Marissa Mayer: “I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist”

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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is facing intense criticism for her decision to ban employees from working remotely. Working mothers, in particular, have criticized the new policy as disruptive to their home lives. Yahoo put out a short statement yesterday, but Mayer herself hasn’t spoken publicly about the matter.

Which makes all the more awkward Mayer’s appearance in a pre-recorded interview for the PBS documentary Makers, about feminist history, which premiered last night. It had nothing to do with the current controversy—except, well, here’s what she said:

I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that, I certainly believe in equal rights. I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so, in a lot of different dimensions. But I don’t, I think, have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word. There are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there’s more good that comes out of positive energy around that than negative energy.

That was the entirety of Mayer’s comments in the documentary, presumably drawn from a much longer interview. We don’t know what else she might have said for the camera, but phrases like “militant drive,” “chip on the shoulder,” and “negative energy” are sure to rile those who proudly consider themselves feminists. And the flap over Yahoo’s work-from-home policy could make for a kind of perfect storm in gender politics.

Interestingly, while Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, has recently been likened to a Betty Friedan for the tech set, she also seems to be less than comfortable with being called a “feminist.” When he profiled her back in 2011, the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta spotlighted Sandberg’s intense interest in women’s issues while at Harvard University. She wrote her thesis on economic inequality as contributing factor to spousal abuse, for instance, and co-founded a group called Women in Economics and Government. “Nonetheless, Sandberg claims that she was not a feminist. The goal of the group, she says, was just ‘to get more women to major in government and economics,’” Auletta wrote.

Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled Betty Friedan’s surname as Friedman.