Okay people, real talk time. Can women ever do anything without being defined by what they do with their uterus? It’s insulting how often the media adds the qualifier “mother” or “mommy” ahead of a woman’s accomplishments or contributions, along with “mompreneur.”
A perfect example is The New York Times‘ recent story about SAHMs who have been volunteering in my neighborhood of Rockaway Beach, New York titled “After Hurricane, a New Calling for Mothers – Mothers Find a Calling in Volunteer Work After Hurricane Sandy”. I want to be clear that I am in no way trying to take away from the women they discuss in this piece. They are awesome. They have been out here, among volunteers from every walk of life, mucking houses, coordinating and delivering, providing medical care, food, clothing and supplies and being all-around wonderful to my community.
The piece starts out with the line:
“Fathers misplace their children at the supermarket; mothers miraculously transform tofu to make it palatable to 3-year olds.”
Seriously. What I can’t believe in this day and age that a publication such as The New York Times will still run this dribble. It’s insulting to fathers. We can’t expect to be treated as equals among men when we are so eager to pigeonhole them into the role of the bumbling, incompetent dad.
Then there is this gem:
“These are generalizations, of course, but they hold true in regard to a group of women, most of them stay-at-home mothers unaffiliated with one another, who have found a calling — an obsession, arguably — in volunteer work for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.”
There are literally hundreds of volunteers in my neighborhood every day. Many of them have been here, much like the women showcased in this article, for weeks. They are often here seven days a week, working their fingers to the bone to help my community rebuild. Some of these volunteers are parents, some of them aren’t. Some of them have regular jobs, some of them don’t. Why is it only called obsession when they are a stay-at-home mother?
The author later goes on to say that Jill Cornell, one of the women profiled in the piece, is addicted to relief work. I wonder if the author would say the same about a non-parent or a working parent doing this work:
“The supportive but dismayed husband emerged as a recurring character in the narratives Ms. Cornell and the other housewives recounted of feeling first drawn and then overwhelmingly addicted to something that has felt big and ambitious and defining.”
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Supportive but dismayed? As if these long suffering men are somehow martyrs to their wives’ “silly” relief addiction. I’m not advocating abandoning your family to muck out homes seven days a week, but it’s curious how no one is using this patronizing language about non-SAHM volunteers.
Instead of focusing on the great work they are doing, the article spends the first three paragraphs talking about how they are moms and their family life:
“Her most recent accomplishment before all this, she joked, was winning a pie-baking contest at the Windsor Terrace farmers’ market.”
The author goes as far as referring to them as the “Real Housewives of Relief,” which even they admit is glib. There is a brief mention of the backbreaking work being done by these moms in paragraph four and five and then a vaguely disconcerting bit about the culture shock of an upper middle class white woman working in the projects. The term “air hustling” is used.
It is rare to see fathers portrayed this way, even if they are stay-at-home dads. There is a distinct “these women had no purpose before volunteering, they were just moms” tone to this article, even if it’s not stated directly. It’s just another example of the trend of labeling everything that a woman who happens to have kids does as a “mommy” thing – mommy blogger, mompreneurs, mommy CEOs, etc. No one would have referred to Steve Jobs as a “dadpreneur.”
This is a subject that Mommyish has covered numerous times. Many women have no problem using the “mompreneur” moniker; they see their motherhood as a badge of honour, which it is. The problem for me is that prefacing every title held by a woman who has children with “mommy” can be dismissive. The idea that it’s so much more impressive or unusual to succeed in business (or volunteer work) when you’re a mom leads many in business to take us less seriously. Successful mothers shouldn’t be treated as rare creatures. Why would anyone give us a chance to excel when they think the odds are stacked against us? I’m not telling businesswomen or volunteer mothers to not take pride in the fact that they can have it all: motherhood and work. I’m just saying I think it’s important to be seen as equal to a non-parent entrepreneur.
As a business owner I feel that any label that sets mother entrepreneurs apart from the rest is detrimental. The term “mompreneur” and others like it makes success as a business owner and mother sound rare. This will not make it easier for us, and our work, to be taken seriously and I believe it causes something akin to professional gender apartheid. As Lindsay Cross said in a 2011 piece for The Grindstone about the word:
It treats them like they aren’t “real” companies. In a world where business-owners are expected to prove total dedication to their product, their possible-stockholders and their bottom line, it makes sure that everyone knows that these women have other priorities.
What it boils down to is that women, especially ones with children, have a hard enough time being taken seriously in business. Data from the Center for Women’s Business Research shows that while 41% of U.S. owned businesses are owned by women (though only 20 percent of businesses that have more than $1 million in revenue) only about five percent receive venture capital. Women in general are eight times less likely to get funding, kids or no kids, but as Cross mentions in the piece above and in others, having kids or wanting a family is a factor. We simply cannot afford to do anything that causes us to be taken less seriously, and that is exactly what embracing the whole “mompreneur” label will do.
This is a reader submission.