The XX Factor

Why Would Marissa Mayer Identify As Feminist?

Would calling herself a feminist ever help Marissa Mayer’s career?

Photo by Joe Corrigan/Getty Images for AOL

The Stations of the Powerful Female resulting from Marissa Mayer’s promotion to CEO of Yahoo! continues with Station Number Five: Our lady grapples with the word “feminist”. To no one’s great surprise, Mayer disavowed the word even while upholding every single value of feminism, because the only prominent women allowed to call themselves “feminist” in public anymore are those who are using it as cover to attack the values of feminism. (Thanks, Sarah Palin!) It’s certainly frustrating, but I will give credit to Mayer for her blunt explanation of why she won’t embrace the movement that shares her stated values and has allowed her to be who she is: 

I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word. You know, there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that than comes out of negative energy.

As long as we all understand that “militant” and “chip on the shoulder” are euphemisms for “willingness to challenge sexism directly, even though it means that men will yell at you,” it doesn’t get more clear than that. Women are correct to believe that direct confrontations with sexism result in people turning on the “complainer” instead of blaming the person who acted sexist in the first place. Those who take up the mantle of social justice have always been people who, for whatever reason, are willing to be hated and willing to suffer repeated losses that affect them personally. Susan B. Anthony never got to see women get the vote. Taking that on just isn’t for everyone, even for a powerful woman who is unquestionably willing to suffer for the ultimate success of her corporation. Someone who would rather do what’s right than what’s profitable simply isn’t going to climb very high on that corporate ladder. 

Additionally, with a lot of successful women, there’s a psychological toll that comes from aligning yourself with feminism. Being the sole woman at the top of any food chain causes many women to convince themselves that they’re special, and that unlike those other women, they can hang with the boys. That’s the mentality that lingers behind young women saying, “Gosh, all my friends are men because I just don’t get along with women that well,” and that’s the incentive that will keep conservative women’s groups supplied with a steady stream of new faces. Plenty of women go through this phase and come out of it feminists when they realize the boys club they were so eager to be in is not as eager to have them.