Marissa Mayer didn't want to pose pregnant. Give her a break.


Here’s what happened: Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed and (until last week) pregnant CEO of Yahoo was asked to pose for the cover of Fortune magazine. For their 50 most Powerful Women issue. She was 7 months pregnant at the time and declined their kind offer, preferring instead to send them a shot.

Cue: international incident.

UK media reports:

The 37-year-old, who has already raised eyebrows after sharply limiting her maternity leave to two weeks, declined to be photographed for the cover while pregnant which has added fuel to a recently revived debate surrounding working mothers.

Parenting websites have come out saying it is a ‘big diss’ to motherhood, with CafeMom asking today whether the new mother thought ‘her svelte figure would portray power in a way that her baby bump would not?’

The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor posted the cover on Facebook, asking: ‘OK, semioticians of working parenthood. What does it mean that the cover of Fortune shows Marissa Mayer … as not pregnant?’

Well, you know what Jodi? And others? Maybe it means nothing. Maybe it means Marissa was tired and busy and pregnant and didn’t have the time or inclination to faff around on a photo shoot for half a day. Maybe that’s what it means.

Sometimes it’s exhausting the way that every single thing every high profile woman does is analysed, deconstructed and used as some supposed symbol of a societal issue. Can’t women ever just… stuff?
This is a fine line for me to walk and I’m not even going to pretend I don’t cross it all the time. As a woman in the public eye myself, I am constantly asked to comment on the words and actions of other people. Sometimes I agree and often I don’t. Sometimes there IS a bigger issue at play and a high profile person (male or female) doing or saying something can open up a conversation that’s both helpful and informative.
But when it’s a woman, too often she is set up as having to represent all women. Which is something men are never expected to do.
As feminist author Caitlin Moran wrote in her Times column last week:
Currently, every time a woman in the public eye does something, she doesn’t do it just for, and as, herself. She does it on behalf of 3.3 billion other women, too. She is seen to represent her entire gender – a putative Team “The Birds” – in a way men just aren’t. When a bloke screws up, he’s just some bloke, screwing up. When a woman makes a hash of it, however, she’s a cultural signifier, and basis for a million polarised debates. Every famous woman is someone we have to have an opinion on: Lady Gaga, Rebekah Brooks, Naomi Wolf, Rihanna, Mitt Romney’s wife. You must be either for or against them. Your stance on them is a telling indicator of your world view.

When I interviewed her this week, she told me how she is also asked constantly to comment on the feminist significance of everyone and everything from EL James and Mummy Porn to Marisa Mayer and Honey Boo Boo. While never being short of an opinion or lacking the courage to express it, she rejects this idea of every woman having to carry the can for all of woman kind. Including  – and especially – Moran herself having to somehow embody all feminists.

Her solution is a welcome one:

“We need to stop referring to things as “female dilemmas”, “women’s problems” or “thorny subjects for feminism”. If there’s something making life difficult for women, then this is something that is, most assuredly, making it difficult for everyone else in the world, too. Women don’t live on a separate continent – Birdtopia – communicating only sporadically with the menfolk by e-mail. If 52 per cent of the potential brain power in the world is being hindered by something – like lack of childcare, or creepy, “WTF?” debates on rape and contraception – it behoves this small planet for everyone to jump on it and sort it out as quickly as possible.

Basically, this is an emergency. We don’t have time for another 100,000 years of women feeling sad about their arses, and being held back at work by some swaggering misogynist pinhead called Simon, when there are polar bears to save and cancer to cure.”

I understand that women are always looking for role models but let’s not let that become an oppressive albatross that every woman in the public eye must carry around her neck. There is room in this world for Marisa Meyer and Margie Abbott and Brynne Edleston.

That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss them. But women – and feminism – are broad and diverse churches. Can’t we be cool with that?