Skip to main content

Marissa Mayer, the geek as babe

By Pepper Schwartz, Special to CNN
August 21, 2013 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
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
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
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.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
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?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT