I like Pepper Schwartz. She's from the UW, so over the years she has appeared on local television from time to time. Usually, she is spot on. I am finding it difficult to stomach this piece she wrote for CNN where she adds to the "controversy" of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's fashion shoot with Vogue. To be fair, she attempted to be fair, weighing both sides of the argument playing out online.
Schwartz sees one side may be unfair for putting Mayer on the "role model" pedestal, but there she is, so she's sending a message that brains aren't enough. On the other hand, what girl doesn't want to be pretty? In the end, she sides with the angry mob:
"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."
I'm here to call Bullshit on Pepper Schwartz. So what if she is a role model? So what? Is a brainy person who has succeeded on their merits supposed to at some point start going out in public with a bag over their head? Uh, no. There are plenty of actresses and models out there who are plenty brainy, and they don't go out in paper sacks or hide their smarts. When you've got it, flaunt it. Why the hell not? Is it really a better message for young people to hear that you can't be both pretty and smart, not without feeling really, really guilty about it. We do not live in the world of Harrison Bergeron. Not yet.
I could stop there, but I have so many problems with this stance.
Halfway through reading the piece, I found myself arguing in my head with Schwartz, "But what if it wasn't a sexy pose? What if it was just a regular headshot? Photographers take a lot of pictures during photo shoots, and this is just one. What if they had gone with something else? What if Mayer is shy and this was really hard for her to do, and the photographer talked her into it? What if she is stunned to see how good she looks?"
I was aplogizing for Mayer. I couldn't believe it. Women now need an excuse to look and feel good about themselves? Would this somehow be better if she had been demure? Was that really where my mind was going? Had Schwartz considered this? Does any woman with an ounce of self-respect really, honestly believe a woman should only ever be demure in public, or else be labelled too sexy, a slut, a whore? I just don't think Schwartz has thought this out fully.
Because if she had, she would have asked herself what if it had been a man in that picture? Steve Jobs might have looked kind of silly in that outfit and that pose, but what if he did an interview for Vogue and they asked him to play "sexy" for the camera. Can you imagine what the photos might look like? How exactly do you make Steve Jobs look too sexy, to detract from his public persona of intelligence? Well, you might start by showing some abs, lifting up the shirt, right?
Mayer is fully clothed in her shot. Try again.
Give Steve some extra hair gel and zoom in on sultry eyes?
Mayer is shown full body.
What exactly is it about this shot that makes Marissa Mayer too sexy for our own good, something we could duplicate with Steve Jobs to show that a man doing the same would be just as inappropriate. Um, nice shoes? Bare calves? Have him appear to be lying upside down on a lounge chair? No, no, and no. You just can't take anything "done" to Marissa Mayer for this shot and use it to turn a man into a "beefcake" no one would respect for their mind. Because the only things "done" to her are enhancements of her natural beauty. Hair, make-up, clothes, lighting, camera angle. NO SKIN. Mayer isn't too sexy for her tablet. She's just sexy.
And there is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with looking sexy and being smart enough to run a company.
Next time Jodie Foster or Michelle Obama wear make-up in public, I don't expect to see a piece just as judgmental from Pepper Schwarz. I don't think she would blink. So, with eyes open, maybe you could retract this insulting bit of unnecessary commentary?
Footnote: I'm not a fan of Marissa Mayer. She set an incredibly high bar for working mothers when she went back to work after only 2 weeks of maternity leave, and then axed telecommuting for the entire company. She has since extended family leave benefits for her employees, but the woman still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not about to knock her for jumping at a chance to get gussied up for Vogue magazine though.