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New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer & The War on Women

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There’s an identity and gender crisis epidemic going on in America.  At this point it’s hard to pinpoint where it began, or who started it, but it’s become a staple point of discussion among political and business groups alike.

For the better part of the last year, the media and/or political community has created a “War on Women,” with both political parties pinpointing the other as the obstacle to women achieving equal rights. Was it Republicans waging a war against women over birth control, or Democrats waging war against women over being stay-at-home moms?

Marissa Mayer Yahoo CEO

The real answer is that women seem to be waging a war against each other. And it needs to stop.

Recently, the Atlantic published an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter analyzing the modern day conflict that high profile career women face in order to maintain a demanding workload and fulfill their maternal duty.  

This was followed-up by a response from another writer at the Atlantic, James Joyner, who wrote, “Men Can’t Have It All, Either,” in which Joyner describes and asserts that men face the same conflicts when balancing professional and personal life.

And most recently, the discussion has continued with the announcement of a pregnant Marissa Mayer as the new CEO of Yahoo, which has been met with a mix of skepticism, hesitation, and in some cases resentment by the blogging community.  It’s as though the some in the media have been saying, so what? So, she’s been named the CEO of Yahoo.  She only got there because it’s a failing company, and even then no one is saying she’s going to be successful.  And even if she is successful it’s only because she has some sort of bizarre superhuman quality.  And perhaps the most frustrating reaction ( condescension) by those in the blogging world who are offended by her disconnect from being classified as a feminist.

First, Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg wrote an article entitled, “Why Yahoo’s New CEO Still Can’t Have it All,” in which she writes, “Slaughter congratulated Mayer on her triumph with the cautionary note that not everyone should try this at home. Mayer, she said, proves her point: The only woman who can have it all is “superhuman, rich, and in charge.”

This statement largely embodies one of the greatest annoyances within any feminist movement that is, was, or will occur.  Slaughter couldn’t just be happy for her fellow woman.  She couldn’t use this example to motivate other young women to pursue the same path, if they so choose.  She said, “Well yes, a woman can have it all, but.....”  Marissa Mayer was able to break through the male-dominated industry of engineering, and land the highest position at a Fortune 500 company, and Slaughter and Carlson put an asterisk on her success by making it seem as though Mayer had some sort of intangible advantage.

That’s not fair.  It’s not fair to Marissa Mayer, and it’s certainly not fair to the young women in our country who put their blood, sweat and tears into their studies and work through young adulthood to achieve that stature.  

If that is the case, then what are young women working so hard for?

It’s sadly funny that in a day and age where women are trying to break through glass-ceilings, those in the media and intellectual circles can only congratulate her significant leap in history by including a proverbial asterisk.  

A remarkable part of this storyline is that although Marissa Mayer had informed part of Yahoo’s board that she was pregnant before being offered the top spot, that didn’t raise major concern by the board that hired herFeminists everywhere should rejoice. Instead they’re offended Mayer doesn’t consider herself a feminist.  She considers herself an individual.

Since the beginning of the evolution of feminist movements, being a feminist can be defined by many different things (keep in mind these are my own interpretations of feminism, not Webster’s dictionary descriptions): the original feminist who was charging for her right to be heard with basic rights such as those in the suffrage movement; the hippie feminist defined by  standing with her “sisters” and burning their bras together as a sign of protest against “the man."

They are either the Madonna/Britney/Christina feminist, who rejects being judged for celebrating her sexuality as much as society has accepted and celebrated men for theirs or Hillary Clinton/Condoleeza Rice feminists who believe in taking a seat at the table with the men, and doing whatever it takes to get that seat. And lastly, there is the Marissa Mayer feminist (whether she chooses to identify herself as such or not), who pursues a career she loves, while also playing caring mother and supportive wife.

The point to this rambling of examples of different points in women’s history, as I see it, is that the point of “feminism” should not be about fitting any one of these roles exclusively, but to be able to decide your own path.

Feminism, or if you’re opposed to calling it that as some are, any modern day women’s movement -- is not about confining oneself to a general definition.

What women are missing in this discussion is the lesson and goal behind what should be the basis of feminism (should traditionally defined feminists want to dispel their negative connotation) which is: we can be whatever we want to be. We define what “having it all” means.

Feminism/women’s rights, or in this case, “having it all,” shouldn’t be about being forced into a life of servitude to family or to career -- it should be about increasing one’s freedom to choose without fear of judgment by their peers, or social structures preventing them from achieving their individual goals.  Yes, we have the opportunity to march into the corporate world and become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  We also have the choice to marry our high school sweethearts and raise an infinite amount of children and grandchildren.  

That is the point.

In this day and age, we shouldn’t even be discussing the pregnancy of the CEO of Yahoo as though it is faux pas for a woman to run a Fortune 500 company, and raise a family at the same time.  

That is offensive in the modern day context.  

Marissa Mayer shouldn’t be cause for question of our identities or questioning our own roles in society.  We should be celebrating her triumph. No matter what happens now, Marissa Mayer has it all.  And despite what Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in her article for the Atlantic, she had/has it all as well, whether or not she chooses to appreciate what success she has.

The appointment of Marissa Mayer is just the latest example that our country IS on the right path to reaching equality not only in the workforce, but in our society as a whole.  

The last thing that any women’s rights activist should want, is for this newfound wave of female empowerment to cause any of us to judge each other for our choices, or how we define our personal happiness.

It’s all about breaking down barriers, and bringing everyone to a level playing field. We can do whatever we want.  We can be whatever we want to be.  The choices are (seemingly) endless.

Let’s not confine ourselves by defining ourselves by generalized, and archaic social ideas.

Photo of Marissa Meyer from AP

Contact Alyssa Bonk at abonk08@gmail.com

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