I could not be more delighted about the furor over Marissa Mayer’s nixing of the telework option at Yahoo! Really, it’s all good. Anything that puts the focus on women, motherhood and work makes me gleeful. The fact that these issues finally get a public airing has been so long in coming. Fully integrating women into all the places power resides is a messy, tortured and painful process. It creates a lot of drama. There will be yelling and screaming. There HAS to be yelling and screaming, because it hasn’t been done before. It upsets the prevailing power structure. It makes people uncomfortable in many different ways. A bit of a dust up is to be expected.
Reactions to Mayer have been all over the map. A torrent of opinions have been unleashed, and I have a few of my own. Here’s one – Marissa Mayer is not anybody’s poster child for momism, feminism or workers’ rights. She’s the boss, and that’s all. She can do whatever she likes with Yahoo! Calling employees away from their home computers and into the office is just fine if that’s what she feels the profitable operation of her company needs. As the CEO with legal obligations to shareholders, she is required to do what she thinks will make the company profitable. She may be a woman, she may be a mother, but she refused to call herself a feminist in the the fabulous PBS documentary about the women’s movement, MAKERS, and she never signed on as an advocate for working women with children. If you are like most women in America, with children, a job, and not enough hours in the day, she is not going to help you. I know, I know. The truth hurts. But there it is.
However, if the media wants to splash pictures of her all over, and writing about how she used some of her own millions to build a nursery for her new baby next to her office, it can only help. What mother, I ask you, gets to BUILD a nursery next to her office?? The contrast between Mayer as an icon of corporate excess on the one hand, and the child care nightmares most of us face on the other, is so striking, a member of the U.S. Congress might even be able to grasp it. If building your own nursery at the office is what it takes to create some semblance of work/family balance, what chance do American mothers have? Well, I’ll tell you – our chance lies in shifts to public policy. We will have to rely on our own political activism to implement workplace policies like paid sick days, paid leave, flexible schedules and part-time worker parity. We have to make working for money and raising children and/or caring for family, sometimes at the same time, sometimes one or the other, the new normal, the standard practice, the cultural norm. It has been our private reality for decades, of course, but that reality must be reflected in our politics, institutions and public life as well.
I wish Marissa Mayer all the luck in the world. She has two really hard jobs – fixing a company and raising a fully functional human being. I have two really hard jobs also – advocating for mothers’ rights and raising two fully functional human beings. The mothers she employs may find life more difficult now that they can’t work from home. But if the decision of their boss makes the critical needs of all parents more obvious, and the obstacles families face at every turn more challenging, my job just got a little easier. Maybe more mothers will take matters into their own hands and throw their political weight around. The only people who can help us is … us.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington