Marissa Mayer, the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company who had the anomalous privilege of announcing both a new CEO-ship and a pregnancy in the same year, doesn’t really seem all that invested in being a glass ceiling busting icon. The mother who welcomed her baby boy this week was featured on the cover of Fortune in a roundup of the “50 Most Powerful Woman.” And when she was depicted in a svelte black dress without any visible signs of her pregnancy, some mothers understandably felt slighted. While photoshopping out “baby bumps” ( as well as photoshopping them in) is about as standard to women in the public eye as 24/7 cellulite watch, the absence of her pregnancy — although still problematic — isn’t necessarily aberrant.
But I’ll tell you what is troubling. It turns out that Marissa Mayer, the reluctant poster woman of working motherhood, didn’t even want to be photographed for the cover while pregnant. Now we have problem.
The Atlantic Wire confirmed with a spokesperson for Fortune that Marissa “declined to be photographed for the magazine’s new issue”:
“We did put in a request for Marissa to pose for the cover and she declined,” a spokesman told us, and said that they wanted to use Mayer as the cover woman for the “50 Most Powerful Women” issue because of her recent accolades…
The Yahoo CEO, I can only imagine, has a lot on her plate what with that limited maternity leave. But to turn down such a history-making image, of a newly appointed CEO of a successful corporation with a baby visibly on the way, is a powerful and rare opportunity now squandered. Such a visual would have been a very influential and resounding portrait for not just women, but those who employ them.
The only time we culturally even see or acknowledge pregnant women in the workforce is when they’re “complaining” about workplace accommodation or getting shirked onto the mommy track or throwing up their hands and quitting for the sake of family. If not grumbling bitterly over the lack of maternity leave, then we see them flaunting their pregnant bodies in the name of airbrushed sex appeal. Either way, we do not see pregnant women in positions of power. Whether covering their girly bits or writing sad confessional tell-alls of workplace humiliation, we have yet to culturally recognize them as competent, reliable, and worthwhile employee investments.
Mayer had a pronounced opportunity to break that depiction with one flash of the camera — and she chose not to.
This isn’t the first time Marissa Mayer has disappointed me.
Her personal decisions about her maternity leave set a poor precedent for even the most respected women in our professional sphere, an unfortunate by-product of her fame in that her decisions will be conflated with some, admittedly elite, professional women’s possibilities. And who, of course, could forget the CEO’s simultaneous distancing and almost laughable misinterpretation of feminism? In what was perhaps the biggest nod to the flimsy “I’m not a feminist but…” line, Mayer articulated both her disinterest in identifying as a feminist and her dedication to “equal rights.” Such a chilly and completely nonsensical statement not only revealed to me that Mayer is in desperate need of a dictionary, but that one of the most brilliant women of our time was completely ignorant to the big tent of varying perspectives and opinions that define modern feminism.
It’s not really much of a secret, especially in feminist circles, that “the personal is political.” And Mayer is a prime contemporary example of such sentiments.
Mayer may forever be recognized for her professional accomplishments in a country still completely debilitated by lack of maternity and parental leave. But her timidity in the face of such culturally influential occasions consistently has me questioning her desire to be the glass ceiling smashing heroine many would like her to be.