On Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, and cupcakes.

So! Marissa Mayer, a person of whom I’d never heard before yesterday, has been tapped as the new CEO of Yahoo. Here’s what the Forbeswoman blog had to say about Yahoo’s hiring news:

When Marissa Mayer was announced as the new Yahoo! CEO yesterday, there was a collective wow. A 37 year old woman! An engineer! Another role model – in Silicon Valley, a place in dire need of more women in top positions. And then a little part of me got greedy and thought, can you imagine if she were a mom too? We could watch as she juggled and managed her inevitably hectic life.

But then last night news broke that Marissa Mayer is six months pregnant. This is too good to be true! Why should we care? Because women all over this country who seek employment while pregnant worry, obsess and hide their growing stomachs with the valid fear that they will be discriminated against. And now Yahoo! has hired a six months pregnant woman to run their 20 Billion dollar company.

Excellent!

Here are the “five things you need to know about Yahoo’s new leader” according to People, arguably the only place most Americans will ever hear Marissa Mayer’s name uttered:

1. She Made History
When she started working for Google in 1999 – years before Google became an everyday verb – Mayer was the company’s first female engineer….

2. She’s Glamorous…

3. And So Is Her Apartment…

4. Her Cupcake Recipe Is Better Than Yours…

5. She’s Going to Be a Mom…

I… cupcakes?

Is this a laugh or cry moment?

Is this People quietly subverting expectations of American womanhood by introducing the notion that a woman doesn’t need to eschew normative gender behavior in order to be a geek (and a powerful geek at that)? Under item #1, the site quotes Mayer as once saying “I’m not a woman at Google. I’m a geek at Google…. If you can find something that you’re really passionate about, whether you’re a man or a woman comes a lot less into play. Passion is a gender-neutralizing force.”

Or is this People reinforcing the very expectations that we saw on display last month when Family Circle pitted Michelle Obama’s cookie recipe against Ann Romney’s? Are all women, regardless of their power and influence, required to conform to our notions of good womanly behavior in order to be worthy of our attention and praise? Is People reminding America that it’s ok for girls to like computers — as long as they’re pretty, too?

What if Marissa Mayer were fat? What if her apartment had free weights in the living room? What if she’d had her tubes tied because she knew that she didn’t want children? What if she hated cupcakes?

Please don’t misunderstand: I have no problem with glamour, or cupcakes. I really, truly don’t. I am so excited to wear the pretty new dresses I just bought for my son’s bar mitzvah weekend, and baking is pretty much my favorite kind of cooking. It’s certainly the one I’m best at. Not to mention that I’ve consistently made the choice to work part time so that I could be my children’s primary caregiver. To look at me, I’m very nearly June Cleaver.

But if you were to write about my career of Israel/Palestine advocacy, or my skills as a writer, and make 80% of your article about the time I made a dragon cake for my son’s birthday and the fun I had shopping for those dresses — I’d frankly want to tear your head off. And I didn’t just spend the last 13 years climbing the corporate ladder and busting through the glass ceiling on my way.

The news about Marissa Mayer is really, truly excellent. This is the sort of event that takes us closer to that magical day when people will be judged for their skills, not their social roles, and being a parent will be recognized as a nearly universal condition shared by grown men and women alike. (I’m guessing, off the top of my head, that no one wrote stories about it when Yahoo’s last CEO became a dad, for instance). I’m quietly nursing a hope that the last name “Mayer” means Yahoo’s new top dog is Jewish, to boot, and I can add her to my Fantasy Seder list.

But I can’t help but feel that the folks at People haven’t quite gotten the memo yet. It was a five-item long listicle — could not three of those items been given over to Mayer’s skill-set and achievements? Would that have been such a tough sell?

Apparently so. Or, at least, the editors at People think so. And given the outsized role that People plays in our national discourse, that frankly makes me sad.

13 Comments

  1. Bookwoman

     /  July 17, 2012

    According to Wikipedia, Mayer is of Finnish descent. Now I’m sure there are a few Jewish people in Finland (I just looked it up and there are 1,500…and all of two synagogues) but I somehow doubt she’s going to be at your Fantasy Seder.😉

  2. baiskeli

     /  July 17, 2012

    Yeah, cause I’m going to sit down with an accomplished and talented woman engineer and ask her about ….. cupcakes.

    It must take lots of self-control as a woman engineer/scientist not to rip people’s heads off. Between this, the stupid First Lady bake-off and that stupid ‘sexy scientist’s’ EU video I just shake my head.
    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-06/22/science-its-a-girl-thing

    • caoil

       /  July 17, 2012

      I really want one of her (male) compatriots to make a YouTube video called “No one ever asks me about my lemon meringue pie!😦 “

  3. There is NO DAMN WAY her cupcake recipe is better than mine!

    I demand a cook-off!

  4. Captain_Button

     /  July 17, 2012

    Well, there was some item today about Obama being booed for favoring Thin Mints in Girl Scout cookies.

  5. Well, People isn’t written for college graduate graduates.

    Can you picture the typical subscriber?

  6. CitizenE

     /  July 17, 2012

    The bitterest thing I have to say about this is that no one ever thought to comment about the perfection of my chile relleno or my meat balls when discussing my illustrious teaching career. The trials and tribulations of being under appreciated just because I am a man.

  7. No matter the strides women have made in recent centuries, they are still regarded by men — and many women — for their supposed “feminine” attributes. So, how their home is decorated, how they make a chef’s salad, where they shop for clothes for their kids, the clothes they wear, their makeup… all this will be more important to average Americans than their goals, accomplishments, and the hurdles they have to overcome to be successful. No amount of feminism to this point has wiped away millennia of patriarchy.

  8. aaron singer

     /  July 17, 2012

    I’ve seen some mentions on twitter from various feminists today of a “glass cliff”–that she would only be hired because Yahoo is not having an easy go of it lately, to say the least. That, being hired at Yahoo as they currently are is quite obviously not the same thing as heading a Google or Apple or another top, successful tech company.

  9. oh for heaven’s sake.