Cult of the CEO, Feminism Edition

One of my pet peeves, one I will just never be able to fix and should probably have dropped ages ago, is how bourgeois so much elite journalism is today. Yes, I know it’s more than a little “duh,” having elite journalism populated with elites. But there’s a difference between economic station and worldview. You can’t untangle them entirely — or even mostly. But you can try.

And my beef is that a lot of journalists don’t try. In their defense, they have no incentive to. I mean, as horrible and unbearable as it may be to withstand the (caveat-ridden) criticism of a nobody blogger like me, the need to write what your audience and editors want to read is a much stronger motivation. So elite journalists write stories about elites for elites.

Thus do we get weird and depressing articles like this one from Hanna Rosin in Slate, who takes unthinking and elitist self-regard to not quite a new level but a level I’ve been to a few times before and always tell myself I’ll know better next time. The impetus is that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and the fact that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist. Rosin initially mocked the idea — which makes sense because it’s totally ridiculous — but then she remembered Mayer made a bunch of money (or something) and had an about-face:

Last week I made fun of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer for saying in the PBS Maker documentary about the women’s movement that she would not call herself a feminist. Mayer described feminists as women who are “militant” and have a “chip on the shoulder,” which struck me as a pretty unsophisticated portrait. But a few days later I am starting to reconsider. Maybe Mayer’s outdated stereotypes are distracting me from the more interesting question: If someone as smart and successful as Mayer, someone who tours the country speaking to young women, can’t comfortably call herself a feminist, then maybe we need to take her objection seriously. Maybe there is a reason why that PBS documentary was so much better on the history than it was on the modern era. Maybe feminism is a term too freighted with history and it’s time to move on.

Or maybe Marissa Mayer is just a person, a person who happens to make a lot of money, and we need not fundamentally reconfigure an expansive and rich intellectual, political, and social legacy even if a really rich person disagrees. Maybe we don’t need to pay any more attention to what Mayer thinks about feminism than she pays to what Feminist Of Your Choosing thinks about Yahoo? Given her first instincts, I actually think we might be able to sway Rosin on this one. All we need is a self-identified feminist… just so long as she’s really, really rich.

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145 thoughts on “Cult of the CEO, Feminism Edition

  1. Yes.

    On a side note: I think the impulse to look at “successful” men, and say, we need more of those, but as women, is distressing.

    Unless of course the goal of certain strains of feminism is to have hegemonic elites equally staffed by men and women alike. In which case it’s horrifying.

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  2. “One of my pet peeves, one I will just never be able to fix and should probably have dropped ages ago, is how bourgeois so much elite journalism is today.”

    1. How are we defining bourgeois?

    2. How are we defining elite journalism?

    IIRC, Journalism used to be a blue-collar profession. As in people started at 14 and worked their way up the ranks. Lots of jobs were like this and it was not too uncommon to hear about a CEO who “started in the mailroom at 12” in the 1950s. There were a lot things we would hate about this system like the rampant racism and sexism at the time.

    Though I do think that since journalism became a largely upper-middle class profession (or close enough) it has less sympathy for the working-class. Everyone was talking about how Yahoo’s ban on working from home was bad for feminists and bad for families. The work from home ban is bad for some feminists and some families, namely those of the upper-middle class who can work from home.

    So maybe you have a point. Journalism has just become a sounding board for the concerns of the upper-middle class and confusing those as universal.

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          • I’ll disagree about Freakonomics. Most people who object to Steven Levitt either have a pointless hatred of Chicago economists or are hung up on their not-very-good chapter on climate change. But mostly they’re just trying to teach people how to think like economists–basically, looking for the actual incentives that exist, rather than just thinking about things normative lay–using a popular style.

            Other than that I agree. Malcolm Gladwell in particular fascinates me. He’s such an incredibly good writer that it always takes me a few minutes after reading him to recognize how essentially thin and insubstantial his essays are.

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            • Malcolm Gladwell is an observer. Andy Warhol was just such an observer, a tourist in his own life. Doesn’t make Gladwell or Warhol any less significant.

              We’ve had a gracious plenty from the Chicago School. They’re intellectual bankrupts, all of them.

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                    • Which only demonstrates that like 99.9% of Americans you know nothing about the Chicago economics department but what you’ve read in the op-ed pages.

                      I’m not arguing that Chicago School is like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in everybway, But I am arguing that it’s more diverse in its approaches and interests than you know, so that even if they’re wholly wrong on one point it doesn’t follow that they’re wrong on others, so to say they’re all intellectually bankrupt is meaningless, just a gross condemnatory oversimplification.

                      I also expect that you have the common misunderstanding of what the efficient markets hypothesis is about, so that you follow the common misconception of thinking the mortgage meltdown falsified it. The distressing commonality of that position is, I am sure, directly correlated with the extent of ignorance about it.

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                    • Thank you, Blaise, for proving my point that you don’t actually know your ass from your elbow when it comes to the Chicago school. Your propensity to make absolutist claims about things you have only the faintest understanding if makes you the perfect Internet commenter.

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                    • BP, a mere 3 points.

                      1. It’s typical that you would demand others prove their rejection of your claims, rather than actually making a meaningful effort to support your own claim. Or more bluntly, I asked first, so it’s up to actually answer first before you demand that I answer. And, no, “Bear Stearns” is not an answer (unless you’re trying out for a prime time political shoutfest where tropes, rather than logic, is the currency).

                      2. That you think a single economic crisis must either have validated or invalidated the ideas of the Chicago school means you misunderstand not only the Chicago school’s ideas but misunderstand how ideas in general are validated or invalidated.

                      3. I’m done with you. I’ve yet to have a discussion with you where you’ve actually held up your side instead of resorting to a combination of bluster, childish insults, and general bullshit. Not long ago you said you’d never respond to another of my comments–let’s both agree to that, as these repeated pointless arguments are tiresome. I do enjoy your posts referencing poetry, though. There you outclass me by a much wider margin than I would really like to admit.

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                    • You started up with your Evidence Please hectoring and were handed your hat. Admit it. Now dust yourself off and make a defence of your own argument. The Chicago School and its every precept about Deregulation was trashed in 2008 and you know it. It had been trashed in the 1980s with the S&L debacle. It had been trashed in the Great Depression before then. It never, ever worked: men are not angels and market makers will do what they can get away with, always.

                      When the argument becomes about me, I know I’ve won.

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            • Sorry, Freakonomics is very bad math and science, and therefore bad thinking if it has very little real world application. If you want even worse science, read Superfreakonomics.

              http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/freakonomics-what-went-wrong/1

              The issue is that they’re bypassing normal channels of peer review by publishing for a mass audience. Thinking like an economist is rather pointless if you think poorly and get it wrong and get peeved that you were caught. The fact that they were so unconcerned with the rightness of their claims is problematic.
              Read Levitt’s ask me on reddit if you want to see him get reamed.

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    • Everyone was talking about how Yahoo’s ban on working from home was bad for feminists and bad for families. The work from home ban is bad for some feminists and some families, namely those of the upper-middle class who can work from home.

      To be fair, that’s virtually all of Yahoo’s workforce.

      They’re not a manufacturing company, after all.

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    • The work from home ban is bad for some feminists and some families, namely those of the upper-middle class who can work from home.

      I’d have thought the reverse – that it would be less of a blow to you in direct proportion to how easily you can afford childcare.

      I mean, yes, it only affects at all those whose jobs are suited to working from home – so it excludes shipping/receiving and janitorial staff already, but then it might heavily affect people like help-desk staff, who don’t typically make upper-middle class salaries…

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      • Do helpdesk types frequently get to work from home? In my experience, the work from home perk often goes to those who jobs require decent to high education and are salaried well. Companies need to offer it to those who have high self-baterring power.

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      • Working from home should be a function of your job responsibilities and your capabilities, not your salary or how (dis)engaged your manager is.

        There are huge advantages to allowing people to work from home, and huge disadvantages to it, as well. In my opinion, it is fairly simple to correct for the disadvantages, but most of the advantages cannot be gained through other means without a disproportionate impact. Thus, allowing people to work from home is a no-brainer.

        It does require you to have competent managerial staff.

        The fact that many companies refuse to engage in work from home programs despite the obvious advantages means to me that they don’t think very well of their managerial staff, at all.

        Which makes me wonder why they continue to employ them. But, hey… that’s just me.

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        • The key to work-at-home schemes of any sort is accountability. I’ve been managing offshore talent since, oh, 1997 or so. Make the remote talent put everything into the version control system at the end of the day. In my case, I also make sure it will compile clean as well — it doesn’t have to work but it does have to compile.

          Older version control systems such as CVS were limited to text-ish things. This is no longer true: Subversion and git do a fine job with binary files, I prefer git for various reasons but these are beyond the scope of this discussion. But there are three true benefits to daily version control pushes:

          1. Machines break.
          2. A full checkout / update gives the remote worker access to everything he’s supposed to have. Disk space is cheap.
          3. Managers can clearly see who’s doing what — and where.

          There is another useful aspect to version control: it’s a time machine. Often as not, prior versions of things need fixing. Forking a project is a serious issue: everyone has to understand what’s going on when it becomes necessary.

          Every manager who deals with remote talent should be doing the builds. If they can’t build the project they own, they have no business managing remote talent. If they’re too far up the food chain to deal with the builds, they don’t really own the project. Which is okay — but in such a case, delegate the builds and regression testing to a direct report and get a daily report. Busted code and regression test failures will happen: there’s no avoiding such issues. But without that feedback loop in place, the project leader is operating in the dark.

          Send the managers to version control training or bring someone in to do the training. It’s not a matter of competence so much as a disconnect between strategic and tactical considerations.

          This scheme works far beyond code slinging. Important documents and artifacts belong in version control. Until they’re versioned, they’re invisible to the team. Putting them out on some shared drive is a rotten coping mechanism.

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            • I’ve seen methodologies like continuous integration come and go. Some aspects of continuous integration are common sense. I have my own, derived from common sense development protocols devised at AT&T Bell Labs. It’s dependent on the Point Load: a point load build will be delivered on a particular date. If a given piece of functionality is mature and tested, it will be committed and make that point load. If it’s not ready, that patch is scheduled for the next point load. When you’ve got thousands of developers and testers swarming over a phone switch, it’s the only way to manage things, whatever Martin Fowler might say about it.

              Keeps management informed, keeps developers working to spec. Keeps aggravation to a minimum: software is never “done”. The scope of a given issue is never known until it’s addressed. If functionality is scheduled for a point load and fails to make it, it’s not the end of the world. The solid, tested code does make the point load.

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            • And without a regimen to demonstrate what’s being done, which a version control system would prove conclusively, there’s just no telling what the hell is being produced.

              And it makes perfect sense to have everyone keep only one version of a document around. How many times have we seen sixteen different versions of an Important Spreadsheet lying around causing trouble?

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            • The big message is that if the managers don’t know what is being accomplished, then they are failing, no matter if the worker is at home or at the next desk.

              I’d just like to reiterate this. It’s a succinct way of expressing my philosophy of management. It’s also the most damning criticism of most American management.

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          • Git does a terrible job with binary files. Every damned version of every binary file is distributed to every clone of the repository, forever. That’s why places that have a lot of them (e.g. game companies) tend to use Perforce.

            Also, integrating stuff whether it’s ready or not defeats much of the purpose of a VCS, since the version history of the system becomes largely “I’m going home now” instead of “these are the files that implement and test change X.” And checking in stuff that doesn’t work means that everybody who updates is broken.

            Or do you give each developer a branch for daily checkins that no one else ever takes code from? I guess that could work.

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  3. I would think all intelligent men are feminists of a sort. If there’s some debate about the nature of a feminist, that’s because intelligent people don’t entertain sexist notions.

    Yahoo is in bigbig trouble and not even Marissa Mayer can save it. YHOO is cheap. It’s ripe for a buyout. YHOO needs a turnaround specialist to get it ready for sale. For all this foofaraw about making people drive in to work, it now turns out the work-at-home people were simply not logging in and doing anything. Yahoo has been coasting for years now. The CEO chair never gets a chance to get warmed up: they’ve burned through at least four CEOs recently. I give Marissa Mayer a year, maybe two. Yahoo blew at least six chances I can think of to be, respectively, Google, Facebook and Twitter. Altavista was an eminently superior model to Google.

    There’s been a lot of that CEO worship lately, brain transplants from stylish, doin’-well kinda outfits into bad firms. Ron Johnson out of Apple hasn’t managed to turn JCPenney around, case in point — and now it looks as if JCPenney will end up in court over the Martha Stewart fiasco. Apple itself has sagged horribly under Tim Cook and the shareholders are up in arms. Tim Cook’s on the bubble, too.

    The work-at-home incident is just so much froth and babble. Turns out Marissa Mayer started looking at the VPN logs and saw people weren’t doing anything. So rather than fire these slackers, she made them start coming into work.

    My old man once had a kid working for him in Africa. Had to fire the kid for slacking off. So the kid has the chutzpah to ask my Dad for a reference. My old man, ever the grim humourist he always was, shoved a piece of paper into his old typewriter and banged out the following reference. “Works well under supervision.” A few weeks later, the kid came back, get this, to ask why he couldn’t get a job…..

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      • Pine? That’s not geekly. That’s just silly. She needs to eat her own corporate dog food and use the Yahoo Mail interface — oh, that’s right, Yahoo Mail still hasn’t gone to HTTPS by default and didn’t even offer to support HTTPS until January of this year. Marissa Mayer needs to get a clue.

        Even if Marissa Mayer was a geek, which she clearly is not, geek-fu won’t change Yahoo into Google.

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      • Well, at least Yahoo mail is less likely to scan your e-mails for non-imminent threats and feed drone-strike targeting data directly to Eric Holder. ^_^

        Someone needs to post something on the now bi-partisan filibuster of the CIA nominee, which Rand Paul started in response to Holder’s waffling over whether it would be constitutional to use drones to assassinate American citizens inside the US, even when they’re sitting in a coffee shop being a non-imminent threat. That could be a fun topic.

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        • Hrm… I’ve used Yahoo mail for years because I liked the spam filters, even though I do keep an infrequently used gmail account.

          Anyway, on the drone front, Senate Democrats are opposing a Sense of the Senate resolution declaring drone strikes on non-combatant American citizens on US soil unconstitutional. I can see it both ways. As missile costs drop we could save a lot of revenue by using such strikes, saving on police overtime costs, court expenses, lawyer fees, and prison space (which is also very expensive), and all the broken windows would provide much-needed jobs. On the other hand, random death-from-above does seem at variance with our established legal principles.

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          • Good thing you don’t live in China because Jerry Yang will sell you out if you say anything the Communist Party doesn’t like and will actively help the authorities hunt you down. There’s a spam filter for yez. Google had the good sense and modicum of decency to leave in the face of just such crap. But not Yahoo.

            And they’re still at it, Yahoo. They have their crooked little fingers shoved up everyone’s patoot. I won’t touch a Yahoo site. You should see what they try and do, I’ve watched it in Wireshark. It’s actually worse than malware.

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    • “The work-at-home incident is just so much froth and babble. Turns out Marissa Mayer started looking at the VPN logs and saw people weren’t doing anything. So rather than fire these slackers, she made them start coming into work. ”

      What puzzles me is that from what I thought, you only have to be on VPN when you are up/down-loading files (or perhaps running a remote terminal); other than that you should be off of it. So how can you look at the logs and get much useful data?

      Also, what she should have done is to go after the managers; if somebody has actually been goofing off for months and years, their manager needs to be, ah – ‘freed up to pursue other opportunities’ at least as much as the employee.

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  4. Actually, I have to say that when considering how we break glass ceilings, considering input from those who have broken through them doesn’t seem inherently bourgeois. Or at least, dismissing the advice of someone who is successful at what you’re trying to accomplish on the grounds that they are successful and therefore “elite” seems a little nose and face something something.

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  5. Women’s success doesn’t mean there are not battles to be fought. But insisting on the term “feminism” may be getting in the way of fighting them. The women Coontz worries about, who are choosing low-paying professions, could use some collective action to boost their salaries. But as a group, they don’t generally identify with the term feminism, and many are actively hostile to it, as I discovered in reporting my book.

    Or maybe Rosin isn’t starstruck and actually is your ally politically, but you’re too condescending to both her and Mayer to figure this out?

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  6. Feminism was for women a few years older then me, born in 1960. I grew up in a world where, theoretically, I was supposed to be able to do anything, despite being a girl. Or so I thought.

    And I’m sure the CEO of Yahoo thinks the same.

    But time, experience, and repeatedly witnessing the roadblocks women face set me straight. The need for men to have strong feminism in their lives — the right to stay home with the children if that’s the best option for their family, the right to freedom of dress, the right to be caring and nurturing. You guys may have all the privileges, but you’re barred from those that might brand you girly or weak; and that stuff should be for anyone who wants it.

    I’ve finally grown to see that feminism isn’t about girls vs. boys; it’s about the right to be what and who you want, no matter your gender, and it’s about not having the gates of success locked on you because of those choices or that birth right.

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    • Just wanted to add that this isn’t just about the vanity things that I mostly focused on; it’s about time to be home with a newborn or adopted child, time to participate in that child’s education; to go to games and plays and concerts and science fairs. It’s about time to volunteer in his or her classroom. Time to take care of aging parents.

      There’s a whole lot of life that women did before they went to work that we mostly either set aside or that women still shoulder; family life that matters to all members of the family — father’s and son’s, too.

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  7. The problem with feminism is that it gets defined by the people who are professors of women’s studies and carried forth by people who major in the same, but the successful women are the ones who ignore all that and major in something that’s personally useful like medicine, finance, law, etc.

    If there was an actual major called “white men’s studies” you’d probably find the graduates working at Quicky-Lube, Midas Muffler, or Best Buy because it would be an utterly useless degree. Majors in women’s studies would protest that everything but women’s studies is white men’s studies, but aside from stand-up comedians it’s hard to make complaining about life’s unfairness into a career path.

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      • Feminists had gained their variety of reputations long before talk radio became popular, and many people later distanced themselves not from the idea of equality but ideas like “all sex is rape” and the whole fish bicycle thing. Hitting people over the head with lines that should’ve been left as set-ups for Archie Bunker made people reluctant to whole-heartedly identify. But many of the outspoken feminist leaders had elite Ivy League degrees and access to the pages of all the upper-class magazines, so pushback from other women was muted.

        And do radio hosts need a college degree? No, they don’t, and it would be a waste of time and money to offer such. To be a good talk-radio host you have to be comfortable on the air and consistently entertaining, and very few people can pull it off. Thus most talk-radio hosts from the left and the right got into it from either sports broadcasting (Rush Limbaugh), general DJ’ing (Randi Rhodes and Sean Hannity), acting (Jerry Doyle from Babylon 5 and Mike Malloy who did theater), comedy (Stephanie Miller, Al Franken, Alan Colmes, Dennis Miller), or straight politics (Bill Press, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee).

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      • Seconding this; the claim that ‘it gets defined by the people who are professors of women’s studies and carried forth by people who major in the same, …’ is just hogwash. If anything, it was defined by people who worked in the real world and faced real problems.

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        • See, the great thing about privilege is the right to be ignorant and for that pay no cost, since the world rewards you even if you have completely hair-brained ideas about those less privileged. Anyway, in George’s little world, there are women’s studies professors, rich white CEO’s, a smattering housewives (living Biblically!), but evidently no other kinds of women. There is no grassroots feminism.

          I bet if we exposed him to Womanism his brain would pop.

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  8. I think I disagree.

    If someone like Marissa Mayer, a strong beneficiary of feminism and an exemplar of what feminism has accomplished, declines to identify with the term, I think that says something very significant to those who care about feminism.

    Of course there are some very strong class implications in our fascination with her. And I can buy that some of the fascination has to do with CEO adulation. Perhaps that in and of itself is indicative of a problem with feminism.

    But it seems to me that if Mayer declines to identify with the term, that is indicative of a problem (see below) for people who do identify with the term and people who do measure workplace success as a metric of feminism’s success. Being a CEO is the top of a particular totem pole. So would being president (and it would likewise be very significant if a female president disregarded her feminist credentials).

    This problem may not be a problem with feminism, per se. But it does indicate a problem with the term. Has it been so polluted by its opponents that even women who ought to be exemplars of feminism don’t want to identify by it? Has feminism been so narrowly defined by its advocates that people who should want to be a part of it don’t want to be? If either of these things, why is the term so susceptible to hijacking? Could that itself be an example of sexism (if most of the Important People who talk about things are men…).

    This may be indicative of First World Problems. But if you live in the First World, it matters. If we want to bring everybody not in the first world into it, it matters to everybody. If powerful women are necessary to speak out for women so far removed from power – and I think they are – it matters there, too.

    Mayer may be one person on one particular totem pole, but influence is influence. I don’t at all think she “owes it to the sisterhood” to allow for telecommuting and whatnot, and I think those arguing otherwise might be partially indicative of the problem. But stories like hers strike me as very important.

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    • I think the question of whether the telecommuting policy is somehow against feminism is at least somewhat important, and I tend to agree that that view is too narrow aw way to look at that issue. It’s an issue for all workers (potentially a “family” issue, which I prefer to not have get bound up with feminism), and it’s also a business issue for companies, and should be dealt with in those terms. I don’t think it particularly bears on feminism, though I can see why feminists would consider it an issue for them to be concerned about vis-a-vis their feminism, since, after all, any particular ideology or issue framing can implicate a number of questions that others also do. But it’s important inasmuch as, however it’s framed, it’s a substantive issue actually being contested right now.

      I think it’s far less important that Mayer doesn’t call herself a feminist. Elias seems to think Rosin is suggesting the movement itself reconstitute itself around this kind of proclivity among successful women. Will, you, I think have rightly made the distinction between the movement or program and simply the use of the term in the case of some women, which I think is important, but you’ve also maintained that it’s a trend of some significance.

      I would go further, as I said. I don’t think it’s very important. I don’t think it’s news that “feminism” is a politicially charged and polarizing term, certainly not to feminists, and nor is that going to be of great concern to them. And I don’t think it’s surprising that business leaders would tend to steer clear of associating themselves with it. I suppose you or others can think feminism should be concerned that its name is so charged that many female executives and leaders who have to lead organizations through challenging times and public relations environments decline to associate themselves with it if that’s your inclination (and I don’t think it’s that it’s polluted or too narrowly defined; I think it’s just too politically charged, too loaded), but I tend to think it’s not really that much of a problem for the movement itself. Does Marissa Mayer embody basically everything that feminism has stood for over the years? I would say pretty much yes, regardless of her view of the movement as it’s currently constituted, and that’s just a win for feminism, or at worst a neutral (though still significant) fact. In fact, if we got her to talk about her actual views on the topic of feminism and women’s advancement beyond just her disposition wrt the term itself, we may even find further departures from some catechism of current feminism we might define. But thats going to be equally true within any reasonably diverse group of women you assemble, even among ones who do willingly self-identify as feminists.

      I think feminists who think about the state of the movement as such are probably pretty okay with the idea that the term stands for things right now that are controversial enough that mainstream power-holders will tend to abjure associating themselves with it. I think Brandon is onto something below in that respect. But importantly, that doesn’t mean that those who do decline to use the term aren’t, functionally, in a historical perspective, if not feminists, at least enacting the feminist program. There’s no denying the history of what made the world such that Marissa Mayer sees her career as possible, much less possible completely independent and separate from a movement for the empowerment of women called feminism.

      Marissa Mayer is from Wausau, Wisconsin, by the way. Just had to get my moment of Sconnie pride in here somewhere.

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      • That’s a fairly astute observation.
        The way I understand it, there was one fellow from the finance committee, and Mayer was his pick. He had enough pull (and shares) to get his pick through. And the reason she was his pick was due to her success at leading some project at Google.
        Somehow or other, I’m thinking, “Let’s bring in this feminist to lead the company” would have weighed in as a negative.
        It’s a political term, and she wasn’t selected for a political role.
        Rosin seems surprised that there could be successful women that don’t put marching arm-in-arm for the sisterhood as a priority.
        I think Rosin has some unreasonable expectations.
        Aside from the benefits of historical feminism, which Mayer obviously benefits from, of what value would contemporary feminism possibly be to her?
        I see no reason that her sense of social consciousness should be so narrowly construed to gender by necessity; in fact, I believe that would demonstrate something of inadequacies of self-image. Much the same as Bill Gates’ crusade for the children of Africa rather than for white Harvard grads with glasses & bad haircuts– and no one seems to fault him for this.
        To what extent is our sense of empathy properly constrained by identity?
        How is it that I, personally, might happen to owe something to somebody just because this is the way the statistics break down on a chart somewhere?
        I think I would rather be the one doing the charting if obligations are bound by such things.
        I don’t need someone else to tell me who I am.
        Likewise, I suspect that Mayer is an adult as well.

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        • Thanks. Actually, and this is a point that Rosin makes in her first post, beyond there perhaps not being much in modern feminism to interest a person with the capabilities (but: and opportunities!) of Mayer, it’s not clear from her statements that she’s even particularly familiar with what the current preoccupations of the movement even are. But it’s also not really clear there’s much reason for her to be. She hasn’t been held back by barriers or obstacles that other women have been, and continue to be, for whatever reason.

          But nevertheless, clearly feminism profoundly shaped the world that allows her to have that experience. And I think it’s clear, though I know people would argue this, that those barriers and obstacles haven’t been completely swept away for all women; there is still good reason for an activist, reformist feminism (rather than just a sustaining/maintaining one) to exist. The rise of a particular extraordinary individual hardly disproves that. That’s why I think it’s ultimately fairly inconsequential whether she’s inclined to call herself a feminist or not, especially, as you say, given the imperatives and pressures she faces in the role she’s so handsomely compensated to effectively carry out.

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        • What you’re arguing for is properly considered “radical feminism”, by the literature.
          The idea that you can’t have equality between the sexes, until you get equality for everyone.
          And that it’s everyone’s job to pick up a spade and help.

          Lovin’ the questions by the way.

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      • I wasn’t saying (or thinking) that the telecommuting as it relates to women isn’t significant. Just that I disagree with where they are coming from on the issue. I think Mayer’s first obligation is to Yahoo (and I think citing studies about how telecommuting is generally good doesn’t necessarily tell us what we need to know about Yahoo’s situation).

        On the rest of it, I think you make some good points. It just seems to me that if you are a feminist, and/or you identify as such, you have very much interest in how the label is carried and perceived.

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        • Didn’t mean to say you didn’t on telecommuting. Was just saying that that much I at least agree matters (because it’s substantive).

          On the health of the feminist label, I don’t disagree that they care. I just think that, Rosin’s concerns aside, in practice they likely prefer it to mean things, or in any case be able to mean things, that they expect someone in Mayer’s position would not be comfortable willingly associating herself with. So their concern is there, but it’s actually counter to how you (and Rosin in her longer reflection, which, as Elias points out, hardly seems solidly set in place) are conceiving of it. And yes, this understanding runs counter to the broad ‘definition’ that I say I prefer below. This is what I’m talking about – activists will inevitably be pushing the envelope with associations they want to be made with the name for their movement. that is as it should be, but at the same time there needs to be a more broad understanding of what the term means for mere onlookers, and I don’t think it aids communication for that term to always be defined by the activists at work on the frontier of the movement itself. All the stuff that came before that was certainly feminism then, well it still needs to retain that historical sense of being feminist, at least in that time. So the term in some sense has to retain its capacity to refer to that stuff.

          Anyway, I’m rambling. Bottom line, we’re pretty well in agreement, I think.

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      • I think Hanna Rosin’s overall response (both her initial reaction and her reassessment, taken as a whole) has displayed curiosity and not derision. Indeed I don’t see derision even in the initial post noting Mayer’s demurral from calling herself a feminist, taken alone. Has there been derision of Mayer over this (as opposed over to the telecommuting policy, which has been decried by all kinds of people, not just feminists)?

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    • “If someone like Marissa Mayer, a strong beneficiary of feminism and an exemplar of what feminism has accomplished, declines to identify with the term, I think that says something very significant to those who care about feminism. ”

      Or…………………….. it says something about how some people have redefined the word.
      As has been pointed out, ‘feminazi’ is something you can hear on the radio.
      When was the last time you heard ‘christofascist’ in mainstream media?

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  9. The impetus is that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and the fact that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist. Rosin initially mocked the idea — which makes sense because it’s totally ridiculous….

    Well, it depends what you mean by “feminist.” I’ve seen left-wing feminists declare that self-proclaimed libertarian feminists are not real feminists because they don’t support government intervention to stop or compensate for sexism.

    After thinking about it for a while, I realized that this is in some sense a pretty reasonable thing to say. The tenets of classical feminism are pretty mainstream now. For the term “feminism” to have any real meaning, it has to denote beliefs that are outside the mainstream. If everyone’s a feminist, no one’s a feminist.

    So believing in legal equality between the sexes, or that women should have the opportunity to become doctors and CEOs, does not necessarily make you a feminist. And therefore it’s not at all ridiculous for a female CEO to say that she’s not a feminist—the tenets of feminism which she embraces have become so widely accepted that they can no longer be considered uniquely feminist.

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    • So believing in legal equality between the sexes, or that women should have the opportunity to become doctors and CEOs, does not necessarily make you a feminist. And therefore it’s not at all ridiculous for a female CEO to say that she’s not a feminist—the tenets of feminism which she embraces have become so widely accepted that they can no longer be considered uniquely feminist.

      It’s difficult to define feminism, but between one so broadly defined that (nearly) everyone qualifies and one so narrowly defined that only lefty-types do (“You can’t be a feminist without supporting universal health care,” I was once told) is a type of feminism that says that not only should women not be legally prohibited from becoming doctors and CEO’s, but that society should not explicitly or implictly discourage them from doing so if that is what they want to do.

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      • I think that feminism should be so broadly defined that, when push comes to shove, nearly everyone who embraces the changes that have occurred over the past fifty years will be called feminists as an objective matter. From there, the question of who actually makes it part of their own personal agenda to call themselves feminists, or who want to advance more restrictive definitions of the term, can shake out however it shakes out. But as a baseline thing, I think it should be ultimately not wrong to call anyone a feminist today whose beliefs would have made him a feminist in, say, 1965 (actually, not really sure when the term actually comes into use, but whenever that was…).

        That view will probably make me controversial among people who want to keep the meaning of the term more restrictive both to be able to keep people without sufficiently stringent view out, and among those who want to keep themselves out of association with those very people. But ultimately I think that’s what the baseline meaning of the term should be. I don’t think it’s helpful to have the term’s meaning chase the vanguard of activism down the highway of progress. We can use terms like “activist feminism” or “radical feminism” for that.

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          • I didn’t mean to take it up with you, but just to give my own opinion about what definition should be identified as the baseline one (as I said, there will always be those who try to define political terms ever more exclusively, and that can go on in particular quarters even as a more inclusive definition is settled upon more broadly). (And in any case, if you don’t care, then why do you care whom I take it up with?)

            And my note about whom it would be controversial to was exactly on point to the desire you state here. It might be that, your lack of desire to be called a feminist notwithstanding, nevertheless your beliefs may make you a feminist.

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    • “If everyone’s a feminist, no one’s a feminist.”

      Equal opportunity is a widely accepted cultural paradigm. Anyone who doesn’t agree is viewed as outside the political and socially correct mainstream. And it is a universal philosophy. It applies to everyone.

      Feminism,it seems to me, has morphed or degraded away from an equal opportunity initiative to another oppressor/oppressed paradigm which instead of focusing on absolute process has focused more on tribalism. Let’s “help our group.”

      There is a difference between “helping our group” and equal opportunity, and I suspect this gets to why feminists are viewed negatively by those with a more universal take on morality.

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      • Here’s the problem with this, Roger:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/07/opinion/coates-the-good-racist-people.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

        This is TNC on racism, the racism of good people. Same thing happens with misogyny. You may have a ‘more universal take on morality.’ But as a whole, we don’t. Women really do earn less for the same work. Blacks really do have a greater risk of getting frisked for no reason.

        If your universal morality is really moral, it’s got to push on those wrongs. Else it’s not really universal morality, it’s just your justification for comfort with the status quo that you think is wrong.

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          • A “scient-ist” would look at the evidence of wage disparity, violence against women and the trench warfare of the abortion debate and reach conclusions startlingly similar to the Radical Feminists. Gosh, there does seem to be a little oppression going on, contrary to all this Happy Talk about how we’re past all this.

            Those feminists. Such unpleasant people, don’t you agree? Evidence based arguments are so depressing, especially when the experiments are so repeatable. If there were any justice in the world, and there’s very little of that, we would not raise such a stink about the use of phrases such as oppressed/oppressor. More than half the rapes in the USA go unreported. The statistics on violence against women are appalling. The systematic repression of a woman’s right to a safe abortion has been ongoing for decades now — and nobody dares to say anything, lest they be lumped in with the Radical Feminists who insist such things are actually Oppression.

            When it comes to the varying definitions of right and wrong vis-à-vis the rights of men and women in this society, I would hardly say they’re conformal to some Universal Morality.

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            • Dude, you are missing the point completely and suggesting that those that disagree with you are opponents of empiricism. I will not take the bait.

              The distinction I am trying to point out is that there is another way to pursue equal opportunity. It does not start with oppressor/oppressed and then seek to put thumbs on the scale in favor of the latter. The alternative approach is to demand balanced scales.

              It isn’t for or against a tribe. It is against oppression itself. Do you get that there could be a valid distinction?

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      • I think it’s definitely the case that the opponents of feminism are motivated primarily by a concerns over abstract principles of universality. In my experience with self-proclaimed anti-feminists they’ve always gone first and foremost to philosophical critiques. Every single time.

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    • So does the same thing work for ‘conservative?’

      Do moderate conservatives stop calling themselves conservatives because there are nuts in the House?

      What about for Christians. Because there are fanatics out there; folks who protest at KIA funerals to protest homosexuality. Should all Christians stop calling themselves Christians because of this fringe?

      Maybe we could look at finance. There are capitalists out there who cheat, rob, and rent seek. Should all capitalists disassociate themselves for that destructive fringe?

      Really. The logic here sounds like it’s propaganda, not rooted in any real notion of what feminism means. You’re branding a struggle for equality with its fringe. It’s really a rather silly thing to do.

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  10. Privileged journalist sees that a highly visible (and yes, privileged) person who has very definitely benefited from feminism doesn’t identify as feminist. Finds that highly visible person has some opinions about feminists (justified or not) that prevent them from identifying with the movement. Writes that maybe if even if people who benefit from feminism have trouble identifying with the movement, it’s possible the movement has some problems.

    Privileged blogger sees privileged journalist write that, points out that focusing entirely on the opinion of highly visible and privileged people is bad journalism and a failure to check one’s privilege (though he doesn’t use that term, because he’s not writing for social justice geeks). Completely misses that, in addition, to highly visible and privileged person, many people, including women, don’t identify as feminists, and that in general less educated people (ie, less privileged people) are less likely to identify as feminists. And that if large numbers of people who benefit or ought to benefit from feminism don’t feel comfortable identifying as feminists, maybe the movement does have a problem.

    Source: http://www.fsu.edu/~soc/people/mccabe/McCabe_WhatsInALabel_GSpaper.pdf
    Showing that 21% of the population self identifies as feminist (so, even if no men self-identify, a majority of women do not self-identify), and that less educated people are less likely to self-identify.

    Follow-up comments are invited to make sardonic comments about what a privileged blog commenter does.

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