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Since taking over the helm of Yahoo!, CEO Marissa Mayer’s short time as head honcho has been plagued by a few controversies.  It started with her becoming the CEO of a company in desperate need of a turn around when pregnant (although I failed to see the controversy, but it was commented on extensively… mostly by men).  Then her two week maternity leave, which was felt by some (mainly women) to be far too short.  And finally, the decision to ban employees from working at home, a move many felt was rather anti-working mom for a woman who just recently became a mother herself.

Well, Mayer has stirred the pot yet again – and this time for being fashionable.

September’s issue of Vogue magazine contains a two page spread of Mayer laying upside down on a backyard lounge chair in a form fitting blue Michael Kors dress with Yves Saint Laurent stilettos.  If the image was of a celebrity or supermodel, no one would bat an eyelash…

Marissa Meyere Vogue magazine photo shoot

But Mayer being in the magazine has re-opened up the questions surrounding style, sex appeal, and women in the workplace.  To be clear, Mayer has never kept her love of fashion a secret, often referring to herself as an “unusually stylish geek.”  But as they do, critics abound – and this time fingers are pointing at Mayer saying that this image has undone years of gains for women in the workplace.  These same critics feel that after trying so hard to be in positions of power and proving that their bodies didn’t get them there, that the Mayer photo plays into gender stereotypes.

But does that mean smart and powerful women can’t also be beautiful?  Or are they doomed either way?  Pay attention to your looks and be called superficial?  Not paying attention means lacking self-respect?

In my honest opinion, there’s no reason that beautiful women can’t be industry leaders.  Part of achieving equality for women in the workplace means that women shouldn’t have to succumb to societal pressures – in both directions.  Women shouldn’t have to “harden” or “soften” themselves when in positions of leadership, but that also means women shouldn’t have to downplay their beauty in order to succeed.  A woman should be able to brace her feminity or not – at her own choosing or discretion.  Perhaps the pose was poor choice, but the fact that there’s debate around Mayer’s decision to be in a Vogue photo shoot proves that a double standard is alive and well.  And you aren’t hearing a lot of men clicking their tongues

Perhaps Anna Holmes (founder of website Jezebel) said it best.  She wrote in a column for TIME magazine that controversies such as these “make me yearn for a time when female competence in one area is not undermined by enthusiasm for another — in which women in positions of power are so commonplace that we do not feel compelled to divine motive or find symbolism in every remark they make, corporate policy they enact or fashion spread they pose for.”

So what if Marissa Mayer loves fashion?  Perhaps one day women in positions of power will grace the covers of Vogue and Elle just as often as celebrities like Angelina Jolie, and no one will bat an eyelash.

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