I’m a feminist. I’m an unabashed, proud, self-proclaimed feminist. And I am a strong believer that every woman is also a feminist. In fact, I believe even men can be feminists. At its core, feminism strives to establish equal opportunities for women, therefore any person who believes that women and men should be treated equally is a feminist. That is any person except apparently Marissa Mayer.
In speaking on the recently aired PBS documentary Makers: Women who Make America, Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, said she did not consider herself a feminist. When I first heard her comments, my initial reaction was frustration. How could she, a female CEO and a mother, not see herself as a feminist? Did she not recognize the debt she owed to the feminist movement for her ability to sit as the head of a major company? Was she really that arrogant to believe her success to be exclusively her own and immune from feminist ideology?
In Mayer’s opinion, feminists are women who are “militant” and with a “chip on the shoulder.” In attempt to explain her reasoning for not being a feminist, Mayer perpetuates negative stereotypes often associated with feminism like bra burning, man hating and lesbianism, thus distracting from the true goals associated with the feminist movement. Yes, there may have been some militant women fighting for women’s equality, but the reality was that those involved in the movement, women from various backgrounds, classes and races, did have a chip on their shoulders. They were fed up with the unequal treatment they were getting from their husbands, employers, the state, the law. They wanted change; they wanted equality. And so they fought for it.
Mayer clearly views this chip on women’s shoulder as a negative thing. Nevertheless, had it not been for the dialogue and action ignited by feminists, particularly those during the second wave in the 1960s and 1970s, she might not be where she is today. When Mayer was selected as Yahoo CEO last year, she was pregnant with her first child, a fact that the company’s board was aware of when making their selection. Were it not for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a legal victory of the feminist cause passed in 1964, Mayer might never have been offered the position.
Her maternity leave, although brief and without the typical financial hardships associated with taking time from work, can be attributed to the Family and Medical Leave Act. This act, another feminist victory, provides women with a job-protected leave of absence following the birth of a child.
And though not quite as obvious, Mayer also owes feminism for her ability to earn her two computer science degrees. By pushing for gender equity, feminists promoted the passage of Title IX, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in education and educational activities, thus clearing the way for women to pursue opportunities in fields dominated by men, such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Whether she wants to acknowledge it, Mayer’s own actions reflect the existence of an inner feminist. With her recent announcement to eliminate tele-commuting for Yahoo employees, Mayer reinforces feminist ideals about equality by no longer giving special treatment to women interested in working away from the office. With her decision to reunite all workers in the office, she puts male and female employees on an equal playing field.
Yet many people do not see it this way. With the help of nannies and a nursery beside her office, Mayer does not have the same work-life struggle of other women with career ambitions and children at home. To some, Mayer’s decision to ban remote-work limits women’s ability to “have it all” because of the choices it sets up for women between work and family commitments. Even more, some view Mayer as hypocrite after taking an opportunity away from employees that she took advantage of following the birth of her son in October. Mayer may think she is doing Yahoo a favor by having all of its employees in one place, but when a portion of those employees resent the decision, the company’s morale may not see the boost she intended.
Despite not considering herself a feminist, Mayer owes a lot of her success to feminism. As a woman CEO of a giant company, a rarity in the boardroom, Mayer owes it other women to give them the opportunities to achieve everything she has, even if that means allowing women to work-remotely.