Marissa Mayer Really Doesn’t Seem To Be Into This Whole Glass Ceiling Busting Thing

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.


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  • Lawcat

    This article, like the many others you have written before about her, is just rife with ridiculousness.

    Why is it “troubling” that she doesn’t want to be touted as a groundbreaking pregnant CEO? That she didn’t want to be photographed for a magazine cover while pregnant? That she wants to take only a few weeks of maternity leave? That’s her choice. Perhaps she is content just doing her job and being a mom, and that she doesn’t want her pregnancy to define her as a woman?

    She didn’t set out to be put on the pedestal *you* keep trying to place her on. For all the feminist bs you spout, you sure don’t seem to respect *her* choices and seem content to force someone into a role they do not want for themselves.

    “Mayer may forever be recognized for her professional accomplishments in a country still completely debilitated by lack of maternity and parental leave”

    Additionally, using hyperbole doesn’t advance your argument, it makes you look like a zealot rather than someone who uses rational thought. The country isn’t “completely debilitated” by lack of maternity leave. I believe we can still function – and have for centuries – without paid maternity leave. (By the way, who is going to pay for such paid time off? Should the taxpayers be funding someone’s lifestyle choices? Are small businesses going to bear the burden because their employees decided not to save money before having a kid?) I had quite a nice maternity leave myself. My husband took 3 weeks off for paternity leave. It was fabulous. God bless the USA.

  • Another Steph

    Holy shit, I am so pissed off by this article that I can’t even form a coherent sentence right now. For a site that is *constantly* pissing and moaning about women judging other women, you sure do judge the shit out of other women, in this case, illogically and unfairly.

    • amtsit

      Seriously! Exactly what I was thinking as I read this. I guess this site is all about not judging, as long as you agree with their views. What if she does not want to be the poster child for working moms? What was she supposed to do, tell Yahoo “Thanks for the offer, but I am pregnant so maybe try me back in a year?” Mothering is different things to different people. I don’t know her personal backstory, but maybe she is the breadwinner and her husband is a stay at home dad? Maybe Koa should become the woman she wants to be on her own and not depend on strangers to become her role model.

    • Another Steph

      “Thanks for the offer Yahoo and while it’s something that I’ve probably been working towards my entire life, I’m going to have to decline. You should find someone who’s going to take maternity leave and pose pregnant on the cover of magazines to pander to crazy people on the internet.”

  • lyzl

    I think girlfriend just wants to do the work, which I admire. On the one hand, I totally get it. She doesn’t want to be a hero for moms or be known as a MOM CEO. She just wants to be a CEO. But then I also get it…balancing pregnancy/children and work is still such a thing in America and it shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t have to talk about it, but we do. Because of our antiquated maternity policies and our cultural attitudes that women who are moms aren’t qualified for the job (just check out the Atlantic article about the myth of the decline of man). And so, I want to latch onto her and make her my hero. But hey, if she doesn’t want to be a crusader, if she just wants to be good at what she does, I can admire that and leave her alone.

    • LinZoo

      And I’m almost positive that Mayer’s job consists of being on the phone with people to tell them what to do. I could have totally done that at 4 weeks postpartum. Gladly!

  • Sara

    Can we just let this woman do the job she was hired to do, please? She has the right to do her work the way she sees fit, and she doesn’t owe you, me or anyone else an explanation. Last time I checked, women’s lib was about women having the CHOICE to work or not work when and how they saw fit.

  • Eileen

    What if Esquire named her Sexist Woman Alive and asked her to do a cover shoot? Or, hell, what if she weren’t pregnant when asked to be on the cover of Fortune? Maybe the woman just doesn’t want to do photo shoots, period. Are you seriously judging another human being for not wanting to be get dressed up and glammed up and photographed for the cover of a magazine? It’s not Marissa Mayer’s job to be the hero you want. It’s her job to run Yahoo and live her life in the way that she sees fit.

  • Lastango

    “(Mayer) was completely ignorant to the big tent of varying perspectives and opinions that define modern feminism.”
    There is no such “big tent” of varying perspectives and opinions. There is only lockstep, politicized, grievance-culture, pseudo-academic groupthink. That is precisely why you are intolerant of Mayer. It is also why women who break faith with the sisterhood are subjected to orchestrated personal attacks, to the extent of being declared non-women.

    • Dr_Know

      Haha do you know just how full of crap your statement was?

  • Julie

    Just because “many people” would like her to be the “glass ceiling busting heroine that many would like her to be” (namely, you) doesn’t mean that she has to be. That’s a lot of responsibility to have on ones shoulders and I don’t blame her one bit for shying away from it. This was her personal decision to not be photographed. Just because she happened to be pregnant at the time when she was announced at CEO doesn’t mean that she also has to step into the role of martyr for all women. She’s got a new baby, a new powerful position, and now you want to throw all this extra crap on top of her. Give her a break. Give me one too while you’re at it.

  • kathleen

    Marissa Mayer reminds me of a lot of the first-wave feminist essayists who wrote on the role of the New Woman in the nineteenth century. Most were careful to consider their audience and cultural environment and push the boundaries of their arguments only as far as it would allow those in power to hear them without being completely alienated. Why would Mayer want to put herself in a position that is, sadly, still considered vulnerable and weak? One of the reasons why her appointment as CEO got so much attention is because she is the rare female in a usually male-dominated industry. It really isn’t her best interest to have herself photographed in ways that are not relevant to her job. And haven’t we all been trying to reach the point where our employers don’t automatically downgrade future expectations for our performance because we’ve reproduced? Hell, we’ve just seen a Mommyish article where the sanctimommy author was complaining that colleagues penalize mommies because they want to go to dance recitals and leave others with all the work. Hello! — why would Mayer want to join THAT club? Why would anyone?

  • Another Steph

    Okay, now that I’ve settled a little, I have some things to say.
    It seems to me that Mayer has wholly rejected the image of Super Working Mom, and that’s perfectly fine. Some women choose to be Mothers (by that, I mean they want motherhood to define a part of who they are), others see themselves as people who happen to have a baby, and everyone else falls somewhere in between. All of these positions are legitimate – feminism is, after all, all about choice.
    But personally, I believe that Mayer’s tactic of eschewing the condescending back patting – Oh wow, you were pregnant and they still let you run a company! Oh wow, you’re a powerful…. woman – is something that women should be happy to see. I understand that there are many, many inequalities in the workplace that need to be addressed, bu Mayer’s blase attitude – I’m a CEO and I happen to be a pregnant woman, big deal – is a goal that feminists should be striving towards.
    The TL;DR version – women will have succeeded when no one is surprised that they have done so.

  • E.D.

    She doesn’t owe us anything. She owes Yahoo shareholders her best effort and she gets to decide how that takes shape.

  • Nancy

    Wow! Reading the comments made me so happy, I totally agree! I suppose she’d rather people focus on how amazing her accomplishments are instead of how amazing her accomplishments are despite being able to carry children. It’s like how Christina Hendricks should be celebrated for her acting abilities rather than the ‘fact’ that she’s a wonderful actress ‘despite’ being ‘full-figured’ (Did you see that video today, too?)

  • Samantha

    I thought that part of feminism was fighting against these pedestals men put us on, whether it’s physically, maternally, domestically, or whatever. You’re just creating new ones, setting Marissa Meyer up for a new form of failure.

  • March

    So you seriously expected her to stick that label of MOM CEO on HERSELF. The label that is non-removable and so fucking big and bright that it will forever obscure any other aspect of her whole damn being. Because THAT is “busting the glass ceiling”?
    What. The. Everlasting. Irony.

  • What the what

    She’s not an ambassador of all women and mothers. She just wants to be a human being doing the job she was hired to do. She didn’t let us down by NOT taking up that huge responsibility of being the face of corporate women who have babies, because she didn’t owe us anything in the first place.

  • morri

    so not every one feels like they are looking good in pregnancy . I don’t see the relation really

  • Jermain

    She looks so frail i could break her easily, powerful women my ass

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