Mothers of Intention — Has Dooce Become the Modern Day June Cleaver?

Tue, April 21, 2009

Mothers of Intention


It’s time to resurrect my weekly feature Mothers of Intention. Many bloggers who are moms (notice I didn’t use the term mommyblogger) wrote about politics and the presidential campaign here at Mothers of Intention in 2008. In trying to decide how to carry this feature forward, I decided it would be fun to feature posts from other bloggers that have already been written for their spaces. This week, welcome Susan Getgood of Marketing Roadmaps and Snapshot Chronicles with her take on Oprah and the “mommybloggers.”

Before I begin, full disclaimer. These are my thoughts, my feelings, my perceptions about gender stereotypes. Your Mileage May Vary.

I’m 46. As your mileage catches up to mine, you may see my point of view :-) Or not.

Of late, the mainstream media has shifted its attention to the mom blogger. Whether it covers the Digital Mom (Today) or the Secret Lives of Moms (Oprah) , it seems to be focusing its “laser” attention on a new stereotype of moms.

A digital mom. Who seems to be in her early thirties, generally white and blond-ish, and blogging about her experiences — good, sometimes bad, and occasionally whiny — as a mom. Played on TV, generally, by Heather Armstrong (Dooce).

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a mom. I waited a long time to become one, and it was never certain that I would. My son is one of the most important things in my life.

But my experience of motherhood as a later in life mom with, at the time Douglas was born, a senior executive job at a technology company is very different than Heather’s. I had to battle different things, including very real sexism on the job. I had to operate in a world where my joy in parenthood had to be tempered, because my male colleagues saw it as a weakness. They would never admit it, but oh my, was it clear. Seen, not heard, baby.

I have tremendous respect for women who, like Dooce, have turned their motherhood into a money stream. God bless you and rock on as you rake it in. Not for me, but it works for you and I have no problem with it.

I’m also NOT proposing that mom bloggers stop sharing their stories in any way they wish on their blogs. Your life, your stories, your words, your right.

BUT….

Have we taken four steps forward and five steps back? Are we still letting mainstream media define us by our motherhood? Sure, it is not June Cleaver anymore; there’s a nod to diversity. A teeny weeny nod.

Nevertheless, the media seems to be re-focusing on women in a very traditional role of mother, tripping lightly over our other achievements.

Have we really come a long way, or are we back near the beginning?

Is this new perception of modern day moms damaging our ability to be perceived as women APART from our roles as mothers? The media seems to be grabbing hold of an image of the digital mom that threatens to overwhelm our individual and collective achievements as professional women. To stuff us back in a gender-defined box.

How else to explain shows like “In the Motherhood” ? Or Oprah’s Secret Lives of Moms, which I did not watch because the show generally irritates me and I didn’t expect the mom episode to be much different. (Read some other moms who weren’t over the moon about Oprah). Or the idea that Oprah’s foray into Twitter (lord help us) has something to do with soccer moms?

Is the digital mom becoming a new stereotype that will be just as damaging as June Cleaver?

I’m worried that the answer is yes.

Now, here’s where I put on my truly radical feminist hat. Be warned, and bear with me, as I am still thinking through this issue. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree with me, think I am full of shit or something in between.

Is the mainstream media stuffing women, in general, back in the mommy box because the US power structure relies on women staying in their traditional gender role? To some degree, I think the answer is yes.

Those in power – mostly men – want to stay in power. Full stop. Individual women are allowed to break out of the mold – if they push push push hard enough, give up everything except their careers etc. They are allowed to be the rare exceptions – the Queen Bees. They are unique.

Society doesn’t acknowledge that women can be just as capable, competitive as male counterparts, and still be nurturers. Moms. The successful woman is special. [Note: Women are also allowed to rise to the top if they embody the stereotype and use it to be successful. Mary Kay, Avon etc.]

The rest of us? At the core, The Powers That Be want – need – us as a gender to stay in the traditional role as much as possible. Our economy is to some degree built on the assumption that we will. We can have jobs, but not the top jobs. Look at the tech industry – even the social media industry. At most conferences, most of the speaking slots are STILL filled by men. A smattering of token women, usually the same ones over and over. Because you know, they are special.

Even Michelle Obama, a very successful attorney in her own right, has been completely redefined as a wife and mother. Don’t even get me started on how the media has f-ed over Hillary Clinton. Would take multiple posts and only my policy wonk friends would stick it out.

The other side of this problem is the Madonna – Whore dichotomy. It often seems, women must be one or the other. Never both. Our society still has tremendous difficulty separating sex from biology. Consider breastfeeding. Biology, people. Mothers make milk and some choose to breastfeed their babies. Others don’t. Has NOTHING to do with sex. No need for blankets. Or embarrassment. For anyone.

Yes, this mom in the media trend makes me very uneasy. Tell me I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. I don’t think I am.

What do you think?


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28 Responses to “Mothers of Intention — Has Dooce Become the Modern Day June Cleaver?”

  1. anniegirl1138 Says:

    The whole notion that I don’t exist but for my motherhood sets me aflame – just ask my husband.

    We are as neatly caged in our society as Afghani women our crudely confined in theirs, but at least they know they are prisoners.

  2. Mom101 Says:

    Awesome awesome post Susan.

    The digital mom is being portrayed as a mom who just does all her cute little mom stuff online. They’re not looking at the fact that the world of moms online ranges from business owners and entrepreneurs to authors and poets to community organizers and political pundits.

    It all goes back to my proposal that we stop calling everyone mommybloggers and defining the blogger, and start defining the content.

  3. Matt Says:

    I don’t believe that “the media” is stuffing modern mothers anywhere. If a woman decides to start a publication about being a mother, then she’s the one defining herself as a mother – - not some reclusive media baron chomping on a cigar in the top floor of the Fitzwater Building.

    On behalf of The Powers That Be, take my word for it that you’re free to be as successful in business as you wish, right up to the point at which you reschedule a meeting because you want to be at a soccer game or call in sick because your little one is ill. That’s a standard – not a double-standard. Irrespective of gender unfortunately no one gets to have both.

    Most men sacrifice raising their children to be successful in business; some with remorse, some without. On the other hand, some men sacrifice a career to raise their children.

    Few people are capable of being successful in business (‘there for your company’) AND successful as a parent (‘there for your children’). From time to time you do have to choose for whom to be there, and you are judged on your choices. Judged today by your employers, and judged in twenty years by your child’s therapist. :-)

  4. ginabad Says:

    I LOVE what you’ve written here! In my blog, I CONSTANTLY battle to define MYSELF. Motherhood has ripped me up by my roots and threw me into the deep end of the pool. I think it’s important that first-time mothers to be GET that.

    However, we cannot BE solely defined by our motherhood. It’s a role like any other, and my struggle has been pursuing MY OWN calling outside of motherhood.

    I started Mom Blog for that very reason. To find myself within the special hell / rare blessing that being an unexpected special needs mom comes with. To find that I wasn’t post partum but I also wasn’t on cloud 9, and that I was not alone in my struggle to raise a new human without an instruction manual. To find that behind motherhood, which has been both glorious and horrific, I was also a woman with dreams that have ZERO to do with motherhood.

    There are NOT enough women in leadership roles, across industries, not by a LONG SHOT. Don’t get me started on what they did to Clinton, it makes me nuts, and what they’re doing Michelle Obama.

    2 cents from, yea, I said it, a mommy blogger, and a designer, and writer, and a wife, etc etc…
    ginabad
    mom-blog

  5. PunditMom Says:

    Matt, then why are so many men who are fathers lauded when they take time out of their day to go to soccer games or do their parental duties by staying home with a sick kid? But when women do it, they are penalized?

    If you don’t think there’s a double standard, look harder.

  6. Who asked you? Says:

    Well all I know is that as a mom I am now expected to raise perfect well rounded educated kids (who I take perfect magical picture of), keep a magazine perfect home (that is organized and decorated perfectly for holidays), know the perfect (yummy) dish to bring to the potluck, make money and now have a blog that is read by hundreds if not thousands. Oh yeah forty is the new fifty so I have to look 10 years younger. I’m screwed!

  7. George Says:

    Agree with Matt totally.

    PunditMum – I have NEVER heard of a father being praised for taking time out to be with their children. i think fathers get as much grief as mothers.

    If you are bring up children as a couple, generaly one of you has to make the decision to sacrifice their career, if you are a single mother/father then I don’t know what you do. I will say that bring up children and working will never be compatible as you have two totally contradicting needs, from the children and your employer.

    Regarding MomBloggers, if you name your blog MumBlog or PunditMum then what do you expect? ;)

  8. Baby in the City Says:

    This is a tough topic. I think mainstream media has always operated on stereotypes. It might very well be true to say that until members of the ‘alternative media’ refuse and reject participation in mainstream media, they will not change because they won’t have to. So, in some respects, until Dooce and the rest of the prominent mothers refuse to go on Oprah or Today, or at the very least, refuse unless their requirements are met, nothing will change.

    I fully realize that they need the exposure for their businesses, but at some point, a stand needs to be taken. The fact that Heather Armstrong was featured on Oprah as just one of the crowd, rather than one of the most successful bloggers ever, was just so insulting to her achievements and I have to say, I’m upset she let it happen to her. Although I CERTAINLY could do no better.

    It’s tough.

    Baby’s cryingg, gotta go…

  9. PunditMom Says:

    I can’t be a pundit AND a mom? That’s the whole point of the blog name — not just a mom and don’t define me by it! Am I right ladies?

  10. Mom101 Says:

    Matt, you make excellent points about the US standard about putting work before all else (which is, decidedly, a US phenomenon). That said I’m seeing companies that are changing the paradigm, offering flex work for parents and caregivers, onsite day care, and other opportunities to keep employees productive and happy.

    I think instead of saying “too bad, that’s how it is in business,” it’s just wonderfu that so many parents and progressive business owners are saying, “no. This isn’t good enough and we can do better.”

  11. Julie Pippert Says:

    Here’s what I think Susan: you took the words right out of my mouth.

    My mileage doesn’t vary that much from yours and I also used to work in technology. There I had similar experiences to yours (I’m sure), so my perception of male, female, roles, breaking out, etc. is very much like yours.

    I fear that sexism and workplace and opportunity sexism (thus suppression of opportunity) will get worse going forward as our economy collapses.

    After WWII, when the GIs returned, the first call was for women to go back home so the men could have jobs. I KNOW that’s out there now.

    Another commenter—Matt—clearly defines that men AND women have to choose between business or parenthood, even if they do both.

    So true.

    And that’s what happens in society at large.

    People are compelled to address you in the predominant role.

    It’s usually the easiest one to label or box.

    That’s unfortunate.

    So DITTO also to Annie.

    To George, I say oh yes, men are lauded. Trust me. My husband admits it. But it’s bittersweet because he sacrifices parenting a lot to be successful in business.

    The bottom line for me is I reject allowing someone else to frame me and my life.

    They can call me a mommyblogger but I don’t buy into that as the be-all of me, so I do my best to live as a different model, one that hopefully breaks stereotypes, so hopefully others don’t buy into the oversimplified framing either.

    Where I started? I stopped apologizing all the time. I was communicating through that that I was at fault, culpable, and wrong.

    “I’m so sorry, I need to take care of my kids,” No I’m not, I’m not sorry.

    Now I say, “I realize this might be inconvenient so I promise to (insert proper “fix it” message and reassurance task will be done).”

    “I’m so sorry, i can’t go on the field trip, I have a deadline that day,” Nope, not sorry.

    Now I say, “I can’t make the fieldtrip, but I’ll plan on making another event.”

    Stopping self now although could go on and on.

    P.S. So intrigued that men define a woman’s experience as NOT including sexism, while the women DO clearly say their experience includes sexism.

    We need to think about true here…

  12. Rita Arens Says:

    Joanne — so glad you’ve brought back Mothers of Intention.

    I think Liz is right — when “mommybloggers” get national media exposure, it’s usually about their experience as parents, but the way these women got national media attention was via business. The business of blogging.

    Heather Armstrong initially got coverage for having such a large audience and being able to make something most of us do for fun turn into a very large income stream. Now Oprah is showing her being a mom. Forget that she’s supporting her entire family with Armstrong Media. Forget that she just made the NYT bestseller list. That’s what we should be focusing on, even though her content is often domestic in nature.

    Other moms who have been featured on television — same thing. They are entrepreneurs or writers who are very successful at what they do. Take Liz and Julie and Kristen — two businesses — Cool Mom Picks and Parent Blogger Network — that are viable and income-producing with their focus on moms as a demographic. Take Karen, who is currently making her living by writing and shooting photography, which was originally featured on her blog, and yes, often showcases her beautiful daughter. Take Amy, who has had three successful columns based on her home life.

    The female bloggers who are featured in mainstream media are interesting because they’ve turned something not generally income-producing but interesting — motherhood — into an income stream. Not by exploiting or being famous for being famous, but by using the tools of business outside the traditional realm of business. It’s surprising because that’s not usually how it’s done.

    I wish the media would focus more on how these women are turning their writing, photography and business talents on daily life and having impressive success doing so. To me, that is the real story.

  13. teendoc Says:

    Honestly I think the problem is that women are ambivalent or unsure about female gender roles. There is these lip service paid to the rights of all of us to choose our path, but then let the criticisms begin across the aisles for the paths chosen.

    Some women wear the “mom” badge like a prideful accomplishment. Others seek to define themselves in ways that do not relate so strongly to gender and gender roles, like “parent.”

    I’m not a “mom badge” wearer. My husband and I are both parents who do the best we can to practice equally shared parenting…something that avoids the traps of gender roles. (And gender roles are only traps for those who dislike their limits. Some embrace these roles.) I hate the thought of being considered a Mommyblogger, especially since I don’t have “Mom” anywhere in my handle or blog name.

    But Dooce is doing her thing and it seems to resonate for a lot of women, yet it leaves me cold. Way too retro for me.

  14. PunditMom Says:

    Julie, you observation, “So intrigued that men define a woman’s experience as NOT including sexism, while the women DO clearly say their experience includes sexism,” speaks volumes.

    Until men acknowledge it or until we women actually rule the world, I’m not sure things will change.

  15. PunditMom Says:

    Rita, I love your points. If all the bloggers you mentioned were men, and fathers, no one would define them by their parenting status, even if they wrote about that, as well.

    They would be called successful business people. Period.

  16. April Says:

    Wow. So much to comment on, and I don’t want to bogart the post, either, so I’ll try to keep it short.

    In answer to the post topic, I’m not worried. I’ve heard more backlash from Oprah’s show than I’ve heard praising of it. (Of course, that probably says something about my social networking circle, but hey.) Every time a woman stood up (including PunditMom), I thought to myself, “thank you.” So long as those of us that don’t fit the June Cleaver model keep standing up and speaking up, we’ll be okay.

    As for some of the comments here, Matt and George specifically, well I AM a single, working mom. But I happen to work for a MALE boss that didn’t fall into the stereotype. When I got my degree while working full-time and raising two kids, he threw me a party. When I’m out because one of the kids is sick, his first question on my return is, “how is she?” He promoted me about a year ago because I deserved it (and with some prodding from some of my female bosses, working mothers themselves).

    I don’t work overtime, and I attend my daughters’ soccer games and holiday shows. But I also work hard, am good at my job, and add value. And I’ll stay here as long as they’ll have me because my boss has earned my loyalty, just as I’ve earned his respect.

    If only ALL workplaces could concentrate on quality, we’d all be better off!

  17. Allyson Says:

    Thought you should know that I read your post earlier in the day and didn’t respond. Not for a lack of things to say, but for a lack of reason to say them, until now. I just found out that the Communications Director of the White House, Ellen Moran is stepping down. The media is portraying the event as her wanting to spend more time with her family, but I doubt it is the truth. This is another disservice to women who want to attain the highest level in their profession and then are thwarted by politics and some trying to save face. Your post struck a cord, because regardless of how great a parent we are in our individual situations we will always be judged. This woman, Moran, correctly or incorrectly is being stuffed back into the mommy box, but we may never know the real reason why. I don’t want motherhood to be the dumping ground for people who can’t cut it in their real jobs. Like everything else, motherhood is a choice we make like the thousands of other choices we make everyday.

    I wear my mom badge proudly to most of the outside world, but I desperately miss my career. We made a shared decision for me to stay home with our two kids until they are both enrolled in school. (Hubby makes a lot more money.) I see this as a sacrifice of all sacrifices and feel it is for the good of my kids. I am not a lesser being, because I am a mother and I am not better because I stay at home. I have chosen a traditional role for now, but that does not define me and it shouldn’t define any woman. I think the difference now versus the June Cleaver days is that it can be a choice to be traditional or not. We aren’t back to those times, some of us choose that for our families for our own varied reasons.

    Lastly, I am surprised that you didn’t mention the lambasting of Sarah Palin when it comes to women not allowed to be nurturers and in power. That was one of the most disgraceful hack jobs every lobbied on a mother. If it is your politics that won’t allow you to consider her, I understand, but I was surprised it wasn’t noted.

    On the face, I do agree that there is sexism when it comes to women and mothering, but if we allow any person to have the power to make us feel like crap, then we have already lost.

  18. Susan Getgood Says:

    Such great comments.

    I wrote this post out of concern that, whether by accident or design, a new and damaging stereotype of the modern mom was emerging in the mainstream media.

    We can let it happen or we can speak up. I choose to speak up.

    That we should have to choose –whether man or woman, mom or dad — between career or family is a dysfunctional choice. There should be, there can be room for both. But, that means a huge culture shift in this country. It means making room at the table. As Julie P points out, in this economy, we are far more likely to see Rosie the Riveter redux.

    Speaking directly to Matt – I never rescheduled a meeting or called in sick due to a family issue. That’s a stereotype. Judge people on their actions, not from a stereotype. When I was still on the corporate treadmill, I had great support; my husband works from home and could shift his schedule much more easily. I was gone at least a week a month visiting other sites, and never regretted the time I devoted to my job. But I still hit my head hard on the glass ceiling.

    Sexism is real. Gender bias exists. Still. And back to my original point, media coverage of the digital mom is contributing to a stereotype that is ultimately damaging to our ambitions as individual women.

    Many would prefer we shut up. I choose to speak up.

  19. Gina Chen Says:

    I really love this post. You’re right about women being defined on the web by “motherhood.”

    It’s almost like women don’t exist at all unless they are framed as something — moms, career gals who balk at mother, angry feminists.

    Men are allowed to be, well, just men. They aren’t defined by mommyhood or working or anything. They are just them. Why can’t women be like that, too?

  20. Mindy Says:

    First, thank you, Rita.

    Second, Susan, I’m concerned that you didn’t even watch the Oprah segment. It’s astonishing that you would assume it was more of the same. It wasn’t. We are making strides and bringing more visibility to our blended roles and gaining respect for how we do it, but you aren’t even watching the shows/reading the press that would support your point! Your prejudice is allowing you to make the same mistakes you fear other media are making, and compounding it by projecting your fears outward without taking in new information.

    This comment grabbed me:

    “I can’t be a pundit AND a mom? That’s the whole point of the blog name — not just a mom and don’t define me by it! Am I right ladies?

    Aren’t you sort of stepping all over your own point?

    The use of a label is not in itself damaging. I find that telling people that I write a mommy blog is the most concise way of describing what I do. AND I stay home with the kids! Only because I am unemployed, but hey, how many of their friends can say they are dropped off at school and greeted at the cub in the afternoon by a mom who then goes home and thinks about MOTHERING? It’s a happy tragedy that I’m able to do that. Tragic because we’re beyond broke, but happy because they are not away from home and their mother ten hours a day in a daycare.

    That used to be me – Twelve years as a foundation executive! Three maternity leaves in four years! Childless boss! Run out of town!

    Is anyone upset at being called a tech blogger? Or social media blogger? Are we being too sensitive? I think both genders have to choose where the focus will be, because you can’t do both to the hilt. That is why we have partnerships. And why I wish I had one.

  21. Susan Getgood Says:

    Mindy, I didn’t watch the Oprah segment but I did spend a fair amount of time on her site and watched some of the clips. My comments on the new stereotype aren’t based solely on the Oprah segment; I’ve been watching this trend for a while now. Oprah was just the latest example. The post had others.

    As to the comment about pundit and mom, that was Joanne’s, not mine.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    My comment is related but perhaps off topic. How is it that so many of these mommy bloggers who talk about their kids don’t realize the double standard where they’d never let their own kids reveal such personal information/images but they feel free to go ahead and expose their kids to this permanent record…often using their kids first names? What ever happened to internet safety? It seems to have gone out the window when women realized they can (perhaps) make a career out of their childrens lives (and obviously without their kids consent).

  23. Mindy Says:

    Susan – thanks for checking the stories on TOWS site, you might want to mention that after you say you didn’t watch it. The articles were very thorough and almost as good as being there.

    Anon – there really is no such thing as anonymity anymore. I could write under a pseudonym but anyone with two adjacent brain cells and an internet connection could find out who I am. Same for the kids. And my kids are fully aware and happy with the stories, and know that thousands of people read them. The information they are not allowed to give out is along the lines of phone number, credit card numbers, where they go to school and where they will be – commonsense things you wouldn’t give to a person on the street. It’s all about education in a new medium. People have been discoverable for ages – it’s just a new angle on an old issue.

  24. PunditMom Says:

    Mindy, I think it’s two different things to find a name, brand or identity to promote ideas vs. others trying to label us in order to pigeonhole us into something they can dismiss.

    I don’t want to take away from Susan’s wonderful post by discussing that more here, but why is it wrong for us, as women, to take possession of the unique perspective our parenting experiences give us? I see that as totally different from the MSM and corporate America using mothers to keep us in a position they don’t find threatening.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    Mindy, I disagree with you after years of doing internet research that someone could “figure out it was you” just by your writing style. Do you know who I am by what I am saying? I also disagree that kids have the capacity to offer consent until they’re in their late teens. Even then the human brain is still forming around advanced understanding. What may seem harmless now may not be harmless when a potential school, employer, client, enemy, finds your blogs. It’s convenient to say that its no problem, because you don’t have any idea what problems in fact you may be causing. Time will tell.

  26. Jane Says:

    Minda-

    You seriously believe people have always been this discoverable? There has never been a mechanism for the world to read your diary and view photos of your life’s most private moments previous to the web. I’m afraid your statement makes no sense.

  27. Matt Says:

    My comment: “[You're] free to be as successful in business as you wish, right up to the point at which you reschedule a meeting because you want to be at a soccer game or call in sick because your little one is ill.”

    Your comment: “Speaking directly to Matt – I never rescheduled a meeting or called in sick due to a family issue. That’s a stereotype.”

    My response: What I said is in no way stereotyping. If I told my boss that I couldn’t make it today because Junior had a soccer game, I would be viewed as less reliable. No one gets high-fives at work [from me] for being a good daddy or mommy or volunteer; you get high fives fat work or being dependable at work.

    I too see a double-standard, but I suppose not the same one.

  28. Matt Says:

    I apologize. I see the confusion; in that sentence I was using the “generic you”, not “you Punditmom”. I was not or assuming or accusing you of shirking your duties at work, although I see now how it appeared that way.

    But your very reaction is exemplary of a high-value employee – “I resent even the implication that I would neglect work for convenience in family matters.”

    It isn’t stereotyping to hold that standard, although I can see why you’d feel it was stereotyping if I had assumed you in particular had ignored your work responsibilities.

    Again, please accept my apologies for my poor syntax.


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