It’s no surprise that we’re so surprised that Yahoo’s new CEO is a woman: We’re still falling apart over Hillary Clinton not wearing makeup. This decades-long transition to women in the workforce, politics, etc. is taking decades too long. In Forbes in March of this year, Marissa Mayer described herself as “gender blind.” She says that “just asking the question” about gender could serve as a “handicap.” “If I had been more self-conscious about being a woman, it would have stifled me.” I can’t help but wonder how she’s feeling now, with media like Wired running headlines like “Marissa Mayer: Yahoo’s New Pregnant CEO.”
How does Mayer feel that one of the first things we know about her is that she has an affinity for cupcakes? (And so what? Who the hell doesn’t have an affinity for cupcakes?) For some reason, I winced even more when I heard that the baby, due in October, is a boy, feeling like that info was too intimate for public consumption. I can’t help thinking that if the new CEO was a man with a pregnant wife we might not even know, or that info would certainly have been buried six paragraphs deep; I know we wouldn’t know the gender or due date. I know no one would question his ability to do his job once the newborn comes.
Harvard Business Review recently released info that women are better leaders than men, with women scoring higher in all recorded attributes, not only the ones we are cultured to think of as women’s strongest skills, a.k.a. nurturing. This is news? Women are good at managing people and organizations? What have we been doing all this time? And just last week, we found out—gasp—that women are consistently scoring higher than men on IQ tests. Yet, in many of the pieces I saw about Marissa Mayer, journalists referenced bra burning when talking about Mayer’s career advancement. Bras burned more than 40 years ago. More than 40 years.
Four years ago, I hated Sarah Palin so much people only needed to mention her name and I foamed at the mouth. (True: Mean, mean colleagues in my department told people to come into my office and just stand there and say “Sarah Palin”—as if my frothing and twitching were some parlor trick.) But, despite my disrespect and extreme disgust for Palin, I was more disgusted to see her objectified in Photoshopped red, white and blue bikinis, and to hear the “period joke” and the “sex jokes.”
When Palin was nominated we used the same terms we’re using now: the nomination of a woman VP was game changing, and every glass ceiling, cliff and various barrier metaphors folks could come up with. After she crashed and burned, again and again, and again, and wait—I smell smoke, is she still burning?—she comes back with Sarah Palin’s Alaska and applauds as her daughter Bristol exploits her unplanned teen pregnancy via Life’s a Tripp? She comes back with that?
Wait. I went on a Palin rant, as I am wont to do. Let me wet nap my face. All I really want to point out is: What good did her nomination do? Why don’t we ask Lisa Brown?
My academic world also has a fair amount of sexism. Only about 15 percent of college and university deans are women. I feel lucky that my school, Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, has one of them, Donna Murasko. I feel luckier still that, in her time as dean, she has doubled the college’s research grants, as well as other accomplishments, while she wears suits with skirts and heels and hats, in brights and pastels, and well, pretty much any color she pleases. She grew the college’s enrollment by 50 percent, and she has been known to stand on chairs in those high heels to pick winning names from a basket at our quarterly “meet and greets.” I am so glad that our students, both the males and females, are able to see this powerful woman not conform, to retain her own sense of style and femininity, seem to embrace it, even as she is often the only woman around a boardroom table.
It’s been almost 100 years since women were given the right to vote and other successes in the women’s suffrage movement, and we’re still stunned by a woman CEO. If Fox news needs to report that the Yahoo board was unfazed by Mayer’s pregnancy, doesn’t that imply that they should have/could have been? A friend of mine is a book acquisition editor at a major academic press. We talked about all this talk about Mayer, and she said she has always kept her office stripped bare of photos of her three children; she doesn’t display their drawings or crafts. She always felt that she had to keep that mother part of herself out of the office, and she has simply accepted that’s the way it has to be.
I wonder for how much longer?