Leaving Gender at the Door

Leaving Gender at the Door February 26, 2013

Interviewer:  So, why do you write these strong female characters?

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:  Because you’re still asking me that question.

What I see whenever I sit at my desk at home.
What I see whenever I sit at my desk at home.

NSFYE (Not Safe For Yahoo! Employees)

So, Marissa Mayer banned working from home for her Yahoo! employees. Hilarity ensued.  Not really. More like polarization between women has intensified.  I have a vague sense male CEOs and workers are sitting down with popcorn to watch the catfight and go “Rawr.”

I worry that our reactions, no matter how well-intended and articulate and based in truths, aren’t wholly productive.  Why is it more outrageous for a female CEO to ban flextime than for a male CEO?  I don’t think it is.  It’s a questionable business decision, and only time will tell if it is a good one, but would the outrage be as severe if it came from a man?  I doubt it, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Let’s talk about the policy itself.  It constricts parents of both genders.  It constricts adults of both genders.  It constricts any male or female who would like to enjoy the benefit of staying home with a sick kid, taking an aging parent to the doctor, or giving blood at a time that is convenient for them.  In this post I wrote last June, I posited the following:

Ideally, in order for one spouse to have true flexibility in and control over his or her scheduling, the other spouse would have it, too.  Because for every mother I know who needs flexibility to support her career, I know a father who needs flexibility to support his family life.  For every mother who needs control over her schedule so she can present a case in court or put on a hard hat and climb into the sewers, there is a father who needs flexibility to leave work early to coach his daughter’s softball team or make dinner while the mother is making closing arguments.

Let’s talk about the person who issued the policy.  Marissa Mayer never claimed to be a pioneer/crusader for the family-friendly workplace.  Au contraire.  I think she made it very clear from the time she was hired that work was her priority. Frankly, this policy change doesn’t surprise me at all.  My friend, Elissa Freeman, wrote a piece defending Mayer, and even expressed the hope that

(m)aybe, just maybe, Mayer has a grander plan. Once she has the credibility of saving a company and winning the respect of Wall Street, she will have the potential of standing on an even grander soapbox for carving out family friendly policies. Policies that even the old boys will have to take into consideration.

Maybe, though I doubt she will, because that is not who she claimed to be or what she claims to want.

I understand having higher hopes for a female CEO of such a large company.  (I, too, cheer a little louder for the underdog when they break through barriers, whether it is a female CEO, a gay couple getting a marriage license, or the New York Mets breaking .500.)   Yet, just because a person is in possession of a uterus doesn’t mean she also possesses wisdom, empathy, or vision.  As a matter of fact, I know of plenty of women who hurt the causes of gender equity and families in general.  Last January, I decried a new rule by the Federal Reserve making credit cards available based on individual, rather than household income. In that post, I was urging women to get more involved in politics.  Then, I did more research on the Federal Reserve.  Three of the five members at the time were women.

It’s understandable women feel thrown under the bus by one of their own.  I’m disappointed, too.  But I’m inclined to be cautious with my criticism.  I fear we do more harm than good by having different expectations for women in power than men.  I worry when we criticize a person rather than a policy.  I don’t want to cloud the very important issue of family-friendly work-places and productivity by calling Marissa Mayer on the carpet for being a FEMALE who made a certain decision rather than a CEO who made a certain decision.  Counterintuitive as it seems, advancing gender equity might be better achieved by leaving gender OUT of it.

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