Yesterday morning Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, went back to work after two weeks’ maternity leave. Based on the extent of the coverage and breadth of the commentary, this was clearly a momentous event. The range of opinions and those weighing in is pretty varied: Katherine Lewis of the about.com Working Moms heralded it as “a landmark moment for working moms”; over at The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit drew attention to the many women who, unlike Mayer, have no choice over the kind of maternity leave they take and asked where the questions were about Mayer’s husband, Zach Bogue’s, decision regarding paternity leave (Where indeed?); writing in Slate, Allison Benedikt got very cross with Mayer for appearing to choose her job over parenting, saying “you are not just a CEO anymore. You are not only responsible for a huge corporation and thousands of employees. Life changes, priorities shift. You are a parent.” Amy Graff, of the SF Gate Mommy Files, wondered if Mayer was setting the bar too high for other mothers; at Salon, May Elizabeth Williams said it’s none of anyone else’s business; and Fortune’s Katherine Reynolds Lewis pondered whether Mayer’s return to work was “a remarkable sign of gender progress that a new mother is now at the helm of a major corporation” or “emblematic of a workaholic culture that leaves too little time for family or even personal health, preventing either men or women from “having it all.” Then there are the many hundreds of reader comments.
Fact is, whatever Mayer decided to do, she would be criticised. If she’d taken longer than the standard 10-week maternity leave, her access to the childcare resources provided by her wealth and, therefore, unavailable to most women would be commented on; if she’d chosen to work from home, she’d be accused of not giving her child enough attention; and if she’d left the workplace altogether, she’d have been criticised for falling from her pedestal as role model for the having it all faith and for failing to shatter the glass ceiling, gender norms, and corporate male dominance, all by herself.
It’s always open season on mothers – you only have to glance over the past few months’ much-hyped parenting debates to see that they’re blamed for every ill. Choose to stay at home and you’re more likely than a working mum to be diagnosed with depression which may result in stunted physical growth of your kids, but go to work and any stress caused by both working and having kids can have an adverse effect on their DNA. Increased involvement in child-rearing by your partner could help ease some of that stress, but the more time he spends with his kids, the lower his testosterone levels drop so you might just be to blame for lowering his fertility and emasculating him. Have the occasional glass of wine doctors are so keen to recommend during pregnancy, but be prepared for the fact that it may affect the IQ, self control, and attention span of your child. (The jury remains out on that particular issue.) Woe betide you if you decide not to breastfeed, but if you do, just make sure you do it publicly – though don’t post the pictures on facebook or you’ll have your account closed for posting obscene images – and don’t do it for too long. You will be blamed if your child is overweight, but you will be criticised for putting them on a diet should they need to lose weight. Be too strict with your kids and you’ll drive them to suicide, but if you’re too lenient, you could end up in prison if they’re truant. Your baby boy might like his dummy, but he’ll grow up to be an emotionally stunted man if you let him spend too much time sucking it. (For some reason, the same doesn’t happen to girls – don’t know why.) If you think your workplace should be better suited and more sensitive to your needs during pregnancy, you’re either a pioneer for change in the workplace or turning pregnancy into a disability. Which you’ll be is likely to be selected at random. Should your child be diagnosed with ADHD, it might be genetic, but there’s a 20% chance it was caused by something you did wrong during pregnancy. You then get to decide whether or not to medicate your kid. If you do, you may be accused of drugging them; if you don’t, you’ll be negligent and inconsiderate of those who have to deal with your unruly kid. And just when you thought you couldn’t be a worse parent, that apple juice your kid’s drinking as part of their five a day? Well, Dr Oz says it’s got arsenic in it.