The (Mind Your Own) Business of Maternity Leave

17 Jul

A Dark Ages-era backlash to Marissa Mayer’s 21st century achievement. Business.As.Usual.

We were all prepared to write a light, cheerful post today about taking the Little Lady on her ten, eleven and twelve month “museum” visits. (Spoiler alert: Tea garden. Zoo. Aquarium.) Then, while we were killing a few minutes (and brain cells) perusing some online celebrity gossip, we happened upon the following poll on People Magazine‘s website: “Should Marissa Mayer Take A Shortened, Working Maternity Leave?”

Say what? A POLL?!

Whenever a powerful woman does something awesome, we’ve come to expect at least a smattering of thinly-veiled sexist backlash. Katie Couric, Condi, and Hillary have all been called prostitutes, told that they lack “gravitas” (which Couric recently –and bitterly — joked is Latin for “testicles”), or been accused of not being sufficiently “likeable” (Translation: Mega.Bitch.) Just because we’re nearly a century out from the 19th Amendment doesn’t prevent some folks from believing that a powerful woman might nuke Libya in a fit of period-induced rage or quit her job prematurely once the siren song of baby making and cookie baking becomes irresistible.

What we did not expect — naively, perhaps — was the fierce backlash from women. Commenters on People‘s boards are calling Mayer selfish, smugly predicting that she’ll have a c-section and (gasp!) bottle feed, diagnosing her unborn child with an attachment disorder *and* calling her old and ugly. The BabyCenter mommy message boards are going to get LIT UP in 3…2…

We’ll be honest: when we first read about Mayer’s proposed two week-long working maternity leave, we, too, questioned her choice. (Mostly because we know what two weeks postpartum feels like and it is decidedly NOT your A-game.) Then we smacked ourself upside the head, quieted our inner sanctimommy and remembered: this is NONE of our business. Mayer may be the newly-minted CEO of a Fortune 500 company with shareholders to answer to, but that doesn’t mean her family life is open for public debate. If Mayer wants to build a birthing suite in Yahoo headquarters so she can deliver her son and then make a 4 o’clock board meeting, *rock on*, sister. You have just as much right to work and entrust your child’s daily care to others (like say, your HUSBAND) as another mother has to breastfeed, cosleep and babywear until her kid is twelve.

And why, other than recovering from the birth, is she expected to take a break at all? Can’t she just lay low for a few days like she had a hernia repaired or a bum football knee scoped and then head back to the office, or is she required to swoon over her newborn for a socially-acceptable number of days?

While many mothers couldn’t imagine choosing the path Mayer has laid out for her family, tsk-tsking about night nurses and scheduled c-sections is beyond counterproductive. A 37 year-old woman becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company is a *big* deal, and not just for Mayer but also for the little girls, like mine, asleep in their cribs who will grow up with one more possibility. Do we really want to teach those same precious babies that pregnancy is a limitation?

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