Since having kids, I generally avoid posting on the "mommy war-are-you-mom-enough-women-can't-have-it-all" nonsense, largely because my reaction to these kinds of articles is a contradictory combination of getting really fucking annoyed and not caring at all. It's impossible to write in that mental state, so I don't, plus the "not caring" always trumps over the annoyance, so I don't even write many blog posts in my head like I usually do when I'm annoyed about something. But this article on Marissa Mayer, which I unfortunately read during work today, has forced me to come out and step into the arena because if I don't get my highly irritated reaction down on paper my head will explode.
By way of background, before I had kids, I worried obsessively about what others thought about my plan to be a working mom and the impact they claimed to fear it would have on me, my spouse, and my children. But once I had those children, I never worried about it again. My philosophy towards being a working mother essentially boils down to: I know myself better than you, I know my husband better than you, I know my children better than you, and I know that all four of us have more love, laughter, and general happiness in our lives than I ever imagined possible, so if you think the fact that I work has an absolute and all-encompassing negative impact on our lives, you're an idiot and I can't be bothered with you. Truly, all the angst and yelling and blogging and writing on the issue just seems like a bunch of white noise. Women work. Women have always worked. Millions of American mothers have to work and they do it without half the support, assistance, and luxuries that I (and most of the people yapping about it) enjoy. Talking about it can be helpful in relation to work-life balance and increased choices and tracks for men and women to take with regard to their career, but in general, I can't imagine why anyone cares very much what other people choose to do.
But it seems that people do care, at least about high-profile women's decisions. Which leads me to the reason for today's post- the internet's reaction to Marissa Mayer's maternity leave plans. For those who haven't read about her, Marissa Mayer was just tapped by the Board of Directors of Yahoo! to be the company's new CEO and she started work yesterday. She has a B.S. and Masters from Stanford in computer science, specializing in artificial intelligence, and was previously an engineer and VP at Google. She's also 2-3 months pregnant, due February 5th, and will thus be having a baby about 7 months into her new job. She informed the Board, they hired her anyway, apparently feeling she was still the best person for the job just like they had felt right up until she shared the news. So, yay! Progress, right? Apparently not. Despite the fact that Mayer is 37, quite bright, and has likely watched many friends and family members have children, a few people (fellow working mothers no less) have taken to their webpages to write open letters explaining to Mayer why she's wrong about her plans, her goals, and anything else she thought she knew about herself. I took issue with nearly all of it.
I wrote about this topic 5 years ago before I even had Landon, but I personally do not believe that having a baby changes everything about you and your world. Parenthood is a huge amazing thing. It has made my world wider and deeper, but it did not BECOME my world or change everything in it. I am still me. Things that mattered to me before I had two children still matter. I am still very professionally driven and take enormous pride in my work. While it's true that my heart bursts with love and pride when I see Landon repeat something I've taught him, or when Claire runs up to me and says "wuv you mama, wuv you SO MUCH," that does not mean I do not still derive joy and satisfaction from a "you kicked ass in there" email from my boss at work. Mothers, parents, people generally-- we are not defined by one thing. It annoyed the crap out of me when people (particularly people who knew me well) said things like, "just wait, you don't know how you'll feel when you hold that baby in your arms." Because no, I will not wait to hold a baby before continuing to take steps on a path I started years before and worked very hard to achieve, and I don't see why the hell Marissa Mayer should have to either, at least not if being CEO of a $10 billion company is something she'd like to do (and why wouldn't it be?).
But back to the article. Pretty much every patronizing word made me increasingly furious (JP just endured my reading it allowed, with much commentary, with a vaguely amused expression because I so rarely get mad about internet stuff), but these two quotes are particularly annoying:
"Would it be so bad to spend a couple more months in the comfort of your home, un-showered and wearing sweats like the rest of us? I know you're used to working long hours. But "all-nighter" takes on a whole new meaning when you become a mother."
"The cheers or jeers of other moms may not sway you, but don't discount the persuasive powers of your baby boy. You're a powerful woman, but I have a feeling you're going to be putty in your son's little hands from Day One. I can't fully explain the extent to which your priorities will shift when you have a baby. I predict you'll soon consider him the greatest accomplishment of your very accomplished life."
No, it would not be "so bad," and Ms. Mayer is not saying it would be (though the "unshowered sweat pants" thing does sound bad to me; I've had two babies and I had one that never slept ever and I still took a shower every day and never wore sweat pants, but I digress). What Mayer did do is accept a pretty incredible opportunity to take on a demanding job as Chief Executive Officer of a large public company, a job that is by definition a very individual one, and accept that she can't just drop off the face of the earth for 3-6 months after having a baby, nice as that may be (and oh maternity leaves are so nice; I watched 6 seasons of the West Wing while snuggling Claire on the couch, delightful). But unlike 3rd year attorneys, CEOs are not fungible, and that's why they're carefully selected and paid a bunch of money- because the Board of Directors has decided that individuals background and personality and vision of the company will lead that company to bigger and better things. What would have been ridiculous would be for her to have accepted the job and then taken a long maternity leave- I think that would have actually hurt women more (not hard, since I don't think this current thing is hurting them at all), because why would a Board or upper level management not continue to handicap women of childbearing age in selecting these positions? It's true that having a baby has a physical and medical aspect to it, but I could have easily returned to work at 3 weeks after having both of my kids, provided I had sufficient help at home, and she will likely be able to as well. And if not, she'll take more leave, just like any male executive would do if a medical procedure had unforeseen complications. Her plan to come back to work after 3 weeks, does not mean she thinks it would be terrible to sit at home and hang out with her baby. It means she made a choice to accept a job opportunity she's worked very hard to be eligible for and that choice comes with the (I think realistic) sacrifice of a shorter maternity leave. Will she regret it later? I have no idea, but I don't see why people who don't know her need to be telling her she will. You're allowed to have multiple accomplishments in life- hers could be her baby and her CEO-ship. Men get to have lots of accomplishments and nobody writes them open letters to let them know how they'll feel about it.
I just found the whole letter so damn patronizing. (This one, too: "Think about your colostrum over the company for more than just a few weeks. Please." Are you kidding me? Male CEO's will never have to put up with this crap.) I tried not to, I didn't want to get all worked up at 2:30 in the afternoon, but it brought back all those months as a pregnant law student when people tried to tell me how I'd feel (and how I wouldn't want to stay in school or be a practicing lawyer), and then even worse, ended up making me feel bad after I had Landon because I didn't feel a tectonic shift in the universe and rethink every priority I ever had the moment I became a mother. I was still me, maybe me+, now with greater empathy, capacity to love, and patience, but still the same basic person I'd known for 24 (now 29) years.
So do I think Marissa Mayer's plan to take a 3-week working maternity leave is "good"? I don't know, I guess it depends on what or whose "good" you're talking about. But I don't think it's bad, and I do think it's realistic and possible. She's the CEO, she may need to make decisions and lead some meetings, but as the boss, she will also have an enormous degree of flexibility to help in those first several months, as well as the ability to hire full-time help. Prior to reading some of the internet furor over that aspect of her hiring, I just thought it was great that she was hired- that if the Board thought she was the best candidate, they didn't let her impending motherhood stop them from offering her the job.
This relates to another annoyed reaction I had at an article- the terribly titled, but containing some (some) good, thoughtful content, "Women Still Can't Have It All?" My thought was, of course we can't. No one ever said we could. But that's okay- men can't either and neither can stay-at-home moms or dads. No one can have it "all" - "all" is not something I even think exists. The point, the goal, I always thought, was that we get to have choices. If it makes more sense for me to work and my husband to stay home, I want to be able to make that choice- I want employers to hire me as they would an equally qualified male candidate, I want them to not ask or care if I have children, and I want to be paid what another household-heading male would be paid. Choices are what matter to me. That there are sacrifices that accompany those choices is both inevitable and deeply personal. To me, Marissa Mayer's new role of CEO and mother is a positive thing for choices. She had them, she made them, and I'm not going to tell her that giving birth to her baby will render all those choices meaningless.
Now I need to go kiss my children and re-tuck them under their covers, go to bed and nudge my already-asleep husband into cuddling with me, and get some rest before another day of following through on my own choices, and perhaps not clicking on anything "mom" related on the internet for a while.