When Marissa Mayer was appointed on Tuesday as the new CEO of Yahoo!, initial news coverage was medium-to-unremarkable. Her appointment was interesting, partly because as a 37-year-old woman she is quite a bit younger and overwhelmingly more female than most Fortune 500 CEOs, and partly because of the Yahoo! executive soap opera of which Mayer forms the latest thrilling instalment (highlights: her predecessor Scott Thompson got the heave-ho in May after pretending to have a computer science degree; his predecessor, Carol Bartz, was fired over the phone in September last year).
But then Mayer announced some further news, in a sunny little tweet. She and her husband are having a baby boy in October. She said, in an interview with Fortune magazine, that she expects to take "just a few weeks" of maternity leave.
And then, dear reader, everything went bananas.
Reportage varied between condescending applause on one hand that Yahoo! had "knowingly hired a pregnant CEO" (good one, CNN) and, on the other, a vaguely grossed-out fascination that this new tech exec was, like, growing a whole new person in her, like, stomach, teamed with genuine consternation about what this might mean for the company.
Mayer's uterine activities became a major focus of attention.
"Yahoo! Reveals New Pregnant CEO Will Be Paid $71m!" squawked the Daily Mail.
"Why Yahoo! Hired A Pregnant CEO," a Business Insider feature promised to explain.
Forbes magazine filed Mayer updates every 20 minutes or so, including the rather plaintive: "New Yahoo! CEO Is Pregnant. Does It Matter?"
"Stop Worrying About Yahoo!'s Pregnant CEO!" commanded The Atlantic, by which point it was already too late. Everyone was worrying about her, or about her baby boy, or about the millions of working "moms" who were about to be let down by the inevitable failure of her crusading plan to squeeze out a nipper and be back at the geek factory within a fortnight.
The fascination with Mayer's expectant state is a fairly depressing reminder of how out of whack things still are for women performing otherwise normal biological functions while pursuing careers.
If you think there's nothing weird about the above headlines, for example, try rewriting them by substituting the word "bearded" for "pregnant".
Some contributions drew heroic conclusions: "Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer: The Birth Of A New Model Of Workplace Flexibility" (Forbes again, having seemingly resolved its earlier rhetorical question in the affirmative).
Others were frankly ridiculous, like Lisa Belkin's rumination in the Huffington Post: "Marissa Mayer is currently the most powerful pregnant woman in America. What does that mean for the rest of us?"
Due to certain as-yet-unrepealable laws of human biology, of course, the title "most powerful pregnant woman in America" is a temporary crown, but you could swear from the fuss that half of corporate America views pregnancy as a permanent state.
What does Marissa Mayer mean for the rest of us? Well, not much at all, actually, apart from reminding us how ridiculous the world still apparently is.
At the risk of sounding strident, I am now going to resort to capitals: THIS WOMAN IS NOT A ROLE MODEL FOR NORMAL WOMEN.
Marissa Mayer's decision to take only two weeks' maternity leave does not create expectations that normal women will do likewise, any more than her career achievements create an expectation that normal women, by their 37th birthday, will be earning $25 million a year and living in a penthouse on top of the Four Seasons.
Why do women get laced into these "role model" corsets so readily?
Men don't see Donald Trump as a role model for guys, or even guys with weird hair. Why this bizarre race for meaning?
If Marissa Mayer were a normal expectant mother, she would be covertly scanning baby clothes websites and wondering whether it's appropriate to have a tin of smoked oysters for lunch (as I am right at this very minute).
Instead, Marissa Mayer is working out where to stash her $14 million "golden hello" payment and getting to know the 12,500 people who work under her.
See what I mean? Not normal.
And yet, having done nothing to invite any of this beyond what average Americans in her age group do - according to statistics supplied by Durex - every 4.5 days, Mayer is now seen either as a cold-hearted baby-abandoner, or as an impossible poster girl for the SuperMum brigade.
After Mayer's announcement, mummy blogs hit maximum capacity almost immediately with commentary of the "Oh-ho-ho, she has no idea what's coming to her" variety.
She has no idea what's coming to her? Goodness, it's annoying when women who themselves hate to be patronised turn around and dish it out to other chicks.
She might not have any idea what it's like to have a newborn, but then again I don't have any idea what it's like to have a pay packet with seven zeroes on it, and I'm betting that the latter factor is going to prove extremely helpful in resolving the former.
Let's back off, people. Let the lady have her baby.
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