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Feminism Should be Celebrated, Not Junked -- One Man's Opinion

A female corporate CEO worth $300 million is not the face of a meaningful feminism.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/auremar

Feminism is under fire these days. Or more to the point, calling oneself a “feminist” is becoming suspect. The fact that the high-flying Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo and formerly a top Google executive, shuns the term, has created a feminist crisis moment, at least to some cultural observers writing in places like Slate and Jezebel.  

I'm focused here on Tracy Moore's piece on Jezebel, " Feminism May Be Nearing Her Expiration Date," which quotes extensively from Hanna Rosin's Slate article in which Rosin asks if the term "feminism" is even useful anymore: "If someone as smart and successful as Mayer, someone who tours the country speaking to young women, can't comfortably call herself a feminist, then maybe we need to take her objection seriously."

I find this discussion perhaps ironic. Why is it that women who clearly need feminism less than most are debating whether the whole notion should get junked? Why is the notion that feminism isn't a good brand, or that it’s a tired brand, being weighed almost exclusively against the narrow, corporate success of a single woman? We may know Mayer’s net worth ($300 million), but we know little about her value system, except for her now-famous dictum that Yahoo workers need to get their rear ends to the office and not work from home. (I laughed when I read Bill Gates' comment: "Hasn't she ever heard of Skype?”) 

Perhaps Mayer is like Meg Whitman, who became a billionaire after only one year as CEO of eBay, and then stumbled badly in that job. She then tried to buy her way to become governor of California, only to stumble again. Women executives can have as much hubris as their male counterparts.  

In her Jezebel piece, Moore offers that "feminism has achieved many of its goals." 

Hmm. What is success when violence against women continues unabated, when women have a far higher chance of getting raped in the US military than walking down a dark street alone? When only 21 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, which equals 4 percent? And if you think the numbers get better in the Fortune 500-1,000, they don’t: There are 21 women CEOs in the second Fortune 500 as well.

Now, you may ask: Why is a man weighing in on this discussion, anyway? Well, funny thing is, I have always called myself a feminist, or a feminist man. I know some women think that is an oxymoron, and that's OK. But in my early 20s, I responded to an article in Ms. magazine inviting men to join consciousness-raising groups in support of the women's movement. One requirement was that the men meet monthly with a parallel women's group for accountability. (That was all very enlightening, but a story for another time.) So ever since then, I've been a feminist. So in a modest way, I have a dog in this fight. 

I don't think feminism should be jettisoned for a bunch of reasons, mainly to do with the fact that our country is a mess. The gap between the super-rich and the rest of us is astounding. The 400 wealthiest Americans (Marissa Mayer is not yet one of them, but Meg Whitman is ranked #285) have more wealth then more than half the U.S. population, more than 150 million.

Feminism, as I understood it, was always about equality and fairness. So in thinking about why feminism is wobbly in the corporate culture today, I came up with five issues worth considering.

1. One size does not fit all. Most of the labels we use for ourselves -- American, Democrat, progressive, lefty, moderate, humanist -- embrace a fairly wide spectrum of beliefs and opinions, and "feminist" isn't any different. There are all kinds of feminists -- in fact they come in waves. Why Marissa Mayer, if she has any sense of history, or of what is going on in the world, can't find herself in the world of third-wave feminists is beyond me, but the word can offer a big umbrella, and there should be resistance to shrinking it down to what the media wants feminism to be. 

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