In the prelude to this series, Twitter is Bad–Yahoo May Be Worse, I analyzed the problem of cyberharassment — especially of women and minorities — and offered some solutions, including rewriting the law that gives site owners bulletproof immunity. I also mentioned that Yahoo burns me more than Twitter because the presence of organized hate groups at static locations on Yahoo over a period of years requires the explicit cooperation of Yahoo management.
Then, in Marissa Mayer–Hatred Still In Vogue At Yahoo–Part 1, I suggested that Yahoo wants to use the spectacle of people trying to destroy each other’s lives as a circus attraction to draw eyeballs and sell ads. Flaming, doxxing, creepshots, and all kinds of misogyny and racial or religious hatred are not merely tolerated by some site owners, but welcomed as essential elements of their business plan. Online spectacle as cash cow.
Part 1 ended by pointing out that you can’t appeal to Yahoo’s sense of ethics because it’s missing in action. This remains true whether Yahoo’s CEO du jour is male or female. Their current CEO is Marissa Mayer, who came over from Google. Continuing on…
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright once said that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I personally have no problem with Marissa Mayer posing in Vogue or “having the time of [her] life,” (as the Vogue piece quotes her); but these things distract attention from what she hasn’t done: change Yahoo’s policy of coddling hate groups who harass women and minorities, change Yahoo’s policy of leeching off such free content and using it to draw eyeballs and run ads. Sure, we all want to see women break the glass ceiling, but not if it entails climbing aboard the Yahoo pimpmobile and strapping themselves into the driver’s seat.
There’s an old joke about a blind piano player in a house of ill-repute who claims he has no idea what goes on upstairs. The piano player is neither pimp nor madam, so perhaps his role is minimal. But Yahoo CEOs (and Yahoo lawyers like Anne Hoge, now with WhatsApp Inc.) have always known what’s going on, how Yahoo defends its right to use hate speech as free content, and defends its right to take no meaningful action when consumers claim to be victims of harassment on its service. Yahoo CEOs and lawyers are not like the blind piano player, but more like the pimps and madams who keep Yahoo’s garishly decorated house of ill-repute running day-to-day, determined to extract maximum per-click value from every bigot or misogynyist who sends out diseased messages of hate — or reads them.
The glass ceiling can be broken in two fundamentally different ways: Some women are invited to join the “boys’ club” and embrace policies which undergird the continued harassment of women and minorities. If they have feminine instincts of compassion and empathy, they’ve learned to stuff them in their back pockets while climbing the corporate ladder. Their arrival at the top therefore fails to signal any significant shift toward more woman-friendly policies for consumers. So it seems with Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.
By contrast, consider Ariel Zwang, the CEO of Safe Horizon, a successful nonprofit which is renowned for helping women who are victims of domestic violence. Without attempting to artificially impose gender roles, I would say that she’s a strong woman and role model who cares about the plight of women and minorities, and who didn’t have to sacrifice empathy and compassion in order to succeed. Rather, she’s turned those qualities into strengths and virtues at both a personal and corporate level.
Ironically, while Marissa Mayer was featured in Vogue, Ariel Zwang was one of four women who signed a letter of protest to Condé Nast over a Vogue cover showing model Stephanie Seymour being choked by model Marlon Teixeira. Choking chic, how fashionable! (They mercifully omitted the centerfold of Robert Chambers.)
All women deserve to live lives free from harassment and violence, but we have more natural admiration for women who won’t accept a top position with an ethically challenged firm like Yahoo unless they’re sure they can do something to change its unethical behavior.
This line of thought dovetails with something I posted a couple of months ago: Hina Shamsi on Now with Alex Wagner. Shamsi’s a lawyer with the ACLU who also teaches a course in international human rights at Columbia Law School. I’m impressed with her for many reasons, not least because she used her law degree in the service of human rights, rather than becoming a snaggletoothed enforcer for some sh*tty company like Yahoo a la Anne Hoge.
The world needs women of courage and integrity like Ariel Zwang and Hina Shamsi who care more about touching the world with hearts of compassion than whether or not they’re ever fêted by Vogue.
BTW, it’s funny how those trapped in the fashion bubble have no clue about Net life. Vogue heralds the changes Mayer made to Yahoo Mail as drawing positive reviews, when the truth is that Yahoo Mail users were furious. See Slate.com, Yahoo Mail Users Hate “Gorgeous” Redesign, Can’t Find the Print Button. It’s the same with Yahoo Groups. See TheRegister.co.uk, Ghastly! Yahoo! Groups! gripes! grip! grumpy! gremlin grumblers!
If you’ve followed my series on cyberharassment, you may have clicked on this piece by Lisa Guernsey: Mainstream Sites Serve As Portals To Hate. Ironically, Marissa Mayer has given Yahoo Groups a makeover she dubs “Neo,” without kicking out the neo-Nazis and other hate groups who’ve been routinely harassing women and minorities on Yahoo for years. Fortunately, Vogue got the really important stuff right:
“The day we had that conversation in her white, glossy, minimally appointed office in Sunnyvale, California, she was wearing a red Michael Kors dress with a gold belt and a brown Oscar de la Renta cardigan. This cashmere bolero is her work uniform–she has the same one in ivory, navy, black, hot pink, teal, red, and royal blue, and adds new colors every season.”
Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if even her phone is pimped out! (See The IT Crowd, S02E02.)
Vogue also boosts Mayer for getting props from Henry Blodget — but is the memory of fashion folk so short as to forget that Blodget was permanenently banned from the securities industry for pimping Internet stocks which he allegedly knew were dubious investments? See Securities and Exchange Commission v. Henry Blodget here.
The evidence mounts that Mayer’s an empty matador suit slinging the bull, not an agent for positive change. Though the Vogue piece joins her thematically with Bolero, her theme song should really be the Monty Python ditty about Sir Robin. From the longtime ethical challenges faced by Yahoo (and now Tumblr), Ms. Mayer has bravely, bravely run away. She’s yet another dubious investment touted by Wall Street bigs, who always manage to find a way of maintaining the status quo.
In Part 3 we’ll look more at Tumblr (which Marissa Mayer bought for Yahoo in mid-2013), and at the tortured euphemisms Mayer employs to avoid directly using the word “porn” when describing much of the traffic on Tumblr. We’ll also see some classic examples of the Tumblr brush-off response to women’s complaints of serious harassment.