Maternity Leave is a Choice
5 mins read

Maternity Leave is a Choice

Maybe you haven’t heard, but Yahoo recently hired a female CEO.  Her name’s Marissa Mayer.  She’s thirty-seven years old, and she’s pregnant with her first child.  This should be really good news for women, I think.  Not only did one of America’s most recognizable companies hire a woman to lead them, but they knew she was pregnant and they still hired her.  I don’t know the statistics on this, but I’m guessing it doesn’t happen all that often.  

However, instead of celebrating this achievement in our ranks, many women have gone all ‘mommy wars’ on her.  Why?  Because Ms. Mayer announced that, after giving birth, she’d take one or two weeks off and then return to work.  

Apparently, in 2012, not only is this news, but it’s also an outrage.  How dare a pregnant woman not take all the time she’s legally entitled to with her baby!  How dare she set such a poor example for other women!  How dare she send the message to employers that maternity leave isn’t the sacred animal we’ve all spent so much time trying to convince them that it is!  I’m sorry, but ugh.  Why do we all have to be so judge-y?  Why can’t we just accept that everyone’s choices are personal, and stop turning on each other all the time?  We’re like the Donner party, but instead of eating one another we just blog each other to death.

I guess I just don’t understand why any working woman still believes that having it all was ever an option.  You can’t have it all.  Anyone who’s ever had an important meeting on the same day as their kid’s first grade play knows this to be true.  I’ve said it many, many times before, but the only way to have it all is if you don’t have it all at the same time.  Ms. Mayer obviously made a choice when she took the job as CEO of Yahoo.  She didn’t take the job and then get pregnant.  She took it while she was pregnant, knowing full well that a job like that won’t stand still and wait for her while she sits at home and blissfully nurses.  Could she take a six week or three month maternity leave?  Yes.  She’s legally entitled to it, which is a great thing.  But clearly, she’s not naïve enough to think that a CEO of a company of that size can disappear for six weeks or three months and not have fallout from it, especially when that CEO is new to the job.  I realize that the law is supposed to protect woman from exactly that kind of pressure, and in most cases it does.  But in a highly public job where the media are watching your every move, it won’t, plain and simple.

I think that the reason so many women freak out over this kind of stuff is because we’re operating from a position of fear.  We’ve built this house of cards called working motherhood, with these flimsy walls made up of maternity leave, flextime, job sharing, working from home.  So when the slightest little breeze comes along, we’re terrified that it’s all going to come tumbling down, and that our employers will see us for what we really are: crazed, chaotic women making impossible choices every day and trying to do our best at two things that both require our full attention and then some.   

What’s cool about Ms. Mayer’s situation, though – and the point that people seem to be missing – is that Yahoo hired her knowing full well that she could exercise her right to take a maternity leave.  Knowing that even though she says now that she’ll only take a few weeks, she could still change her mind and take longer, and there’s legally nothing they can do about it.  Instead of judging Marissa Mayer, we should be proud that a company of Yahoo’s magnitude trusts a woman to figure it out and get the job done, without worrying that she’ll be tired or weepy or distracted by her baby.  This is real progress.  Let’s stop being so afraid of everyone’s choices.  If we all join together instead of turning on each other, we could build a wall around our house of cards, and keep the breezes out entirely.

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