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Marissa Mayer and the Vogue Backlash: Why Are Women So Uncomfortable with Female Success?

mayervogue copy “Women can be the worst misogynists.”
This thought popped into my mind when I heard it suggested that Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and subject of a lavish spread in the September issue of Vogue, may have somehow compromised her integrity by appearing in its pages looking like a cupcake. And the icing on the cupcake? Both Linda Lacina in Entrepeneur and Charlotte Alter in Time reprimand Ms. Meyer for portraying herself as shy in the piece, and not sharing the extent of her ambition and secrets to success.

Let’s start with the cake itself: We can have Ronald Reagan, a B movie actor whose best known co-star was a chimpanzee, not only just cross over into politics, but become president. Arnold Schwarzenegger was essentially beefcake (the male version of our food references of the day) before becoming California’s governor. Marissa Mayer’s Vogue spread is puritanical in comparison.

If we let the logic that a woman cannot be both feminine and powerful dictate our choices, then we are simply reinforcing the patriarchal norms that have been stunting our growth for ages. Why would we even let this be part of the discussion? If a woman powerful enough to become CEO of Yahoo doesn’t share her secrets, something men would never expect from one another, she is doing her sisters wrong? Come on, we can do better than this.

And for the icing, look at one of gossip media’s favorite pastimes: Gwyneth Paltrow bashing. If you press people on why, it’s exactly because she DOES show how hard she works, and shares her secrets. Yes, some of her recommendations can fall above some income brackets. But why does this lead to such vitriol toward a woman who obviously has a strong work ethic, clearly invests in the well being of her family, and cares about her health and yes, God forbid, her appearance? Are they seeking advice from Mama June, who is bashed for the opposite aesthetic? And before we fault any of them for being in the public eye, we must remember that the public appetite for the personal lives of celebrities, CEOs and Momagers is what drives the wealth of glossies, gossip sites and reality shows devoted to them. Clearly women won’t let women win. Mayer is bashed for not sharing, while Paltrow is bashed for the opposite.

Perhaps it comes from that fact that our appetite for advice is often layered with the feeling that the advice is really an admonition. Ms. Mayer is successful and so is Ms. Paltrow. It seems this success is what women can’t tolerate.

Men are competitive, but there is a ‘live and let live’ attitude in their jockeying for position. The chips fall where they will, and an adversary may rue the day he heard his competitor’s name. Barring a few absurdly desperate political scandals, men rarely deem one another unfit over their lifestyle. And especially not over physical appearance. If looks don’t play into masculine meritocracy, why can’t we play on a level field? Better yet, why can’t we play on the same field?

It looks like Mayer does. The Vogue piece itself explains:

“It might also strike you that the paradox of being both glamorous and a geek explains Mayer’s rapid progress in reviving what only a year ago looked like a moribund giant;” Yahoo’s stock price is up almost 60%, having much to do with the fact that “Yahoo has released more products in the last six months than probably in the last five years.”

But it is the products themselves that represent what author Jacob Wieseberg describes as “a dramatic cultural shift… These include a gorgeous new weather app for mobile phones, a relaunch of the photo-sharing site Flickr, and an update of Yahoo Mail, all of which are drawing the first positive reviews the company has seen in ages. By acquiring Tumblr, the hippest of the social-media sites, Mayer solved the problem of Yahoo’s aging demographics and lack of cool with a single billion-dollar stroke.”

In other words, Meyer and Paltrow are proof that form and function are not mutually exclusive, and that there’s a reason cake and icing go so nicely together.

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