Yahoo's BIG Experiment in Feminism: How We Can Help Marissa Mayer Succeed

She hardly needs my sympathy, but I feel sad for Marissa Mayer. It seems so unfair that the two most amazing things that may ever happen to her (having a baby and becoming CEO of Yahoo) have to occur simultaneously.

From where I stand, she has few alternatives though. Since my children were born I was (briefly) a stay-at-home mom and now work part-time. As I contemplate going back to work full-time, I think Mayer is in a for a world of heartache. There is no perfection option for the privileged, educated women who are lucky enough to have these dilemmas. As a SAHM, my brain began to atrophy. Now, as a part-timer, I feel like an uncoordinated juggler, never fully with my kids, never fully working. If I go back to work full-time, I expect to be slammed with shedloads of self-imposed guilt, constantly lamenting not spending enough time with my kids, doing school pick-up everyday, or volunteering at the preschool. Poor me.

But I feel equally annoyed at the two recent female examples of success. There is the Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook school of thought. She exhorts young college women to, when the time comes, "lean forward" in their careers, not settle for coasting for a few years when and if they have kids. I think this advice has the potential for evil. No one needs to push these young Type-A women to lean forward. They are pushing themselves hard enough. Why not give them permission to figure out what works for them? If "leaning forward" is what they choose, as MM seems to have, then they should go for it. But if that doesn't work for you, it's OK to let yourself be passed over for the big promotion. Really. It's OK. We won't put you in feminist jail.

That brings me to the recent article by Anne-Marie Slaughter for The Atlantic in which Hillary Clinton's former chief of staff says she quit her job because she figured out she "can't have it all". No kidding, Sister. I can only assume this article has been so popular because so many of us have thought, "I could have written that article a long time ago!" It took a high-level State department staffer to make the rest of the population actually notice the dilemma (admittedly priveledged) women face?

As a woman in her late 30′s, I've concluded that for me, now is not the time to coast in my career. I finally feel confident, with enough experience to actually have an educated opinion, and a track record to back me up. Technology and communications are changing just too rapidly to for me to disappear entirely into mommyland for a couple years. The options seem to be: constantly evolve and keep a foot in the door or get ready for a career change. I've decided to evolve. But I know many moms in their forties in their Act II: the former BBC News producer turned florist, the high power AG attorney turned private school fundraiser. We each have to find our own solution.

But how do we solve the bigger problem? The problem that conservatives think Mayer can't be a first-time mother and run a corporation and that liberals have a knee-jerk reaction of, "Yes! Of course she can. Women can do ANYTHING."

Marissa Mayer may have an incredibly supportive baby-whisperer of a husband and get lucky with an easy newborn who sleeps 5 hours straight within the first 2 weeks of his/her life.

Regardless, here's what needs to happen to help her and other working women solve the can she/can't she debate:

1. Post-natal help and paid maternity leave for EVERYONE.
Between boob dysfuction, post-partum depression and anxiety, and lack of sleep, the first 3 months of a newborn's life takes its toll on many women's ability to get up in the morning, much less achieve feats of corporate restructure.

2. Don't expect Mayer to fit the mold of CEO.
Granted, I'm not a Yahoo shareholder, but I think we need to suspend judgment on Mayer's tenure a little longer than we usually would. Special treatment? Maybe. But here are the facts: women are smart and work. Women have children. Ok, so let's create a new reality.

3. Step up. No matter what a woman decides is the right "work-life balance" for her, let her (and help her) try different strategies.
A lawyer friend, who has a little girl and another on the way, tells me her most supportive colleagues are younger male lawyers, many of whom are married to now former lawyers who stay at home with the kids. They know just how tough having kids is and they don't begrudge my friend for wanting to have kids and needing to work. The least supportive? Older women in the firm who sacrificed their lives to make partner and feel resentful.

The next year of Marissa Mayer's life is the latest BIG experiment in feminism. And I'm excited to watch it unfold.

© 2012 Manoush Zomorodi, author of Camera Ready: How to Present Your Best Self and Ideas On Air or Online

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Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
  • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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