We were all excited when a woman became the CEO of Yahoo! Apparently, she’s doing it wrong, though.
Feminists, activists, and a whole host of other ‘ists’ on the internet are shaken up by this photo. The commentaries I’ve encountered use loads of feminist terms and ideas, but they all seem to take a decidedly un-feminist slant. While I’ve been trying to order my thoughts, I realized the disagreement I’m having with many others who saw these photos; I’m assuming that Marissa Mayer makes her own decisions. Others seem to be operating under the assumption that she was cajoled or pressured in some way. Here’s what I mean: Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at University of Washington, pretty much sums up the controversy in this CNN article, so I’ll let her speak for herself.
“I get it, and I get why she did it. But she has to take note of how pained a lot of women are about this fashion photo. Not just a few women felt hurt looking at the Mayer layout, wondering silently or out loud if acquiescing to this kind of shot means that for Mayer, and perhaps for other women, that “making it” and “having it all” needs to include being publicly admired for one’s allure. That’s a depressing thought for many talented women who are not beautiful or not sexy. They do not have that card to play and this layout could certainly make them wonder if selection for the top job requires being lovely.”
So this is the crux of the issue for the anti-photo crowd. “But she has to take note of how pained a lot of women are about this fashion photo.” Okay,no, she doesn’t. I think that it is too much to ask Marissa Mayer to live her life for every woman around the world. Yes, she is going to be seen as a role model, but how much does that remove her agency? Does she not still own her body and her life? Schwartz continues to undermine Mayer’s agency when she says, “… acquiescing to this kind of shot means that for Mayer…” Acquiescing? She’s the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I doubt she acquiesces to much.
So, I’m reading Pepper Schwartz’s Op-Ed and “wondering silently or out loud” if she believes that women should be allowed to make their own choices. It seems to me that she doesn’t. To assume that a Vogue photographer, a man, could pressure her into a photo shoot is asinine. She’s powerful, confident, competent, and brilliant. Perhaps, she wanted a set of photos that people would find attractive. That’s such a universal feeling that I’m floored it is given such little credence. That is, unless humans have ceased to desire for others to find them attractive. If so, then sell all your Instagram/Facebook stock, because that ship is sinking.
Okay, so let’s round up these disparate parts: Marissa Mayer is beholden to every woman in the world when she makes life decisions. She “acquiesced” to a photo shoot that implies a woman must be admired for her physical beauty to “have it all”. Marissa Mayer (and presumably, the photographer) have told talented women who are not beautiful that they cannot achieve Marissa Mayer status in tech companies. That’s what this photo does. Now to what the photo does not do. The photo shoot does not imply that women do not have to sacrifice femininity and allure to be respected as business elites. The photo does not set an example for young women deciding between math team and cheerleading squad. It does not tell these young women that they can have both. Lastly, it does not reflect the choices and desires of Marissa Mayer; hell, she’s pretty much a victim here.
Also, apparently, the article is just blank pages, because no one seems to have anything to say about what Mayer had to say. Then again, we’ve already established that the CEO of Yahoo! has no say.