“I won’t lie to you, fatherhood isn’t easy like motherhood” – Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson

December 12, 2012

Marissa Mayer, recipe the famously female CEO of Yahoo, has recently come under fire for saying “the baby’s been way easier than everyone made it out to be.”

Words said innocently enough, but the second backlash is here. The first backlash came with the announcement of her pregnancy, which came packaged with a ridiculously short maternity leave. I wrote about this back in July, but clearly women haven’t gotten over it.

Apart from being a terrible example of work-life balance, she’s now calling the baby bit “easy.” Of course, we’re all pleased to hear that Mayer had a healthy pregnancy free from complications, but sadly this is not necessarily the norm.

The question is, how much will this hurt us?

While many people like to say that the difference between women is much wider than the difference between men and women (a view that I actually subscribe to), there is one fundamental difference between us. Women have children.

Before maternity leave even comes into play, there’s first nine months of pregnancy to contend with. Pregnancy isn’t necessarily easy, and the only good thing about the Duchess of Cambridge’s latest headline is that it has brought the spotlight onto this stage of the game. It’s a point where women are supposedly still fully engaged with the workforce, but in reality most are contending with morning sickness and in the more extreme cases, rarities such as hyperemesis gravidarum. And after having survived that, then there’s up to a year of maternity leave (in the UK) which truly disengages them from their careers.

photo credit: Out of Chicago via photopin cc

It is often viewed that this time is time off. It’s easy, simple, not hard work in the least. Mayer’s statement has done a lot of damage in that respect, building up the stereotypes. I don’t doubt that it’s true for her – what baby wouldn’t be easy when you can afford every kind of help possible, from nanny to cleaner to cook – but that isn’t the case for the normal woman. The sad truth is that most people won’t look beneath the surface of her statements and will take it as face value: having a baby is easy.

If it was that easy, surely this whole work/life balance issue would be non-existent? Or is there an underlying message that’s coming across: women are lazy. Women can’t handle both. It’s the unsaid implications that are the most damaging, well beyond what’s boldly said on the surface. Look at Marissa Mayer, she’s able to be a CEO and have a baby. It’s easy!

Where does this leave us?

It leaves us fighting the same battles as always. I appreciate that Mayer has the financial capability to live an extremely comfortable life, but taking the opportunity to publicly invest and participate in her own firm’s childcare scheme would have been a good step in the right direction.

The ability to manage having a family is the single most consistent and tangible thing that holds women back. Not only do we lose up to two years of career progression due to the havoc of pregnancy and time off on maternity leave, the support offered by companies and managers afterwards is often lacking. The fault doesn’t lie solely with them – women have to ask for it, push for it, make change happen. Gandhi said, be the change you want to see, and really, that’s what I hoped for from Mayer. Sadly, it seems the change I see is not the change she sees.

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