I had so hoped I would never have to write anything ever again about the appalling level of disrespect for women online and working mothers in America, and the space where the two intersect. But in our time of click driven journalism, sensational pieces that attack or mock a particular group, including those of us who occupy those spaces, are hard to ignore.
So when the Wall Street Journal decided not only to publish an article referring to “mommy business travel” that highlighted some upcoming women’s blogging/business conferences, and proceeded to pretty much make fun of a woman I respect and who has done tremendous things for women who have suffered from postpartum depression, that made me realize it was time to get out my little soapbox again.
A lovely friend and leading advocate in the postpartum community, Katherine Stone, was interviewed for the article while she was attending a very serious conference, TEDMED. Notwithstanding that, the Wall Street Journal turned her into a desperate housewife longing to escape her family so she can chill with her gal pals and raid the hotel room minibar. The article, which is entitled “The Mommy Business Trip: Conferences Appeal to Women with a Guilt-Free, Child-Free Reason to Leave Home” came complete with this cartoon graphic:
My husband wishes that his work trips looked anything like that. But they don’t, and neither do ours.
So is this yet another mainstream media attempt to get eyeballs using the tried and true story “make fun of mommybloggers” or is this more of our cultural working mother smack down that goes on pretty much every week?
This is much too reminiscent of similar New York Times article from three years ago. So rather than have my head explode again, I’ll just present my open letter to the Times that I wrote then:
Dear New York Times (other mainstream media outlets, you should probably pay attention, too),
I’m so weary of your attempts to marginalize women writers online who happen to be mothers that I almost couldn’t write this letter. But I realized that if I didn’t, I would feel guilty about not trying to change things so that if my fourth-grader ever wants to be a mother and a professional, maybe she won’t have to fight this battle.
Was it really necessary to write a story on a professional blogging conference with the title Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. She’s Busy Building Her Brand? The headline alone drips with mocking condescension that says to the world that it’s perfectly acceptable to continue to belittle women for the exact same things that men are doing in the online world today.
We’ve come a long way? Not.
“Girly-bonding?“ I suspect that when the Google guys get together, no one on the Times staff would dare to suggest it was anything other than a serious business meeting. Hold an event where mothers do the same thing, and it’s instantly a hen party. A “modern day coffee-klatsch?” Really? If I have coffee with the Kirtsy ladies or the MOMocrats it’s a “coffee-klatsch,” but espresso with Rick Sanchez about being one of the first bloggers on his now influential Twitter List would grab more of your attention?
I shouldn’t be surprised. For decades, most of society has tried to push mothers to the side who want to work, achieve, help support their families or speak out on issues. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was accepted for mothers to work for “pin money,” but society was skeptical of how allowing women into certain jobs would impact men’s control over the world. It’s cute to look back through today’s Mad Men lens and chuckle about how amazing it was for the guys to allow Peggy Olson to become an actual copy writer! It’s another, though, to continue in 2010 to find ways to suggest to the world that women who are trying to build careers and money-making opportunities, or who are using one of the few writing avenues available to them without any male barriers to entry, are somehow undeserving of respect for the simple reason that they’ve decided to procreate.
I realize your writer was probably trying to pen a humorous piece about a recent blog conference where women who are mothers (GASP!) gathered to hone their skills on search engine optimization, marketing and earning a living through their blogs. Maybe you couldn’t get past the name Bloggy Boot Camp to see what women were trying to accomplish.
We’re still just about kids, toys, pets and coffee?
If you had written a piece about the heavily male-attended South by Southwest Interactive conference with similar “daddy” art, I’m betting you’d have gotten a pretty seething letter from those organizers. Conferences like Netroots Nation are well-respected by the media. Ones like BlogHer, Bloggy Boot Camp, and others are written about in terms where the you can feel the virtual pat on the head that says, “There, there dear. Why don’t you just write about your play dates and leave the important political writing to someone else!”
To use faux humor and mockery to imply to millions of your readers that mothers clearly shouldn’t be out in the world trying to improve their families’ economic lives or their careers, and that we should be staying at home, tending to the kids and the man of the house, letting all those important conversations about building online businesses to the menfolk — you know, fathers like Guy Kawasaki and Markos Moulitsas — is pretty outrageous.
Of course, maybe it’s just because you’re afraid of what the future holds for the New York Times and that if you don’t smack down the competition, your failing business model will run out of gas sooner than you’d like.
It’s not just me. Other well-respected online women writers (I really prefer that term to “mommy bloggers”) are annoyed with your attempt to, again, portray women online as moms having a hobby rather than the professionals that we are. Even the positioning of stories about women online shows your inner disdain — we get the fashion and style section; SXSW and Guy Kawasaki get the technology or business sections.
I was also wondering — did your reporter bother to dig a little deeper with the women who attended Bloggy Boot Camp? Did she try to find out how many attendees were women with professional degrees and careers? It might be shocking to believe, but my online writing is my profession — I have over a decade of experience in broadcast journalism and practiced law for 15 years. I make money with my “traditional” writing, have written op-ed pieces for newspapers, am writing a book for which I have an enthusiastic publisher (no, don’t assume it’s a traditional “mom” topic — that will only get you into more hot water), and I’ve spoken at a variety of conferences you would deem worthy of respect.
And I’m a mother. And I’m not ashamed to incorporate my perspective as a mom into my professional writing.
I know that somehow in the vaunted opinion of the New York Times, my motherhood makes me somehow less worthy, even though I have two hard-earned degrees. When I was a girl, I thought we would be past these motherhood stereotypes at this stage of the game. But being sad won’t stop me from continuing to build my brand, my business and my livelihood online, even though you will probably continue in your antiquated and outdated ways of covering professional and political women.
My consolation is that every day there are more women writing online, creating businesses and building something tangible for their futures. And that puts us one step closer to world domination.
Don’t worry, though. We’re moms — we’ll be benevolent dictators.
Joanne Bamberger, aka PunditMom
So my non-rhetorical question is this — at what point will traditional media cease their click-bait articles that not-so-subtly mock working mothers and the world of online women and instead write about what could be done to create a country that accommodates all working families? Will I love long enough to see that day?
Joanne Bamberger is the writer formerly known as PunditMom. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Broad Side and the author of the Amazon-bestselling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (Bright Sky Press). And, yes, she is a working mother who attends professional conferences from time to time, but she doesn’t raid the hotel room minibar.