Tell Me This Is a Joke: Marissa Mayer is Not a Feminist

Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer told PBS’ Makers series that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist. Of course, what she probably fails to recognize is that we would not be referring to her as “Yahoo’s new CEO” right now if it weren’t for feminism.

In the interview, Mayer says that she believes that “women are just as capable,” and she believes “in equal rights” but that she thinks feminism is a “more negative word.” Of course, believing in “equal rights” for men and women but not being a feminist is like being an atheist who thinks the theory of evolution is hogwash. Them things just don’t mix.

We all have different ideas of what feminism really means—and that’s part of what makes it such a vibrant, fascinating movement. We’ll never really be done defining “feminism” nor should we be. We should always be improving, always be debating. But that being said, there are some tenets of feminism that are inextricably linked to it. And a belief that “women are just as capable” and deserve “equal rights” are among those.

If the stereotype of a feminist (I believe “militant” is the word Mayer used here) were really true, the feminist ranks would be far sparer. We’re not a cookie cutter group of gals; we’re not a stereotype. And it’s damaging statements like Mayer’s that perpetuate some of worst (and untrue) notions about who we are. Mayer professes to believe in the feminist tenets—but she doesn’t want to sit at our lunch table.

To denounce feminism—and I mean the clear-cut, dictionary definition of the word, the striving for equality between the sexes—because some sexist meanies made it seem “negative” is completely unnecessary. And we expected more from Mayer, a woman who has accomplished so much and broken so many barriers for women in tech.

Cross-posted with permission from The Jane Dough.

Photo of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer from Flickr user Giorgio Montersino under Creative Commons 3.0.


  1. She’s where she is thanks to feminism, but I’d imagine she got an added boost by playing the “I’m not a feminist” card.

  2. She didn’t get there by herself.

  3. When successful women say that they’re not feminists, what they’re really saying is “I did this all on my own; no one helped me.” It’s just their ego talking.

  4. So interesting! I’ve been having a discussion on my blog for the last few days about this same thing—why is “feminist” a dirty word? I still have a lot of work to do to convince myself that I can stand up for women and their rights without being some sort of evil devil-woman who castrates men with her angry eyes. I’m pretty sure that’s not feminism, right?

    • Michelle says:

      Like any other movement there are radicals/extremists but no, what you describe is how the rich, priveledged men who run everything aka the patriarchy describe it actually because they are afraid of women getting power because that means they would have to relinquish some of their’s and they are uncomfortable with that. This has been the case for thousands of years. I would suggest checking out the blog the fbomb ( and reading “a little f’d up” by Julie Zeilinger. They are both excellent for young women who are starting to question things and yearn for more information about feminism. You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from and how you got there.

      • “Like any other movement there are radicals/extremists but no, what you describe is how the rich, priveledged men who run everything aka the patriarchy describe it actually because they are afraid of women getting power because that means they would have to relinquish some of their’s and they are uncomfortable with that.”
        Yes, our meeting below the Vulcan is every Friday evening with the obligatory Baby eating session beforehand. Maybe you don’t want to miss the slaughter of virgins on Saturday? We email you with the exact Location.
        Sincerely, the Patriarchy.

  5. Playing the “nurturing momma bear” card cannot be healthy for your long-term career. Just saying, I wish her all the luck in the world because nonetheless it’s nice to see women making it to the top. Thanks to the hard work of the women who came before us. It’s a positive indication that we are making change, whether these “momma bear” types realize it or not.

  6. When women who are clearly feminists deny it, it seems to be serving as a means of passing as a member of a certain class. Female CEOs often deny their feminism, frequently while detailing exactly how much of a feminist they really are.

    A decade or so ago, I stopped caring what women said about the term. When I hear a woman who embraces feminist ideals say “I am not a feminist!” I say “Yes, you are.” and mentally pat her head. She’ll learn. They usually do.

    • You had better not say that to a woman of color, a trans woman or a disabled woman. Women who have been hurt by second wave feminism and are still being hurt by essentialist feminisms today have earned the right to not identify as feminist.

  7. I see nothing wrong with post feministic ideals; I myself refuse to identify any difference between males and females.

    It’s a truth that everyone is where they are in some manner or another due to the influences of the feminist, but when do we start to identify and accept that it’s part of our social development.

    There is a lot of work to do universally on that level for equality; females are just one part of a whole picture.

    Don’t you think putting such a negitive spin on a person because they don’t want to be labelled is a little bit of an over-reaction?

  8. For a female CEO to say she’s not a feminist, it’s like a business owner saying he built his business by himself. There are millions of women on whose shoulders she stands. There are millions of taxpayers on whose roads he stands.

  9. Who cares if someone doesn’t want to identify with a particular term, but shares the values?

    It wasn’t until recently that I was comfortable with the term feminist/feminism. Mainly cause the term(s) held such a negative connotation to me. All the feminist that I knew were white women who mimicked the social hierarchy that existed in the mainstream society rarely taking on the plight of minority women (racial, sexual orientation, gender, religion, etc). Since my local feminist community has shown more equality, I’ve felt more comfortable with identifying as a feminist. However, I’ve held feminist values regardless what term I used to describe it.

  10. Stephanie says:

    Ugh, I’m almost as pissed off with this statement from Ms. as I am with Mayer. Look at this response carefully here: “We all have different ideas of what feminism really means—and that’s part of what makes it such a vibrant, fascinating movement… If the stereotype of a feminist (I believe “militant” is the word Mayer used here) were really true, the feminist ranks would be far sparer. We’re not a cookie cutter group of gals…”

    First of all, what the hell is wrong with being militant?!–I AM a militant woman, and proud as hell of that fact; I am a radical woman, and yes, it’s true–I am the scary, angry (and justifiably so) hairy feminist you’ve heard about, and yes, I do mean to take your porn away from you, and your masculinity, and all your other modes of violence against women and girls, you heard right; in fact, I mean to take ALL your male privilege away, completely & utterly, and yes, I do mean big changes–I’m so tired of antifeminist defenses of feminism that are at the very least vaguely anti lesbian, that go along these lines of “Not all feminist are militant and mean and say mean things to men that hurt their poor little feelings–some of us wear lip-gloss and girly dresses and love being feminine, we’re really harmless, and we’re still pretty, so don’t worry, and still like us please!” What this is really saying is, “Hey men, don’t be afraid of feminism; it won’t stop women from being able to live up to your patriarchal notions of what we should and should not be, what we should and should not feel, say and think.”

    Nobody ever called the Black Panthers “fascinating,” or “vibrant”–feminism is a political movement; as such, it’s serious business; this is not a birthday party here; it is not my job as a feminist to be pretty and vibrant and sassy, or not to scare you–what I’m about IS dangerous, and serious, and earthshaking, and yes, it’s about taking down the current social order–which means just what you think it means–that everything will have to change, all changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born (like Kafka said and Dworkin quoted); it’s my goal to raise men’s hateful, violent patriarchy to the ground. Do we all really have different definitions of what feminism is? Dare I say maybe that’s part of the problem? Feminism is the resistance of male dominance in the struggle for women’s equality. Not every woman experiences male dominance in the same ways or to the same degrees of course–some women also have to put up with interlocking forms of oppression like antilesbianism, and racism; but the resistance to male dominance MUST be there, and should be explicitly stated as such, otherwise, it’s not feminism, and, quite frankly, it won’t achieve squat.

    • Um. yes. “Feminism is the resistance of male dominance in the struggle for women’s equality.” I hate the word struggle – it, to me, implies failure. I agree with your sentiments, though. And would add –

      ‘Feminism is nonacceptance of inequality and prejudice (traditionally male-dominated against women) – in all its forms. Feminism is evolutionary in it’s belief of EQUALITY FOR ALL. PERIOD.’

      I’m over closeted feminists being apologists for sexist asses. Feminism is not a dirty word, and never has been.

      Sexism on the other hand…

    • Sonalee says:

      I love you and I LOVE this response.
      Thank you for writing it.
      Another scary, angry (and justifiably so) hairy feminist

  11. Stephanie says:

    last thing, some of what’s on here in response is just so disheartening–“I’m not an evil woman who wants to castrate men but I still want to stand up for women’s rights.” We can’t get anything done for women because we’re so damned scared of saying something that will anger men. It’s very, very sad, and while I understand fear of retaliation, (men scare the shit out of me) still, just say that then, say, “I don’t want to call myself a feminist because I’m scared no man will like me anymore or want to date me” or “I’m scared men will hurt me and beat me up or worse if I call myself a feminist”–that’s what women really feel deep down, but it’s so painful to talk HONESTLY about the experience of living social inferiority day to day, so much easier to just direct all that fear and anger onto other women–people who are on the same power level as you. Still, nothing changes if we just keep pretending everything is fine. And honestly, I sincerely believe that the men who are worth keeping around or having anything to do with actually WANT to know how women really feel, and what they can do to help stop male violence against us; Somebody else on here said, “I refuse to identify any difference between male and female”–unfortunately though, that mindset doesn’t stop you from getting beat by your boyfriend, or raped, or payed 75 cents for every dollar your male co-worker gets, or being denied an abortion. I too wish there weren’t this pesky thing called social reality but…

    • Elizabeth says:

      No man has ever beaten me up for calling myself a feminist. That being said, I’ve gotten into fights with men and women, and have long since decided as the superior fighter (I am female), I prefer not to get into physical fights. Anyway, life has taught me, women can be abusive, too, men can get raped, too, and boys sometimes do get gang-raped by girls (I know a guy who used to have to run home every day lest he run into the gang of girls). Anyway, so do you mean to stop the women who are exhibitionist entrepreneurs from selling their own porn?

  12. She said she believes in equal rights…I see nothing wrong with what she said…maybe she is an equalist… feminism for many women have different meanings in various context…we share the same struggle only because we share the same gender…but go about it differently…

    I guess what she is trying to say and i get it… realistically…Mayer got the job due to her qualifications, not because of her gender…honestly…feminism doesn’t relate to tech however women advancement in tech would be more sound.

  13. Charlotte Pirch says:

    I marched for women like Mayer to get where she is. I AM A FEMINIST!!!!! Being a feminist is allowing Mayer to say she is not a feminist, allowing women to chose a career, being a stay at home mother and helping women who do not have opportunities to get them. Feminism is working for REAL equality in pay for work performed, access to a good education, quality health care and freedom from harassment at work or at play. Feminism (I am PRO-CHOICE) also means that women can be “pro-life”. Feminism is pro-women no matter what our politics are. It also means that just because we disagree with her position WE DO NOT denigrate her personally but we can call her out and say WE HELPED YOU GET THERE! A little acknowledgement is in order.

    • Michelle says:

      I understand what you’re saying Charlotte but until all women in positions of power can claim feminism as their own, the stigma of negativity on the word will remain. Once they do,the majority of men and women feel comfortable and okay with the word and the movement and everything and stands for and maybe we will actually see sexism in this country start to disappear. Just like how there is public outrage for racism, we would start to see the strong public outrage for sexism and the ppl who still perpetuate that kind of hate, will be marginalized and largely ignored. Consumers will not support people who spew out hate (example: Daniel Tosh and Rush Limbaugh will be left out in the cold without jobs). Sexism will finally become something very ugly, old, and ignorant to EVERYONE like it should be. Sexism will die when every woman and man with an intellectual, open mind decides to call themselves feminists. And then FINALLY we will see the negative connotation of the word go away. But if no one claims it and we turn our backs on it while knowing full well that we need it to thrive and that we got here because of it, then the movement will just be further demonized and parodied. That’s why it’s so important.

  14. Thanks for posting this article. I was disgusted when Marissa Mayer said she was not a feminist.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    Marissa Mayer has the right to call herself whatever she wants. This is what you call being a human. You have the right to call yourself whatever you want. If you were born with a female body, but identify as male, it is your inherent right to call yourself a guy, and anyone arguing with you about it sounds like a jerk. I get the same kind of flack for being an atheist in the Bible belt. Like other people think my social tag is their business.

  16. You don’t have to be a feminist to support equality. It’s called egalitarianism.

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