let us not forget that she has also done everything she can to destroy the tools that Yahoo employees used to help deal with work-life balance (like flexible workplaces) while having the company provide her with tools to allow her to balance her own, such as having a private nursery attached to her office.

The criticism of Mayer isn't about her being a woman - it's about her pulling up the ladder after her.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:01 PM on September 3, 2015 [29 favorites]


pours case of 40s on curb for Yahoo Pipes, Delicious

Now now, Delicious was sold back to the original creators for a pittance and then flipped over a guard rail and buried fins up in a peat bog.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like to think of "the personal is political" as a way to generalize personal issues and turn them into motivation and shaping of political movements and for social and civil rights.

That's a thin-gruel interpretation of the original meaning of the phrase. Originally, "the personal is political" was a call to arms, for women to look up and realize that what they've been assiduously taught to think of as "personal problems" are in fact deeply rooted in (misogynist, patriarchal) public policy. As in, a straight up product of ballots-and-bullets, power-and-influence politics.

Carol Hanisch's revised introduction to The Personal Is Political reads, in part:
But they belittled us no end for trying to bring our so-called “personal problems” into the public arena—especially “all those body issues” like sex, appearance, and abortion. Our demands that men share the housework and childcare were likewise deemed a personal problem between a woman and her individual man. The opposition claimed if women would just “stand up for themselves” and take more responsibility for their own lives, they wouldn’t need to have an independent movement for women’s liberation. What personal initiative wouldn’t solve, they said, “the revolution” would take care of if we would just shut up and do our part. Heaven forbid that we should point out that men benefit from oppressing women.

Recognizing the need to fight male supremacy as a movement instead of blaming the individual woman for her oppression was where the Pro-Woman Line came in. It challenged the old anti-woman line that used spiritual, psychological, metaphysical, and pseudo-historical explanations for women’s oppression with a real, materialist analysis for why women do what we do. (By materialist, I mean in the Marxist materialist (based in reality) sense, not in the “desire for consumer goods” sense.) Taking the position that “women are messed over, not messed up” took the focus off individual struggle and put it on group or class struggle, exposing the necessity for an independent WLM to deal with male supremacy.
posted by mhoye at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


I am confused about this whole "feminism means not criticizing women's choices" business. That sounds like Maggie Thatcher feminism to me, that whole "no such thing as society, only individuals" idea. Or as if somehow being a woman liberates you from class, race, social capital, etc. If you have power and you choose to use it in a way that is obviously going to put unfair pressure on people weaker than you, then hell yes, I will criticize you.

Seriously, I am not in solidarity with, like, Eva Peron and Margaret Thatcher and Madeline Albright and whats-er-name Walton etc etc merely because they are women and therefore any choice they make is empowerful to women everywhere.
posted by Frowner at 7:06 PM on September 3, 2015 [44 favorites]


I am confused about this whole "feminism means not criticizing women's choices" business.

A woman's choices exist in a social and policy context that demonstrably does not have the best interests of that woman, or women as a whole, in mind. It follows that - as per Hanisch's original intention of "the personal is political" - criticizing this woman for these choices is, in the MeFi parlance, a derail.

So let's not do that. It doesn't mean "women are immune to criticism", it means "let's focus on the real problem."
posted by mhoye at 7:14 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think regardless of sex discrimination issues, which are significant in this case and many others, our work habits in the U.S. make me angry first, then sad for all the wasted hours we spend toiling away at jobs that with rare exception do anything other than make us sick, lonely, depressed and ultimately poor as a result of the negative health consequences of long hours and paltry time off.
posted by glaucon at 7:17 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm speaking to trends as a whole. Exceptions exist.
posted by glaucon at 7:18 PM on September 3, 2015


A woman's choices exist in a social and policy context that demonstrably does not have the best interests of that woman, or women as a whole, in mind.

And where does class go in all of this?
posted by Frowner at 7:19 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


That is, it seems like we have an awful lot of villainy, but villains are nowhere to be found.
posted by Frowner at 7:20 PM on September 3, 2015


I went back to work after two weeks when I had my daughter. I work for a tech company that has a "Babies at Work" policy that allows any employee to take their kid into the office until six months of age. I was in good shape and tired of being isolated at home, so I went back in and parceled out my remaining maternity leave time to leave early or come in late if I needed it. My daughter stayed until the day she turned 6 months old. She is now a four year old who *loves* coming into work with me on special days.

My company has a room that is converted to a nursery/pumping station when there is someone who needs it. This is so glued into the culture of our company that no one stresses or complains about having a baby around. Stink-eye from coworkers would sink this policy, though it helps that everyone can trust the moms and dads who use it to remove kids to the nursery if there is crying or other disruptions. We also now have quiet rooms that are generally baby-free.

I wish more companies would try something like this, but it wouldn't work without passionate support from the top down.
posted by Alison at 7:27 PM on September 3, 2015 [26 favorites]


It doesn't mean "women are immune to criticism", it means "let's focus on the real problem."

But that's just it - Mayer is the real problem (or at least a manifestation of it.) She eliminated programs like flexible workplaces that Yahoo employees used to help balance their work-life balance out of an utterly misguided notion that tech companies don't work that way, while having the company pay for providing her the tools to allow her to balance her own work-life balance, like a private nursery. This is why the argument that her choices should be out of bounds is so wrongheaded - when a CEO is doing everything in their power to pull the ladder up after them, then they very much are ripe for criticism, regardless of gender.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:33 PM on September 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


But that's just it - Mayer is the real problem (or at least a manifestation of it.) She eliminated programs like flexible workplaces that Yahoo employees used to help balance their work-life balance out of an utterly misguided notion that tech companies don't work that way, while having the company pay for providing her the tools to allow her to balance her own work-life balance, like a private nursery.

She also apparently extended maternity leave to up to 16 weeks for new mothers, and 8 weeks for fathers.

But yes, killing telecommuting - at a tech company no less - was moronic.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:37 PM on September 3, 2015


And where does class go in all of this?

This is an engine with a lot of moving parts. Anyone who says there are simple, easy-to-understand rules with bright lines around them is trying to snow you.
posted by mhoye at 7:42 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


She also apparently extended maternity leave to up to 16 weeks for new mothers, and 8 weeks for fathers.

Yes - as damage control. So no, she doesn't get credit for fixing her own mess.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:51 PM on September 3, 2015


She's very rich. She's the CEO. She can do whatever she wants.
posted by LoveHam at 7:58 PM on September 3, 2015


My company offers 3 months paid parental leave and when our male CEO became a father, he took 3 months off. I didn't hear anybody comment on it one way or another at the time, but sure enough, the majority of male employees now take their full paternity.
posted by nev at 8:08 PM on September 3, 2015 [29 favorites]


But if she didn't want scrutiny on her personal decisions, perhaps she shouldn't have drafted what is effectively a press release about it?

Yeah, this. By making it public it sends a message to employees and to the tech world at large, which already has problems with gender balance and work-life balance.

Mayer is already a mother with childbirth under her belt. It's baldly insulting to question whether or not she knows what she's getting in to.

Twins can be much more challenging than singletons. It may be that the pregnancy goes fine, but it may also be that one or both have extended NICU stays. Predicting a two week leave may or may not be anywhere near reality.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:08 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mayer can't win here. If she'd decided to take 12 months, everyone would be criticizing her for her privilege to be able to dictate her own generous leave. Because what kind of example does it set, right?
posted by 2N2222 at 8:15 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wonder if people like this know there's probably no afterlife. If people want to work themselves into the grave isolated from friends, family, and themselves, more power to them, I guess ... except when they force the rest of us to do the same.
posted by gehenna_lion at 8:18 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


My wife was barely able to walk 2 weeks after giving birth to our daughter. Good luck, Marissa
posted by Hoopo at 8:20 PM on September 3, 2015


I am confused about this whole "feminism means not criticizing women's choices" business. That sounds like Maggie Thatcher feminism to me, that whole "no such thing as society, only individuals" idea. Or as if somehow being a woman liberates you from class, race, social capital, etc. If you have power and you choose to use it in a way that is obviously going to put unfair pressure on people weaker than you, then hell yes, I will criticize you.

I was certainly not intending my argument that way, but more a recognition that capital F feminism has faced/faces critiques from many women that when their ideas of self-realisation fall outside a culturally constructed bound of what constitutes "real feminism", there is no room for them in the movement, as feminists or even feminine to a degree, that they are deluded, sheep etc. Just because these critiques have often come from non-white, non-western women doesn't make them irrelevant more broadly.

Obviously, this does not obviate Mayer's choices from criticism outside the grounds of gender and feminism, as a capitalist, etc etc. However, I don't think it's controversial to say that taking gender out of these discussions is, if not impossible, surely very difficult?

So no, I don't think being a woman immunises you from class critiques etc, but I do recognise that being a woman making choices about childcare publicly like this indisputably puts you in a gendered, feminist discourse - and that can't be split up or put to the side as easily as all that.

In that context, I do think any criticism requires a recognition that there's a long history of people telling women how to perform femininity and what's considered right and "womanly", and that I don't think it's a coincidence Mayer is being attacked for something that would go largely uncommented on from a male CEO, and I don't think it's a coincidence that she attracts special opprobrium for doing something stereotypically male - and I do think Mayer has a right to be shithead, kool-aid drinking, capitalist running dog exploiter if she wants and damn it I will attack her for that, but no more or less than I'd attack any CEO for the same actions, and let's be honest; we wouldn't even know what most CEOs do with their parental leave.

I believe symbols are important and they certainly do have power, but policies are important, and I don't think people should have to compromise their real, private, personal lives and their real selves for public symbolism, when policies they enact will have a more concrete and obvious impact on other real people (I acknowledge the publicising of her leave decision complicates all this).
posted by smoke at 8:23 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think we should promote feminism by being more critical of men choosing to skip parental leave, not by being less critical of women choosing to skip parental leave. That said, given the lack of parallel criticism for men now, I DO think it's bullshit to criticize Mayer. Let's promote a culture where everyone takes parental leave, not a culture where women but not men are pressured to take leave.
posted by salvia at 8:27 PM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Let's promote a culture where parental leave is paid, by law, for months, so people don't feel like they have to make decisions like this.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:31 PM on September 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


Mayer can't win here.

Yeah, I think she's a shitty CEO, but I also think she's getting a raw deal with everyone criticizing her choices. The notion that she erred by putting out a statement is ridiculous, as it would have been a story either way, and it's better for her to have the conversation now so she doesn't have to answer these questions during her brief time off.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:33 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, an easy "win" here would have been stating that she plans to take the standard amount of leave offered to employees of her company.
posted by palomar at 8:50 PM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


You know, kinda like how the male CEO mentioned by someone upthread took the company-alloted 3 months parental leave when his child was born? It's nice that that action set a good precedent at that company. It's supportive of the CEO's family, and supportive of the other workers.
posted by palomar at 8:53 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know, kinda like how the male CEO mentioned by someone upthread took the company-alloted 3 months parental leave when his child was born? It's nice that that action set a good precedent at that company. It's supportive of the CEO's family, and supportive of the other workers.

The other side of that is maybe she really can't take that time. Maybe she is personally being pressured by the Board and her leadership team to take as little time as possible - because of major initiatives on foot or just to ease 'shareholder jitters'. She could well be a victim in this little drama as well as an oppressor (if she is indeed undercutting the ability of her staff to take reasonable leave).

Of course, she gets paid zillions, so any assertion of victimhood is dubious at best.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:00 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Marissa Mayer is the CEO of Yahoo, and therefore not a replaceable faceless cog in the wheel of the company. She is literally the most important person at Yahoo and is compensated generously to be eating/drinking/thinking/breathing about the company 24/7/365. Whatever she chooses to do should be influenced by what she believes is the best for Yahoo, and I think any pressure for her to set a good example is unfair, nor do I think her actions should be looked at as setting any sort of example as to what she thinks how female employees at Yahoo should act.
posted by gyc at 9:12 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


The CEO at a company I worked at gave an interview to the company newsletter, and they asked him the humanizing "What do you do to unwind?" question. He answered (roughly) that people at his level tended not to have hobbies or spare time, though he occasionally took walks during which he could work out how to address work challenges. I am sure that he was both being honest (every senior manager at that place worked like a dog) and also choosing to send a message to ambitious lower level people about how much sympathy you wouldn't get if your career stalled and you weren't 100% always on.

Along those lines: Is there any reason to view Mayer, or think she views herself, as anything but a very successful member of the meritocracy? Does she want her employees to work less hard and be less driven? Fourteen hour days and minimal vacation is part of the deal for the meritocracy, and in return you get hundreds of millions and are praised for alienating workers from the product of their labor. It's a good deal if that's the kind of deal you want. But once you take it there is no conflict between "being a role model" and taking minimal maternity leave--she's modeling the behavior that nominally gets ahead in the tech world and would probably be perfectly happy for all her employees to follow her lead and in the hope of future rewards.

It'd make more sense to criticize every executive and manager who works long hours and is always connected to e-mail. If you're not willing to do that, and say those people shouldn't be rewarded for that behavior, it doesn't make much sense to worry about Mayer's work ethic being a bad example. It seems insane to imagine the role models at the top of the corporate ladder are going to model anything but capitalist glory.

And of course picking on a female CEO for hard work and devotion to her job is a complete double standard.
posted by mark k at 9:21 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mayer can't win here. If she'd decided to take 12 months, everyone would be criticizing her for her privilege to be able to dictate her own generous leave. Because what kind of example does it set, right?


I think exactly the opposite is true. I mean, she might be criticized for being a hypocrite, but no one except the extremely fucked-in- the-head would criticize someone prioritizing their family over their high power career. The fact that it would be career suicide would make it praise worthy.

I mean, any human with any amount of empathy would forgive j.j. Abrams if Star Wars VII was delayed a year while he coached his daughter's little league team, why is it not completely fucked that Mayer has to reassure the stock holders of a dying company that the birth of her twins will impact company operations as little as possible? Great, what a step forward, women have the right to be as douchey as men.

/sick of hearing that making it home for dinner is financially imperiling the company. I dare you to fire me because I'd be happy to leave.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:31 PM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's her own business not ours. Aren't we scrutinizing her maternity by talking about it on here? Weird.
posted by tunewell at 9:44 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that:
(a) she had to say that because OMG STOCKHOLDERS and that every man in Silicon Valley would bitch her out for not being at work ASAP. Whee, appealing to patriarchy, she'd never hear the end of what a shitty woman CEO she is if she even took a month,
(b) since she's giving birth to twins, there's no way in hell she will physically be able to work in two weeks, and generally she will have little to no control over how that goes down.
(c) I predict she'll be medically required to take more time off than two weeks, which may be the best political face compromise she'll get under the circumstances. I planned to go back ASAP, see, but the doctor said no!
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:58 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


It'd make more sense to criticize every executive and manager who works long hours and is always connected to e-mail. If you're not willing to do that, and say those people shouldn't be rewarded for that behavior, it doesn't make much sense to worry about Mayer's work ethic being a bad example. It seems insane to imagine the role models at the top of the corporate ladder are going to model anything but capitalist glory.

Well I did pretty much just that upthread when I talked about how managers set an example for their employees. The whole point here is that the "capitalist glory" model of working crazy hours and being always connected is phenomenally harmful to people who also want and/or need to make their families a priority and that we need to recognize that someone can be a good employee and a good parent at the same time. It can also be a way to get salaried workers to work more hours for no additional pay or reward, as you don't stand out as particularly dedicated to your boss for working 12 hour days when all your co-workers are doing it too.

And for some people, especially that happen to be female, poorer, of color, and/or otherwise belong to groups that have not traditionally achieved as much success in business, they may not be able to rely as much on a spouse, hired help, flexible hours and understanding bosses at work, paid sick leave, affordable childcare, and other resources to pull it all off. And all of these factors are major parts of the answer to questions like why do women make less than men and why are only around 5% of Fortune 1000 CEOs women.

Maybe it's insane to imagine, and I'll grant we don't really have a reason or right to expect anything different from Mayer personally than any other captain of industry, but a lot of us want something better from our society in general.
posted by zachlipton at 10:02 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


If she didn't want her choices to be scrutinized publicly, why did she make them public?
posted by lemur at 10:16 PM on September 3, 2015


I think a lot of people who are talking about Marissa Meyer's influence on the expectations of Yahoo employees are ignoring the fact that Yahoo is still a large company. My husband has been working there for eight years, and we have friends who have been through the paternity leave process. They were not at all begrudged their eight weeks, and actually took that time off, not checking in constantly. We've also had friends who have taken their usual (non-parental) PTO in four to eight week chunks, and even higher up the chain, two month vacations and sabbaticals aren't unheard of.

Honestly, I think the average Yahoo worker is far more concerned about the attitude of their direct supervisor toward their leave than what Marissa Meyer might think of it, and that really varies from department to department. Most people there acknowledge her privilege of having assistance that would allow her to return to work quickly. Is the work culture of Silicon Valley messed up? Yeah, it is, but it's been that way for a long time and I don't think you can pin that on her.
posted by Meghamora at 10:17 PM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


But if she didn't want scrutiny on her personal decisions, perhaps she shouldn't have drafted what is effectively a press release about it?

A statement of this sort is standard procedure whenever the CEO of a major corporation undergoes a major medical procedure. Withholding information that may have a material impact on shareholders or stock prices could result in sanctions from the SEC. So you shouldn't be surprised that there was some sort of press release which indicated contingency plans.
posted by JackFlash at 10:27 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's her own business not ours. - tunewell

A statement of this sort is standard procedure whenever the CEO of a major corporation undergoes a major medical procedure. Withholding information that may have a material impact on shareholders or stock prices could result in sanctions from the SEC. So you shouldn't be surprised that there was some sort of press release which indicated contingency plans. - jackflash

And no-one should be surprised that there's going to be a discussion about the information. It seems quite strange to release information to the press/public and then be surprised that people talk about it.
posted by dazed_one at 10:36 PM on September 3, 2015


How much obligation does she have as a role model,

None. None obligation. None of our business. Not even shareholders' business, provided the gerbils keep running to make the intertubes flow.
posted by simra at 10:41 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


If she didn't want her choices to be scrutinized publicly, why did she make them public?

Hrm, this is dancing around "She was asking for it" territory, for me. People should be able to - in this context - do what they want without being held responsible for what others say, do, or think about it.
posted by smoke at 10:44 PM on September 3, 2015


I think exactly the opposite is true. I mean, she might be criticized for being a hypocrite, but no one except the extremely fucked-in- the-head would criticize someone prioritizing their family over their high power career.

And by your own assessment, she could still be criticized for being a hypocrite. I can absolutely believe a MF thread pile-on taking place were she to take excessive leave that the poors can't.

It's pretty speculative to think she isn't prioritizing her family by taking two weeks. I'm comfortable presuming Mayer is capable of making the best choice for her situation. Nobody here really knows what's in her head, or what her priorities are.

But since she made her plan publicly known, it's fair game to assume her motivations and shoot her down, amirite?
posted by 2N2222 at 10:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Doesn't she have a fiduciary responsibility here to make her plans known, as well as the plan for who will cover for her while she's away from the helm? I don't think she has any option other than to make that information public to shareholders.
posted by simra at 10:53 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Simra: I don't think she has any option other than to make that information public to shareholders.

That is correct.

Dazed One: And no-one should be surprised that there's going to be a discussion about the information. It seems quite strange to release information to the press/public and then be surprised that people talk about it.

I'm not sure "surprise" is the emotion, so much as commenting on a predictable double standard. Again, the idea of a male CEO getting criticized for workaholic tendencies is patently ridiculous; it's part of the heroic narrative. And also, note that 0% of this discussion is investor related "How will this affect Yahoo's bottom line?" questions. It's all related to the expectation that women should be taking care of kids in a way that men don't have to.

zachlipton: Maybe it's insane to imagine, and I'll grant we don't really have a reason or right to expect anything different from Mayer personally than any other captain of industry, but a lot of us want something better from our society in general.

Right, but I guess my point is if you believe that, Mayer is already a negative role model, like every other winner in the winner-take-all games of the economy. You can view them as capitalist oligarch exploiters, or more charitably as natural freaks who (like professional athletes) are wired to perform really well in a weird, artificial competition. But neither way should you expect them to help rewrite the rules so they start losing.

You presumably aren't expecting that, but much of the discussion is. It's like the corporate leaders are of course our natural leaders and the way to figure out our proper relation to your family is to look at the behavior of CEOs and mimic them. Hence the nonsense quote in one of the linked OP articles that Mayer should show us it's not an either/or choice, when it really is (if you are lucky enough to have a choice at all.)
posted by mark k at 10:59 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure "surprise" is the emotion, so much as commenting on a predictable double standard.

I suppose "surprise" may have been the wrong word - I think it's strange that people are asking others to stop talking about a press release from a CEO on the grounds of it being "her own business not ours". Clearly it's not solely her own business if a public announcement is deemed necessary. I think it's bullshit that the norms of the society we live in require her to make a public statement about her parenting choices, but that is the job she chose and is recompensed handsomely for and, whether you agree with her choice or not, nothing will change if no-one talks about it.
posted by dazed_one at 11:33 PM on September 3, 2015


True equality means the freedom to choose. (smoke)

My intention is not to pick on you specifically, smoke, but rather to (briefly) pick apart this this all-too-common* (mis)conceptualisation of feminism/equality. In short, saying that feminism = choice is a pile of poo. Firstly, this is fundamentally an assertion that individualism (and capitalism) is the most highly-regarded value and, secondly, it implies that we live in a world where each and every option is freely available to everyone. The first assertion, I venture to say, is not the kind of world I'd WANT to live in (every woman/man to him/herself!) and the second is not the kind of world we DO live in (I mean, really: men and women don't face different social or personal consequences/rewards/punishments for any of potential choices we make in life? REALLY?).

*I see this simple equation ("feminism = choice!") advanced especially among young feminists and feel deep regret/disappointment every time I encounter it. The feminist movement has gotten off track somewhere in the last decade (or two).
posted by Halo in reverse at 12:03 AM on September 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think it's bullshit that the norms of the society we live in require her to make a public statement about her parenting choices.

She's didn't make a statement about "parenting choices." She made a standard and expected CEO statement about how long she plans to be on leave from her CEO job. It is other people who have turned that into a "parenting" issue.

Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, announced that he had prostate cancer and expected to continue working during treatment.
Brian Goldner, CEO of Hasbro, announced that he had prostate cancer and told employees he will continue to work full-time and doesn't expect any interruptions with his work schedule.
Derrick Hall, CEO of the Arizona Diamonbacks, announced that he would be undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, announced that he would be undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, announced that he would undergo six days of chemotherapy for throat cancer.
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, announced that he had pancreatic cancer and took leaves of absence in 2004 and 2009.
Samsung announced that chairman Lee Kun-Hee was in stable condition after a heart attack and that day-to-day operations of the company would not be affected.

Announcements about health conditions and leaves of absence are bog standard for major company CEOs. What's unusual is people turning it into a debate about parenting.
posted by JackFlash at 12:11 AM on September 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Halo in reverse, the implication of what you're saying is that women don't have the right to choose how to be women - which I know is not what you would support and is patently absurd.

Of course, we can agree that choices do not happen in a vacuum and are informed by the cultures surrounding them, and the relative merits of those cultures etc, but is precisely why what self-realisation looks like to me, what it looks like to an impoverished Somali woman, to an Aboriginal woman in Australia is different. Self determination and the power for women to decide what choices they make and how they live their lives as women is a fundamental right, I believe, and a fundamental aspect of feminism, at least the kind of feminism I choose to support.

I can disagree with Mayer's choice - but I defend her right to make it, and to still be feminist, and I don't presume to think that I - a man, who only dances around the rarefied edges of the tech c-suite world - know what's a better choice for her than she does.

The feminist movement has gotten off track somewhere in the last decade (or two).

I am not picking on you, here, either, but this is sentiment has been used to marginalise feminists representing people of colour and other minority voices, in the last few years. I don't think that's what you had in mind, but I do think an overly prescriptive or constrained vision of what feminism or female self-empowerment looks like is not helpful to women everywhere. What feminism looks like in one setting is not necessarily appropriate in other settings.
posted by smoke at 12:25 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Unless the CEO in question runs a company with a market cap way into the billions of dollars, all these mentions of "my CEO took 4 four months off and no one gave a shit" are moot, at best.
posted by sideshow at 12:28 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The feminist movement has gotten off track somewhere in the last decade (or two).

"I am not picking on you, here, either, but this is sentiment has been used to marginalise feminists representing people of colour and other minority voices, in the last few years. I don't think that's what you had in mind.." (smoke)

Of course that isn't what I had in mind; and it seems rather a leap to even imply that (btw, it isn't only in the last decade or so anyway that the voices of ethnic minority women have been speaking to/about feminism and issues of exclusion; e.g., see bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich).

I just meant that it seems to me a tremendous dumbing down of feminism to equate it or the attainment of gender equality with (supposed) freedom of choice. It is precisely because there ARE differential consequences to our actions depending on which gender we present to society and precisely because the personal IS political (and vice versa) that this notion is problematic. And so to see that oft-repeated, oversimplified refrain ("feminism is totally all about choice!") is irritating to me, to say the least.

Perhaps the Onion can better explain my concerns regarding the matter:

Women Now Empowered by Everything a Woman Does

P.S. I said nothing regarding MM's choice one way or the other. Of course she has the right to decide how to live her life. But that choice doesn't occur in a vaccuum.
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:02 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was trying to put together a post in yesterday's slave tetris thread about how some of the issue in comparing things from a European milieu and a US one is difficult since there is often a lack of a common set of references regarding the debate since the US debate about racism is more complex and has developed through more iterations of the arguments after developing from a place where issues relating to racism have a much higher profile after a long history of being broached at the national level.

In some ways this is the other side of the coin. Pretty much all EU countries have maternity leave as standard and most have in place paternity leave as well. A few have shared parental leave. There is an on-going debate in some European States as to the necessity of high profile fathers taking paternity leave or some share of the parental leave and I think its important to consider this in reading a report in a UK based newspaper. The UK prime minister was pushed to take two weeks of paternity leave in 2010 (the minimum to fathers guaranteed by law in the UK). In 2011 two male Norwegian ministers both took ten weeks of paternity leave. There are other examples. There is a clear effort to normalise this behaviour by pressurising senior men take paternity leave. This Swedish CEO explains why he expects male employees to take paternity leave and the benefits of doing so.

What's unusual is people turning it into a debate about parenting.


While there are important issues about child welfare and the respective role parents take in their children's lives this is also a debate about wider issues. Proper societal support for both parents allows for many other benefits - this is a debate about how society values men and particularly women in the workplace, how it supports their decisions and how it allows them, and again particularly women, to continue to develop their careers alongside being a parent. Becoming a parent is perhaps the most significant barrier to continued career development for mothers and acting to remove that barrier by pushing for parental leave across society could be a major step in moving to gender equality.
posted by biffa at 1:23 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mayer can't win here. If she'd decided to take 12 months, everyone would be criticizing her for her privilege to be able to dictate her own generous leave. Because what kind of example does it set, right?

But that isn't the logical other option. The logical other option would be for her to take the 16 weeks available to her via company policy and lead by example. I don't think anyone would criticize her for that.

I can absolutely believe a MF thread pile-on taking place were she to take excessive leave that the poors can't.

But if she were to just take the 16 weeks that were also available to the poors it would send a message of solidarity and communicate to people that the work culture at Yahoo valued a strong work / life balance. No pile-on needed.

It's pretty speculative to think she isn't prioritizing her family by taking two weeks. I'm comfortable presuming Mayer is capable of making the best choice for her situation. Nobody here really knows what's in her head, or what her priorities are.

Unfortunately the presumptions you generously grant to the CEO of this company are often not so unassumingly extended to workers in the US. This is the reason that so many working Americans don't take their vacations - precisely because their employers are NOT as comfortable as you are in presuming that they are making 'the best choices for their situations' when it comes to taking time away from work. You must see this. I have personally received comments from employers when I deign to take my fully alloted vacation plus sick days - and the subtext is that those vacation days don't come without a full serving of guilt and often with a sort of implied threat that people who aren't "team players" don't roll onto the next project. My own experience is far from an outlier. Also, as human beings who are social apes I think it is hardly speculative to suggest that more time spent with a family including two newborn infants isn't de-facto better than less time spent...like in literally every situation...even if you are a CEO robot.

But since she made her plan publicly known, it's fair game to assume her motivations and shoot her down, amirite?

Don't despair, I think we would have fair grounds to shoot her down if this had been a privately known plan too. 'Publicly known' has nothing to do with it - the content of her actions can be perceived as missing an opportunity to address and bend the curve a bit on what is arguably a sick working culture. Many fairly think it is a shame she didn't.

In the end, I personally think the whole '2 weeks' thing is her in a pressure cooker signaling to the board and to her shareholders that her pregnancy won't distract her from the falling stock prices of Yahoo. In this way she might even be yielding to patriarchy in an enduringly male-dominated tech / business scene. At the very least it is sad example of how our culture, without qualm or question, concedes that profits are like of course more important than a pregnancy.
posted by jnnla at 1:50 AM on September 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


biffa: "comparing things from a European milieu and a US one is difficult since there is often a lack of a common set of references regarding the debate"
Very true. I'm from a country with 52 weeks parental leave (18 weeks for the mother, 2 weeks for the father and 32 weeks to be split at the parents' discretion) and am now living in a country with 14 weeks of mandatory maternal leave and the right to unlimited unpaid leave until the kid is 3 years old.

I am literally unable to imagine women going to work two weeks after having a baby. What Marissa Meyer is doing would be illegal here.
posted by brokkr at 4:49 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


If I worked at a company where the CEO made a lot of noise about how she was only taking 1/3 of her permitted leave

Here is the Daily Mail criticising a board member of a company with £10 billion of revenue for only taking 1/3 of their maternity leave.

Which is to say "only" 4 months. (Also, from that article, Laura Wade-Gery looks worthy of an FPP all of her own.)
posted by ambrosen at 5:35 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Discussing the leave of a public company CEO or the Prime Minister of the UK as if it is remotely resembling regular maternity or paternity leaves is absurd. Those are 24-7, 365-day-a-year jobs without exception. Many CEOs spend a day or two a week, at most, on average behind their desks in their principal office -- accordingly all of their workflow, staff support, and technology presumes they'll be anywhere but there. Being in their home office, a 20 or 30 minute drive from their principal office, is far less on leave than they usually would be.
posted by MattD at 5:48 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


She can make this choice because she can afford to - nannies, driver, admin. staff, whatever she needs, she'll get. Because she has a massive salary and her her husband likely earns a crapton, as well, she can afford to make this work. I see her much less as a model for what it's like for women than as a model for what it's like for the very wealthy.

Mayer is smart, talented, hard-working. She doesn't seem like a horrible person. But her 2 weeks will be used as a cudgel when other women want to spend time with their babies instead of rushing back to the office, and this will be especially true in Silicon Valley, where women already have low value. Lean in.

It's very American. Cash, profit, shareholder value above all.
posted by theora55 at 6:00 AM on September 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


The thing is, Meyer literally has power to determine policy in this situation. The idea that we need to construct an argument around how we treat this class of CEOs of wealthy corporations - scrupulously making sure that we are fair to the few women CEOs by respecting their personal autonomy as women and giving them private lives, etc - seems to rest on the idea that being a CEO is like being good at whittling or similar, an accident of fate that puts one into a particular category.

Meyer isn't Susan in Purchasing or Laura in the Dean's office. Meyer has a bloated and disproportionate amount of power, and would probably laugh at the idea that her individual choices should somehow be ignored by her employees as merely personal.

I would argue, actually, that scrupulous attention to the rhetoric of the "private sphere" and "personal choice" on the part of powerful women is not in the interests of women marginalized by feminism. Who precisely is supporting Meyer? Directly, it's probably other wealthy white women; but down the road, those wealthy white women have a huge working class support staff, most of whom are probably casual labor. Ultimately, Meyer is propped up on a pyramid of women who get to see their kids far less than she does, have far less financial security and certainly have much less access to maternity leave.

It's weird that we seem to have collapsed the categories of "wealthy white women in positions of tremendous power" and "women of color/queer women/working class women who are excluded from feminism" so that by refusing to judge Meyer, we are somehow striking an intellectual blow for, e.g. someone's part time nanny who is getting ripped off on social security contributions, a woman who gets judged for being femme, etc.
posted by Frowner at 6:01 AM on September 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm not striking a blow for anyone, my whole feeling about this is really that I don't wish to strike any blows.

Perhaps it's because I'm a man, and sensitive to this as an ally, but I'm deeply uncomfortable with the idea that there are exceptions where it is okay to tell functional, adult, independent women how they should live their lives, what choices they should make, and that they are bad women for doing it, or for wanting something women aren't supposed to want, or wanting /doing something that is stereotypically male.

The concept that a woman is being a "bad mother", not putting her kids first, being selfish etc is hardly novel, and whilst there are lots of reasons to criticise Mayer's choice, I think this undercurrent of misogyny is very hard to remove from those criticisms. Her choice doesn't even register when men make it, and they make it at all levels, far far below ceo.
posted by smoke at 6:17 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Her business. She is not obligated to make medical/childcare decisions in a way that sends the right "message."

Now, she may, in fact, be using her choice to send a message, either because she feels she has to come off as tough or because she really does think all the women that work for her should do the same. I have no idea. If so, I don't admire that and I would not want to work for her. But chastising her choices is not an effective way to make the changes to that attitude I would like to see, society-wide. And it's gross. So I won't do it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:45 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


How much obligation does she have as a role model...

None.

...and how much of the scrutiny around her choices is sexist in itself?

All of it.

She has the money and ability to do whatever the hell she wants as a parent. Most if not all of the rest of us do not. This should be glaringly obvious to anyone with more than two brain cells.
posted by zarq at 6:49 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't currently, but have for the bulk of my career in communications done c suite comms, so though not a part of this world I'm a regular tourist, and it is so unusual to see a woman at this level of seniority, even more unusual to see a woman with kids at this level, and vanishingly rare to see a woman of child bearing age or with young kids at this level.

In my whole career I only know personally one c suite exec at a company of this size who had a kid. Her mat leave? Four weeks.

I say this to illustrate: 1)Mayer likely feels far more pressure than is being ascribed to her here, having children at all is courageous in her environment, I'm afraid; 2) it takes a staggering level of ambition (and ability) to reach this level of an org at such a young age, truly so when you are handicapped by your gender, so wanting to be all corporate 24/7 is actually something that she will have done for years and also likes; 3) I'm not comparing her to every or any woman, she's not Shirley im accounting and her job is not. No one entering this world is unaware of the price of admission. There are multiple rungs on the ladder where you can stop or get pushed off if its not to your liking. Anyone there chooses to be there and they know what they are in for.

If Mayer was a man this would be utterly unremarkable. If she just didn't have children at all, likewise - and for senior exec women in my experience this is by far the most common option. In this context I won't lie, I do think having a kid is an act of courage, however privileged. I do think it's pushing the envelope for women that want a c suite career - which is surely not every woman but definitely some. I do think it's pushing against against a host of assumptions about what women can do, what ceos can do, what mothers can do, and I do support that, even if it's a game I don't play in a world that is frequently petty, unjust, and soul destroying.
posted by smoke at 6:51 AM on September 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


Discussing the leave of a public company CEO or the Prime Minister of the UK as if it is remotely resembling regular maternity or paternity leaves is absurd.

It might be a little different from the normal experience of paternity leave, but they actually did do it. Someone else took on some share of his responsibilities while he was on leave. I dare say there was still a lot of communication etc, but changes were made to allow this to happen. It is perhaps more important in terms of that this sends a message as to the importance of fathers being able to do this. He was followed in 2014 by a member of the British cabinet also taking his paternity leave, even though a major issue in his area did come up just as he was about to go. This stuff is important since it says a lot about supposed indispensability versus non-work prioritisation. It is not at all absurd that even political and business leaders can have some form of parental leave, albeit that their situations might deviate to some extent from the norm, rather it is a function of how far societies have to go that you cannot even comprehend the possibility.
posted by biffa at 6:56 AM on September 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Is this shocking? You don't become head of a publicly traded company by prioritizing time with your children.
posted by BurntHombre at 6:57 AM on September 4, 2015


> She is literally the most important person at Yahoo and is compensated generously to be eating/drinking/thinking/breathing about the company 24/7/365. Whatever she chooses to do should be influenced by what she believes is the best for Yahoo

I would think that people taking leave as needed would be best for Yahoo. Personally, I would want more than two weeks off, and I would want people working for me to take more than two weeks off, in the event of such a physically demanding time as childbirth and recovery.

Most people would need more time to mend after that (or after cancer treatment, or a tonsillectomy, or pneumonia) and it's in the company's best interest to make sure people aren't coming in to work when they're exhausted and instead have a system where their work is handled while they're gone.

It's like workers who come to work when they're sick and hack all over the coffee pot. They're not working well, they're decreasing the productivity of other workers, and -- purely from a business standpoint -- it would've been more efficient if they'd stayed home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:15 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Some friends of mine had their first child earlier this year, and the husband works at a tech company with two weeks of paternity leave. The company used to have a much more generous amount of paternity leave, but then the male CEO had his first baby, got bored and wanted to go back to work, so he went back to work and proceeded to gut the paternity leave program. (It really sucked for both my friends, because the husband wanted to spend way more time at home when the baby came, and he had to use a bunch of sick leave.)

When CEOs make personal decisions, it is rare for those personal decisions to have zero impact on workplace policy and culture. Mayer has previously decided that her personal decisions should impact policy, as with the teleworking policy. It is not unreasonable for people to be nervous that the ripple effects will be toxic throughout the entire industry.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:24 AM on September 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


As someone who has twin 3 year olds, I say good luck with that. (though she has the resources to hire help)
posted by jbelshaw at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2015


I find the insistence that there is something inherently wrong with criticising peoples choices so weird. Are you all radical libertarian individualists? What do you think "society" is?

Do we not criticise peoples choices all the time? That's what morality and law is all about. We criticise bigots, racists, capitalists, etc for things they do, and things they say constantly. How else are you supposed to influence "public opinion".

I think its perfectly acceptable to criticise a very public capitalist figure for letting corporate requirements dictate their activities . Everything you do as a member of the public is a participation in public morals. Mayer by this action, is openly saying that if you are in a position of high business responsibility and you have Kids, business should come first.
posted by mary8nne at 7:58 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think its perfectly acceptable to criticise a very public capitalist figure for letting corporate requirements dictate their activities .

It's none of our business. People who are in the public eye are not obligated to live their lives a particular way, to live up to public expectations.


Everything you do as a member of the public is a participation in public morals. Mayer by this action, is openly saying that if you are in a position of high business responsibility and you have Kids, business should come first.


No, all this "says" is that she is making a personal choice for herself and her family. Not that it should apply to anyone else.
posted by zarq at 8:26 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


No, all this "says" is that she is making a personal choice for herself and her family. Not that it should apply to anyone else.

Maybe it shouldn't, but the unfortunate fact is that it does. Particularly in the tech industry, where the lifestyle expectation is that you prioritize work over all else, including family, and you follow the boss's example (see the recent article on Amazon's culture reflecting Bezos' personality). She's between a rock and a hard place; if she says nothing, stockholders/board members get nervous, but if she gives a timeline, then everyone critiques it. There is a nasty undercurrent of misogyny that all expecting and new mothers face regarding their choices. I wish there was a way to make a capitalist critique of this divorced from that misogyny, but I'm not sure there is.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:45 AM on September 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


The company used to have a much more generous amount of paternity leave, but then the male CEO had his first baby, got bored and wanted to go back to work, so he went back to work and proceeded to gut the paternity leave program.

I believe that's what's known as an "asshole". There are plenty of them of both genders in the executive suites of Silicon Valley.

As to the telecommuting policy, Mayer* did look retrograde on that, but in reality, it wasn't a blanket ban. If you want to work from home because you have a sick kid (or, in our case when I was dealing with health issues, a sick spouse), or you need to wait for the cable guy or whatever, then it's not a big a deal. Meetings can be teleconferenced, and there are workers who live in areas without a local office and still telecommute. When we fly home to Michigan for a week, my husband will often work out of my in-laws' living room in order to conserve his PTO (and that's not at all because his supervisor expects him to, it's because he's personally averse to taking time off). The telecommuting ban was really about a small minority of workers who were working full time from home and not being particularly productive about it, and rather than single them out, Mayer decided to look at it as a larger issue and emphasize "face time" company-wide. It wasn't the huge sea change in company culture that it was made out to be.

All of this is not to ignore the larger social implications that are being brought up, and believe me, I have plenty of issues with the way work-life balance is given lip service and not so much respected in reality in the tech industry. I also can't speak to how this affects women workers at Yahoo, because the ones that I know are either single or haven't had kids yet. This is a topic that's gotten plenty of discussion internally at Yahoo, starting almost immediately after she got hired when it was revealed that she was pregnant, and I think she and the management teams below her are well aware of the impression her work schedule makes on others. But I'm really uncomfortable with the implication that she is somehow less of a mother, or somehow less human, because she wants to perform her extremely demanding job in a particular way that others would prefer not to.

*Apologies for my brain-fart in misspelling her last name in my previous comment. I bring this up because of the uncomfortable realization last night that the spelling wasn't at the tip of my fingers because I generally refer to her only as Marissa. I haven't met her at all and my husband only has a passing acquaintance with her, so that may be a reflection of the unfortunate tendency of society to refer to women by their first names in situations where a man would be called by his last name or his full name.
posted by Meghamora at 8:47 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Unless the CEO in question runs a company with a market cap way into the billions of dollars, all these mentions of "my CEO took 4 four months off and no one gave a shit" are moot, at best.

The CEO of Lloyds TSB (one of the UK's largest banks) took a well-publicized leave of absence for "extreme exhaustion" in 2011 at the depth of the financial crisis. There was a lot of talk about it at the time due to it being a mental health break and not something like cancer treatment, which people will generally not begrudge. The Finance Director took over his duties in his absence and while the share price tumbled on the initial announcement, the bank soon returned to profitibility and he remains CEO today.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2015


Do many women admire and emulate Marissa Mayer (in SV or elsewhere)? I really don't know.

Idk either but women don't actually need to admire or emulate her in order for them to unwillingly be held hostage to her example by their peers and superiors. Her personal choices shouldn't create an unwinnable situation for other women but because society is terrible it will do so no matter what we want.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:41 AM on September 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


I like SF Gate columnist Jon Carroll's take on this.
posted by salvia at 4:51 PM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm perfectly happy not to judge any woman for choosing how much time away from work she needs and is able to take.

OTOH I am cool with judging the CEO of a company who says "Everyone gets 4 weeks of vacation! I only take 1 day, but you are all entitled to 4 whole weeks, even though I just put out a press release saying I only need 1 day, don't worry, you absolutely can take 4 weeks, honest."

It's possible that this CEO is honest, and no one at any level will be punished for taking their vacation, and that their decision will have no effect on how anyone in the company views vacation time. But it isn't a good bet.

I get that Mayer was in a bind. But I don't think she chose the best solution for it.
posted by jeather at 5:17 PM on September 4, 2015


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