Is Marissa Mayer Setting A Good Example?

In declaring that she would only take off two weeks after her twins are born, which comes out to one week per child, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is actually setting a positive example. So argues Gayle Laakmann Mcdowell at Quora, via Time.

She actually sets a wonderful example for women by choosing to take only limited leave. She sends a message that not all women are the same, and that babies aren’t just the women’s responsibility.

My head is on fire, so I’m going to have to let her continue while I stumble around screaming for a bucket of water.

As a woman — in tech — with a young kid and another one on the way, I can say that the expectation is definitely not “oh, you must go back to work ASAP.” That’s the expectation on fathers.

We don’t need another woman sending a message that it’s OK to not work, permanently or for an extended period of time. That’s already the norm (at least within highly paid jobs). Society has that message, loud and clear.

It is?? (I’m back! My hair is damp and steaming slightly.) I want to live in that world, the world where it’s “the norm” for women to not work for an extended period of time after having a baby. I would feel like Homer in the Land of Chocolate.

homer land of chocolate

Yes, every woman is different, and yes, some women find childcare, and particularly infant-care, an exhausting, tedious, merciless process from which returning to work provides sweet release. But like, shit happens during childbirth. (Ha! Literally, shit happens during childbirth, as you may recall if you have ever read a labor story or participated in one.) If you have to have a C-section, for example, which is significant surgery, your body will need more than two weeks to recover. Often that will be the case even if your delivery is uneventful, because even an “uneventful” birth can be a significant physical trauma. I got two black eyes from mine and a couple of stitches and I was one of the lucky ones.

It’s not that I don’t think Mayer and McDowell shouldn’t return to work after two weeks. If they feel ready to go back, they should go and be welcome. In Mayer’s case especially, I understand her motivation to assure her stockholders and the public at large that the birth of her twins is nothing more than a minor annoyance. An NYU professor has already used her news as an occasion to criticize both her and Yahoo:

“If she hadn’t announced she was pregnant with twins, she’d be out of a job within six months,” the professor said on Bloomberg television. … “She got a reprieve from death row because she’s pregnant with twins.”

The professor deemed the search engine company’s board to be a lesson in poor corporate governance, and said it would fare better under the control of other management, such as Microsoft.

I am also sympathetic to her because I don’t think that anyone’s private family decisions should have to unfold under the unforgiving gaze of a 24-hour news cycle that generates think pieces about what the contents of her womb might mean for investors. Who among us could endure that level of scrutiny? It drove even Anne Boleyn mad.

But announcing in advance that you plan to treat the birth of your twins like a bad cold — two weeks in bed, some aspirin, and you’re back as though nothing happened — is not setting a good example for anyone. In fact, it’s the opposite. The vast majority of women will need more time than that to recover. They deserve more time. And creating an unreasonable expectation that anyone — even highly paid, type-A CEO-types — should be able to simply power through is worse than harmful.

The norm is this country is not compassion. We do not treat each other like human beings worthy of care and respect. Too many women already have to return to work two weeks after giving birth whether they’re ready or not. That is a situation that should make us deeply ashamed of ourselves and the way, as a nation, we prioritize profits over people.

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