What is it with the Silicon Valley ladies and feminism? Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer did an interview for Makers, the PBS documentary about the women’s movement. In it Mayer says a lot of boneheaded things, particularly since she appears at the tail end of three hours of detailing all the great and difficult things the movement has achieved. Mayer begins with: “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist,” echoing other great thinkers such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. She believes in equal rights, of course, and thinks women might be even more capable than men at many things. Her objection seems to be mostly about style, which she summarizes as “militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder.” When thinking about women, “there’s more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy.”
This is not really an argument or anything she has thought about all that much. I haven’t come across a band of dour, militant feminists since 1987, and I’m guessing Mayer hasn’t either. This is really the intellectual equivalent of “Yuck, gross.” But the fact that it's visceral and not all that sophisticated does not make it any less deeply felt. Mayer in fact speaks at lots of women’s events, but she always resists framing the issues as women’s issues. “I’m not a girl at Google. I’m a geek at Google,” she likes to say.
When I interviewed the women in Silicon Valley for my book, The End of Men, my impression was not that they did not notice that most of the programmers and entrepreneurs were men but that they willed themselves to ignore it, because dwelling on sexism is “complete waste of time,” as Lori Goler, Facebook’s human resources director, said in a New Yorker profile of Sheryl Sandberg. “If I spend one hour talking about how I’m excluded, that’s an hour I am not spending solving Facebook’s problems.”
If such a band of smart and successful women have no patience for the term feminism, then the term is, whether we like it or not, getting relegated to history. In launching her new Lean In movement, Sandberg makes nods to the past, giving homage to Betty Friedan and consciousness raising. But in fact she is doing away with Friedan's vitriol and all the messy spontaneity. The new version is a revolution by PowerPoint, designed for an age when feminism, whatever that means, is synonymous with professional success. As Sandberg writes in her chapter “Don’t Ask Anyone to be Your Mentor:” “Using a mentor’s time to validate feelings may help psychologically, but it's better to focus on specific problems with real solutions.” Husbands have been saying this to their wives forever: Be positive. Stop complaining. Get to work. Now the women are starting to say it.