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Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Leave Is None of Our Business

Marissa Mayer is one of the biggest names in tech. Formerly of Google, she’s been CEO of Yahoo! for the past three years. She’s also a wife and mother to one son, and now, as announced in the tweet above, twin girls! The thing is, when you’re a woman in a male-dominated industry, you’re under scrutiny from all sides, and what should’ve been one woman’s happy family announcement has evolved into an “example” for working women everywhere. After she announced her happy news, she got lots of congratulations, but then she also got messages that either asked things of her, or in some way criticized her behavior:

So… either she should be taking more maternity leave to “set a good example” while commenting on what other women in the company should do, or she should shut up about her pregnancy entirely, lest it be seen as an “excuse” for shoddy work, or she should do exactly what she’s doing… because women doing less don’t deserve to expect promotions?

In a recent piece at The Daily Beast by Samantha Allen titled “Marissa Mayer’s Two-Week Maternity Leave Is Bullsh*t,” Allen comments on the “contradictory” nature of Mayer’s past comments about maternity leave when she was pregnant with her son. At the time, she made the decision to take only two weeks off and worked throughout her pregnancy. However, while she told Fortune magazine “I like to stay in the rhythm of things. My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it,” she wrote in a Lean In-related blog post:

After 13 years of really hard work at Google, I had been envisioning a glorious six-month maternity leave. However, if I took the new job, a long leave couldn’t happen. The responsibilities were too big, and time was of the essence—it just wouldn’t be fair to the company, the employees, the board, or the shareholders for me to be in the role, but out for an extended period of time.

Allen points out that in the first quote, Mayer sounds like an ambitious woman taking time off by choice, whereas in the second statement, she sounds like someone feeling pressure because of her new job at Yahoo! and being “coerced” to choose a shorter maternity leave.

The thing is, both were choices. It sounds like what upsets a lot of people is that, given the choice, Mayer would choose to give her company equal priority to her children. That one isn’t automatically “more important” than the other, but that both family and career are equally important to her, and she works really hard to prioritize them in a way that makes sense for her. After all, in a 2013 interview with SF Gate, Mayer says (referencing famed Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi):

One of his sayings was my priorities are God, family and the Green Bay Packers, in that order. [Now, my priorities are] God, family and Yahoo, except I’m not that religious, so it’s really family and Yahoo.

She’s quoting a man who was prominent in his field – and I bet no one questioned why Vince Lombardi didn’t take more time for his babies.

That’s the other side of the coin in the discussion about maternity leave and how women in the workforce should use it. Women are often made to feel guilty for “not being good mothers,” and that’s what a lot of the criticism of Mayer feels like to me. Either she’s going to fail at her business, or she’s going to fail at Mommyhood. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that she can choose to prioritize both, and that being a good mother doesn’t mean you have to be helicopter-parenting around that kid every second while ignoring your own needs and ambitions.

Now, Mayer has the luxury of choosing, and many women don’t. Which is why, to me, it’s more important to know that even if Mayer is choosing to only take a couple weeks off after giving birth, that she’s ensuring that the staff can do what they need to do for themselves. A Yahoo! spokesperson tells TMS exclusively what Yahoo!’s maternity leave policy actually is:

We offer up to 8 weeks paid leave for any Yahoo employee that has a new child while employed at Yahoo, this includes birth, adoption, foster child placement or surrogacy. We offer up to 8 weeks additional paid leave for pregnancy (so for birth mothers up to 16 weeks total).

So, birth mothers get up to four months paid maternity leave, and any Yahoo employee (I assume this means fathers, too, as I asked Yahoo! specifically about paternity leave as well) starts out with two months paid leave for a new child, regardless of how the child was conceived/adopted/etc. That’s not a bad deal.

And that’s what we need. We need companies to ensure that parents can prioritize their work and their families in the most optimal way for them so that both are taken care of. We need workplaces to recognize that people work better when they know that the rest of their lives are in order. And we need our laws to protect workers from being fired for daring to prioritize their families over their jobs.

But as for how individual women choose to approach motherhood in relation to their work? That’s their business. And no, the system isn’t perfect. And no, not every woman actually has the freedom to make the choice offered because of other circumstances in her life that relate to sexism, race, or class. However, commenting on an individual woman’s choice, or feeling entitled to have her be a spokeswoman for the issues you care about; criticizing her for working too much or too little; or, criticizing the kind of mother she is, because she also prioritizes work? These things are hugely anti-feminist to me. The way I see it, feminism is about everyone having an equal opportunity to design the life they want for themselves regardless of their sex or gender expression.

Everyone has a right to that. Even Marissa Mayer.

(Image via JD Lasica on Flickr)

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