Since being named Yahoo's new CEO, pregnant Marissa Mayer has been lauded as a feminist phenom. Not only is she the new CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she's a pregnant new CEO. I'm as proud of her accomplishments as the next gal and glad Yahoo didn't see her pregnancy as a detraction or distraction from her ability to work. Not everyone is so open minded.
Still, as Mayer has stated she will work through maternity leave. And right there, just as I was about to stand and cheer, I got mad! Mad for every working mother out there who has taken maternity leave because we had to or because we wanted to. In my case, it was both. Newsflash to anyone who has not given birth, but if you deliver a child vaginally or via C-section, for many women it is physically impossible to return to work right away. And that's without complications and assuming your child is born healthy. Would Mayer work through maternity leave if--God, let's pray not--something went wrong. My friend delivered her son almost three months early. Her baby was in the NICU for months. She hated every second at work away from him. Would Mayer pay a nanny to sit in the hospital and care for her child, touch the baby, soothe the baby?
By not taking maternity leave, she isn't taking a stand for women in the workforce but rather kicking women in the pelvis. Because it is a very MAN thing to take no maternity leave. Some companies do provide paternity leave, but for many men in competitive fields, taking weeks of paternity means you are no longer eligible for certain bonuses because you are not working, you may be overlooked for promotion and not seen as dedicated. <--the same thing that happens to women.
I understand Mayer's dedication. I took six weeks off for maternity leave and feared the entire time that my colleagues would think I wasn't pulling my weight despite their reassurances to "take all the time I need". I used what little vacation I had and took the rest as unpaid leave. I was only allowed six weeks at that. So you can imagine my surprise when, one month after returning from maternity leave, I was laid off or rather my contract was not renewed. I'd been with the organization for five years, had just received a perfect evaluation by my supervisor and was doing a great job. Not surprising though was my replacement, a single, unmarried man with no kids.
I say this in support of Mayer and many women in professional jobs who do have to worry about being seen as a slacker for taking maternity leave. You leave and others do see it as an opportunity to take advantage, get face time with the boss etc. Julie Smolyansky, 27, the CEO of Lifeway Foods, has given birth twice. She took two weeks off to recover and set up a crib in her office and toted her baby to meetings with her. From what I've read, it looks like Mayer may also take some time to recover but will work from home. I know many women who still answer email, check on work while on maternity leave. But should that be expected of us? Really?
The problem is that very few work places can accommodate a child at the office. Mine was not one of them. Even if I wanted to bring my son, it wouldn't have worked for me and certainly not for him. That's a point Erin Ryan writes about on Jezebel.com today, "Less enabled and empowered are women who are already disenfranchised in their professional lives. While executives like Mayer and Smolyansky deal in information, communication, and personal interaction — tasks that can be expedited with technology and occasionally done remotely — a woman who works behind the cash register at a convenience store or cleaning hotel rooms doesn't have the same luxury." The inequity of the situation is what has so many moms, like me, crying foul. Mayer can afford to hire a 24 hour nanny. Middle class women know that no child care center will take a baby under six weeks old. And that's for those women who can afford child care. Many women use family, friends or a patchwork of child care. The example Mayer is setting for other women is unrealistic. If Mayer can work through maternity leave, why can't you Suzy? So what your baby has colic and your bladder was damaged during labor making your recover slower than most.
In her article on CNN. com, Stephanie Coontz (who doesn't think Mayer is wrong for skipping maternity leave) spoke with Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. Galinsky says leaders in the work place also set an example "in shaping expectations about what is and is not acceptable", writes Coontz. According to Galinksy, "Leaders who take little time off for family create a work culture that inhibits lower-level employees from asking for any work-family rearrangements they may need," writes Coontz. I hope lower level Yahoo employees won't be expected forfeit maternity leave just because Mayer did. When are we, as women, going to admit having a baby changes things! This is not a bad thing. This does not make you your mother. This does not mean you must sacrifice stilettos for mom jeans. But it doesn't make you less of a woman if you hike those mom jeans up and rock a pair of flats at Babies R Us.
I think Anne-Marie Slaughter made an important point in her essay for The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can't Have it All. Slaughter stepped down from a powerful State Department job to, yes, spend more time with her family. While some have criticized her essay, she makes valid points. To have it all, you must have a partner willing to sacrifice for you. Mayer has a husband who seems to be willing to pick up slack and will likely have nannies. My husband's job does not allow him the flexibility to pick up the baby early from day care and many times, he doesn't even make it home in time to see the baby before he goes to bed. My mother lives hours away, and we really have no one to help with the baby unless we hire a nanny, which we have not done.
Ultimately, it boils down to this simple point: women, you are not weak, less competitive or soft for wanting to take maternity leave! There I said it. Yes, I did lose my job in the end, but I have a beautiful, well-adjusted son. I'm still competitive but in a different way now, and I haven't lost my edge. In fact, I'm doing what I can to keep my edge and not become overwhelmed with diapers and laundry. I just value my time with my son now. I wonder what people will think of Mayer if, after seeing her baby, missing her baby, she decided to take some time off. I do not want a nanny raising my child. I do not want to waive my pay check in front of my baby boy and miss his first step. That is not the kind of mom I want to be. And, yes, I can still call myself a feminist. I know from being in foster care and later adopted and from years working with single, struggling mothers, how very important it is to bond with your child, to be there, to be a good mother in every way. Having a nanny doesn't make you a bad mom. Sending your kid to day care doesn't make you neglectful. But being a female CEO and skipping maternity leave doesn't make you a hero either.
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