SThis recent profile in Vanity Fair is very, very strange, in that it obsesses over Marissa Mayer being very, very strange. It hits all the usual notes about the Yahoo! CEO (She's a geek! She loves fashion! Math, too! Google!) But it also, not-so-subtly, makes repeated innuendos about Mayer possibly being autistic.
For an article entitled "Yahoo's Geek Goddess," the author sure has a lot of quirks and foibles to flag:
Another executive who worked with her agrees that she is a hard person to understand. "There are some parts of Marissa World that are just inexplicably weird," he says. "It doesn't add up."
There are two things about Marissa Mayer upon which everyone agrees. One is that she's among the smartest people they've ever met. The other is that she has a superhuman capacity for work.
She had a nervous tic, an nnnhh sound she made when she paused, that made her seem almost a parody of a stereotypical nerd.
And then, from nowhere, this doozy paragraph:
Her demeanor in a work setting can be a shock to people who are expecting the Marissa Mayer they see onstage or read about in profiles. She doesn't display much, if any, warmth (at least not to those who aren't in her inner orbit) and often won't meet people's eyes. In Silicon Valley, where having Asperger's has almost become a badge of honor—aren't all super-smart people a little socially awkward?—that shouldn't matter so much. The rules are always different for women, but Mayer's quirks go beyond coldness. She became infamous for holding office hours during which even peers would have to wait in line to see her. "She had absolutely no regard for anyone else's time," says an industry executive who is well versed in all things Google. "She would keep 30 or 40 people waiting for hours. She had to sign off on every single decision, and they had to wait.
Emphasis added. It's weird to think it's weird that a woman would be weird—everyone is strange, or cold, or unfriendly, sometimes or all the time. Men are cold! Women are cold! Humans can be very unfeeling! But invoking Asperger's puts the article beyond personality critique, and into psychopathology. Like her more successful counterpart at Facebook, rumors of Marissa Mayer's possible Asperger's status have floated for some time now, but never before alluded to in a print magazine. And it goes on: we see repeated references to Mayer "alienating" coworkers and underlings, and a systemic unwillingness (or inability) to emote. Mayer is no doubt difficult to work with, and not an interpersonal champ—it's why she fizzled at Google, and has struggled at Yahoo! from time to time. These are things we've long known, but not always looked at alongside the spectrum:
Indeed, some of the stories coming out of Yahoo bear a striking similarity to those about her tenure at Google. She can still be cold to executives who report to her. One former executive recalls warning team members before they went into a meeting with Mayer that they weren't going to get what they expected. "Despite the warning, people, very experienced people with decades of experience, walked out and said, 'That was the worst meeting of my entire career,' " this person says. "She will bring a tub of blueberries to a meeting and just stare at you, popping blueberries into her mouth. People feel so dismissed."
Eating fresh fruit at work has never been a red flag, but in the context of this article—There's just something strange about Marissa, cough cough—we're pressed to wonder, luridly so, what's going on in this strange exec's head. If only Vanity Fair would say what's on its mind.