We’ve been wondering this since Marissa Mayer made headlines by taking charge at Yahoo while still pregnant. On the one hand, she’s done a lot for other women by virtue of her ascendence. On the other hand, one reason it’s important to have more women in charge is so that they can make woman-friendly changes from inside the corporate suite. Jessica Grose tackles the issue in a post on Women in the World.
I grew up idolizing both Barbara Walters and Mary Richards. I moved to a big city, became a journalist, and lived the better part of last decade as a single, independent, successful (if I do say so) career woman. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think it’s the power of great role models.
Of course, one of them is real, and one is the fictional lead of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But having written a whole book about that show, I often find myself wondering what Mary would be up to right now if she were real. The fun of the game is that my own imagination can choose whatever it wants, and what it chooses mirrors what I really want to be like in 10, 20, 30, or 40 years. As Barbara Walters announced her retirement this week, I knew: This was Mary’s retirement. This is exactly what she would be doing right now after a long, groundbreaking career. She’d be signing off her successful talk show, leaving it in the care of her hand-picked co-hosts.
What’s astounding about Walters’ career is that, between her and Mary, she’s the real one — and yet she also did everything Mary did, but years earlier. She came up through the secretarial pool behind the network news scenes, just like Mary, and eventually broke through the male-dominated newsroom, just like Mary did. She then became a writer and segment producer (like Mary) doing “women’s interest” segments on the Today show. Soon she was on the air, which I believe was only a matter of time for Ms. Richards. She scaled great heights from there, becoming the show’s first female co-host, then nightly news’ first female co-anchor on ABC.
I encountered Walters in the ’80s through her riveting interview specials with celebrities and heads of state alike. I fell in love with her ability to coax a story from anyone. I studied her tactics. You don’t ask people, “Why are you crazy?” you ask them, “What is your response to critics who say you’re a little eccentric?” Sometimes, you soften the blow they know is coming: “A lot of people are wondering about your divorce, of course, so I have to ask: What happened?” Other times you rip the band-aid off: “Did you sleep with the president, or not?” I use many of her tricks to this day (though I have never asked anyone what kind of tree he or she would like to be). She made me want to tell people’s stories, and doing emotional interviews became one of my specialties at Entertainment Weekly, which made me proud. I learned to make people comfortable, while still maintaining my journalistic integrity, by watching Walters.
I also learned that “female” doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean “not serious.” Because she was a woman, but a pioneering one, she managed to mix traditionally “female” topics — celebrity, fashion, feelings — and “male” ones — politics, war. This eventually led to one of the most innovative shows on television — yeah, really — The View. For 16 years now, her daytime talk show has mixed co-hosts of various races, backgrounds, political affiliations, and ages to discuss everything from reality TV to presidential elections. It’s become a must-visit show for both starlets and political candidates. And the show has one unifying message: Women’s voices matter.
We’ll miss you, Barbara. Thanks for making the world safe for Mary Richards, me, and all the women like us.
In this guest post, Bill Shireman — President and CEO of Future 500, which brings together major corporate and civil society — makes the (very sane) argument that the “gender binary,” as we call it in thinky feminist circles, is bad for everyone. Here, he explains why we should all, men and women alike, “lean in” to both our “masculine” and “feminine” tendencies.
When it comes to workplace gender politics, it’s no secret that the current climate still leaves much to be desired. Men still dominate the corporate world, occupying almost every high-powered position. Some argue that this is because male privilege is naturally ruthless and oppressive, and powerful men are invested in preventing their female rivals from gaining power.
I don’t believe this to be the case. As individuals, many men are not violent, dangerous, or oppressive. Within both men and women exist dual traits of masculinity and femininity that need to be channeled by both to ensure a balance of power in the business world. In order for business to thrive, however, corporations must recognize the value of the feminine traits that exist in both men and women and reward those traits, rather than solely rewarding the masculine traits that exist in both men and women. These traits are often valued in life, and lead to success, so why not in business?
Here are just a few of the reasons why I believe that gender neutrality equals success in the workplace and in life:
While mainstream media often try to pit feminism against motherhood (our stance: that’s bullshit), there’s no doubt that conflict exists for working mothers. Guest blogger Guinevere A. Murphy, Ph.D. reveals how returning to her high-level career in science after giving birth to a child made her question, then value, feminism.
The beeping machines and the loud voices in the crowded delivery room fell silent in the instant I saw the tiny, crying baby. My baby. A long minute later, they placed the wet, pink, perfect little human in my arms. A warmth and light effused my being, and without even a slight hint of cliché, I thought wonderingly, “This is the best moment of my life,” with an absolute certainty and fervor beyond anything I’d ever experienced.
Everything changed in that moment. I had to separate my life into pre-Evie and post-Evie epochs, like B.C. and A.D. The overwhelming love I felt for my baby gave me a clarity and sense of purpose I hadn’t realized was missing before.
I came to realize after Evie’s birth that my devotion to my career in science had become in large part an act, one that I put on, among other factors, because of my whole-hearted belief in what is popularly attributed to a feminist ideal of the high-achieving career woman, but I’ve since come to realize originates more from an out-of-control, greed-dominated corporate culture. Marissa Mayer famously went back to work after just a “few weeks,” and worked from home while still healing from delivery. Her decision to do this largely contributes to the idea of motherhood as merely a minor bump in the road of one’s career trajectory.
I went back to the office at six weeks. It’s not hyperbole to say that my every instinct cried out against walking out the door most mornings, and nights I mourned if I was home even five minutes late, for the precious hour we had together before bedtime. My experience illustrates why feminism is still needed in the U.S., one of four countries in the world without mandated paid maternity leave. This angle wasn’t lost on me at the time, but above all, I felt a furious, overwhelming sense of betrayal, by the feminist movement. [Read more...]
Two Groundbreaking Women Died: Jean S. Harris, whose trial for murdering her longtime beau drew her comparisons to Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary, became an advocate for female prisoners while at Bedford Hills. Beate Gordon made sure female rights were drafted into the modern Japanese constitution when she was a 22-year-old assistant to General MacArthur. Both were born in 1923.
Abortion by Internet: Increasing numbers of women are using the internet to purchase a medication for its off-label use of inducing miscarriage.
Women Working: An all-male Iowa court ruled in favor of a man who fired a “stellar” longtime employee because he found her “irresistible.” The two had been friendly, but she viewed him as a father figure.
Indian Girls Get Period Help: Girls in India frequently drop out of school due to the social stigma of menstruation, but a humanitarian public health campaign aims to change that.
Speaking Out: One blogger offers her experience with Women’s Studies 101 and the difficult necessity of awareness.
There has been a lot of talk about Marissa Mayer’s ascension to the top spot at Yahoo!—and her being pregnant while doing it. Most women, feminist or not, cheered the news as yet another fracture in the corporate glass ceiling—and one that puts a powerful face on a working mother to boot!
But her face looks a lot different than that of most career moms. Mayer talked about her maternity leave as if it were a mild inconvenience: it would be brief and she would work throughout it. But the only way she will be able to do that is with the kind of help and resources many working moms don’t have. While I understand Mayer’s commitment to her new job, I do worry that such declarations (issued as if to assume anything less would be unconscionable) hurt working moms everywhere and further prevent the U.S. from adopting a realistic family leave policy.