Skip to main content

Marissa Mayer, the geek as babe

By Pepper Schwartz, Special to CNN
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Wed August 21, 2013
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's photo spread in <a href='http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/hail-to-the-chief-yahoos-marissa-mayer/#1' target='_blank'>Vogue magazine</a> has proven controversial, with some saying it detracts from the 3,000-word article that focuses on her successes and vision in a male-dominated tech world. The profile describes Mayer as an "unusually stylish geek." Take a look at other photos of her through the years. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's photo spread in Vogue magazine has proven controversial, with some saying it detracts from the 3,000-word article that focuses on her successes and vision in a male-dominated tech world. The profile describes Mayer as an "unusually stylish geek." Take a look at other photos of her through the years.
HIDE CAPTION
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer posed for stylish Vogue fashion shoot
  • Pepper Schwartz: some women wished Mayer didn't need affirmation of such a spread
  • She asks if Mayer couldn't have gotten credit for her brains rather than her looks
  • Schwartz: The unintended message is you have to be smart and beautiful

Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz is professor of sociology at the University of Washington and the author or co-author of 17 books, the latest of which is "The Normal Bar." She is the AARP love and relationship ambassador and writes the Naked Truth column for AARP.org. She is a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families, and chief expert for perfectmatch.com.

(CNN) -- The picture of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tilted on a lounge chair, hair flowing above her and shot from above has sparked a mini-firestorm among women. A significant number of women, feeling not too distanced from the days when women CEOs were just a fond hope, much less an aspiration, were less than thrilled at the idea of one of the few women of real power still needing the affirmation of a Vogue fashion shoot.

The fact that it was kind of sexy added just a little gasoline to the fire. But to be fair, the reaction was far from uniform; other women slammed back and said, " Why not?" "She's earned the right to do anything she wants, and why not be sexy and a CEO? We don't have to wear the same uniform men do, we can do it our way".

Pepper Schwartz
Pepper Schwartz

Well, I am teetering towards the middle but coming down on the side of the disappointed. On the one hand, Marissa Mayer can't avoid the fact that she's a role model, even if she didn't start out to be one. Her picture seems to say to us, "Here's a real me that's just as important as being a CEO. Look at how pretty and sexy I am!" Now any woman can understand that.

Sexed up and smart: Women debate Marissa Mayer's Vogue photo

Posing for the camera is always a narcissistic act, and I dare say, most women's first reaction to seeing themselves in a photo that surfaces in a newspaper, or in a private family shot, is "how do I look?" I plead guilty. But still, here's a woman who has made it to the top because of her brains, does she still need to self-validate by having a beautiful fashion gig?

What does that say to all the women who would never be beautiful enough to do that, but might be brainy enough to have her job? Should they feel " less than Marissa" because they can't qualify for the Vogue slot? Couldn't Marissa just take pictures that show her as a stylish and good-looking CEO rather than as a babe who is showing her great legs in $1,000 shoes?

Success on your terms
Was Marissa Mayer out of line?
Welch: Yahoo needs 'all hands on deck'

But then there is the other side. We all do love to look great and be admired. We understand the impulse. And why should she be denied her one month of being a famous fashonista? She's worked hard to gain the prominence she earned, and some girls, even very smart girls, do, just like the song says, "just want to have fun"... at least occasionally.

Mayer turns heads with photo shoot

I get it, and I get why she did it. But she has to take note of how pained a lot of women are about this fashion photo. Not just a few women felt hurt looking at the Mayer layout, wondering silently or out loud if acquiescing to this kind of shot means that for Mayer, and perhaps for other women, that "making it" and "having it all" needs to include being publicly admired for one's allure. That's a depressing thought for many talented women who are not beautiful or not sexy. They do not have that card to play and this layout could certainly make them wonder if selection for the top job requires being lovely.

We women would like to feel that for at least some of us, sheer competence would make looks a non-issue in our lives. We would like to think that a brainiac like Marissa Mayer wouldn't need, perhaps would not want, to have a very public glamor shot as a career capstone. Unfortunately, it is not an exaggeration to say that Marissa Mayer is kind of saying, even though I am sure she did not mean to, that to have it all, sure, you have to be smart, but, let's face it, you also need to be beautiful.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pepper Schwartz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT