An Open Letter to the New York Times About Mom Bloggers, Women Writers & the Universe

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.

But was it really necessary to add that gigantic graphic to further make fun of us?

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.

Sincerely yours,

Joanne Bamberger, aka PunditMom

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130 Responses to “An Open Letter to the New York Times About Mom Bloggers, Women Writers & the Universe”

  1. Katherine Center Says:

    Go, PunditMom!!!

    “How can she be taken seriously when she calls herself a mom?” You know what’s funny? I don’t even GET that question. Why on earth would having children alter a person’s ability to think, or write, or talk, or analyze? How on earth could having kids make anything women have to say less valid? For me, it makes it more valid. There is a wisdom that comes from motherhood, there just is. I know that having kids made me wiser than I ever was before. I have less free time than I did–but now I really know what I want to DO with that time.

    Thanks for standing up for moms.

  2. Jozet at Halushki Says:

    Here’s the only way I could see to spin this:

    In my “real life” – not a major metropolitan area, if that makes a difference – people I meet quite frankly have either a) no idea what a blog is, or b) immediately imagine comic book store/Dungeons and Dragons types in the basement doing “something, but who knows what” on the Internet, or, more rarely, c) something that radical anyones will sometimes quote or talk about in the way some people sometimes quote magazines that aren’t People, Time, or Newsweek – strange, niche, and mostly radical rags that those with esoteric interest read.

    Or, put another way, I could ask the next thirty women I met in the grocery store if they knew who Dooce was, and they’d say, “What’s a dooce”.

    Put another way, when I tell people I “blog” and after explaining what that means, I most often get a kind smile or a friendly roll of the eyes with a gentle, “Oh, honey, I just don’t have time in the day for that. I barely get to knit or watch Lost anymore. I’m more busy doing ____.” So, you know, cute hobby.

    So. In the wildest spin on this article, first talking about blogging and meeting the reader halfway from a place of friendly, joking condescension, and then not pressing them further outside of their comfort zone in which anything moms do that isn’t a “real” job must be more along the lines of bookclub and manicures, the author *may* have been lulling them into confidence while then sneaking in the facts that these moms mean business and are earning money and this techy savvy thing is more than knitting an electronic tea cosy…of sorts.

    Not that I wouldn’t pay good money for a nice tea cosy, either.

    That’s the *only* way I could positively spin this. You know me…I like to assume best intentions. It helps keep a lid on my broiling cynicism. ;-)

  3. PunditMom Says:

    Katherine, Thanks for helping me stay sane and realizing that I was allowed to keep my brain after we adopted PunditGirl! ;)

    Jozet, I think you make a great point and give good perspective to this. My family who lives in your neck of the woods (!) are good examples of your point. My college aged nieces are more tuned in, but my sister is just barely on Facebook just to keep an eye on her. My blogging world (I call it a writing world) doesn’t register that much with them. Nor does the New York Times. :)

  4. Jozet at Halushki Says:

    One might make the assumption that people reading the NYT are more in tune with Internet realities. Then again, I’ve learned never to assume.

  5. Michelle Says:

    Joanne,
    You are one sassy lady. Nice job calling out that article for what it is. To be taken seriously, it is not enough to do the work that we do and do it well (while raising the next generation, and making money outside the 9-5 job), but we must hold each other up as examples of success.

    Change is never easy, and this is just one more example of resistance to change, but I am hopeful that we can get past it by sharing our success – if not with the NY Times audience, at least in our own homes. “Yes, honey, Mommy is building her brand right now, and someday you can do that, too, if you’d like to make your own money AND be home with your kids, like I am with you right now. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?”

    I’ve said this many times to my daughter, and she loves me. That’s all that really matters in the end.

  6. suburbancorrespondent Says:

    I’m thinking that you may have taken her “koffeeklatsch” comment a bit out of context (unintentionally). The article itself was fairly balanced; what is frightening are the reactions to the article (as we both saw in the Motherlode comments). It is in those reactions that we see the latent anger and misogyny and out-and-out hatred of mothers and children that are so shocking. Let’s see, we were accused of neglecting our children, wasting our time (thanks for telling us how to spend our day, people!), and being exhibitionists. That’s just for starters. The article may have produced those comments, but I don’t think it was the writer’s fault.

  7. suburbancorrespondent Says:

    Also? And I know I’m alone in this one – I don’t mind calling myself a MommyBlogger (even though I also blog about politics, current events, etc). It’s the old sticks-and-stones things – people are using a name to demean me, I’ll take it and use it proudly and shove it in their faces. You know what I mean? Hell, yeah – I am a MommyBlogger, and a darn good one – that sort of thing. To let others define “MommyBlogger” as unimportant, you are agreeing that our writings about our children and our lives aren’t worth anything. As I said in my Motherlode comment, we all have stories worth telling, even if we aren’t professional writers. And the blogosphere lets us do that.

  8. Melanie Says:

    Standing in my worn yoga pants and cheering!

  9. Anne-Marie Nichols Says:

    Joanne, you made the Erma Bombeck Writr’s Workshop website – http://www.humorwriters.org. Congrats! I think Erma would have been proud of you and everyone else who has written about this.

    (BTW, all of this posts’ comments are not showing up in both IE and Firefox. I checked some of your other posts with lots of comments and I’m seeing them just fine.)

  10. Anne-Marie Says:

    Never mind I figured out how your comments work. I must be tired or something and typing badly.

  11. Stephanie Says:

    An excellent rebuttal! Thank you for writing this – with such eloquence, intelligence, and gusto! I appreciate that you and others responded to that snarky NYT article so quickly. I would write a post, but you covered it so perfectly. I’ll just forward this link along to others instead… :)

  12. pamela Says:

    perfect, just perfect.

    And what the hell is up with the picture that they used? The laptop next to the pot? Is the pot on fire? That’s even more insulting

  13. PunditMom Says:

    @suburbancorrespondent I agree that there were some things in the article that were fine, but the headline (which I realize the reporter probably didn’t write) alone drips with condescension and implies that the cute little mommies have a cute little hobby and isn’t that cute that they’re trying to build businesses, too? The reporter’s decision to liken the founder to a sorority girl and characterize this conference as a girly-binding opportunity is nothing short of insulting and dismissive — and this from a woman who is a mother who has her own blog.

    Yes, there were some quotes in the article that were good, but the overall intention was clear and it fits into the mold/forumla we have seen again and again — find a way to characterize what women do so that it’s minimized, suggest you’re writing it with humor and then pat them on the heads and tell them they’re overreacting when they’re offended.

    I think we all know that no one would treat Guy Kawasaki that way, even though he likes to wear Hawaiian shirts when he speaks at conferences and sometimes calls people “dude.” He gets respect for what he’s built; women get seriously less in this same venue for trying to do the same thing.

  14. Modern Dilemma Says:

    Leaving you a very loud cheer – WooooHoooo!

    I’d read the article in question and was mad beyond belief. Well done you for hitting back.

    MD

  15. Undomesticated Me Says:

    I hope you’ve sent this to the Times and elsewhere.

  16. Debby Carroll Says:

    Fantastic. I couldn’t have said it better myself. (And didn’t, as you’ll see when you read what I sent the NYT, pasted here.)

    Is the NY Times Really Threatened by the Mother Bloggers?

    The article In Sunday’s paper (March 12) began with a misogynistic, misleading headline (Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand) and went down from there. The tone of the article is condescending and smacks of envy. As they say on SNL, “Really, NYT?

    Is the august New York Times so threatened by the success of this trend in online publishing that they would actually print this so obviously subjective article which sounds like it was written by one of the mean girls in high school?

    How was it relevant that the organizer of the event wasn’t wearing shoes? In one of the bibles of public speaking, presenters are told to imagine the audience naked in order to feel less nervous. Great public speakers find a way to relate to the audience and make them feel comfortable, too. Perhaps Ms. Romero knew that in her audience were many women who came to the conference alone and were perhaps feeling some trepidation. Perhaps she is the quintessential professional who knew that if she kicked off her shoes, her audience would immediately be put at ease and not feel so alone in a room full of strangers.

    And, perhaps your article could have given her kudos for knowing so well how to reach her audience, instead of portraying her as a country bumpkin who just fell off a truck.

    It seems absurd that the paper of record would be threatened by this tiny online niche, but how else does one explain the mean-spirited tone? The headline implies that mothers are so busy blogging that they are neglecting their children. Nowhere in the article is there a fact to back this up, nor is it mentioned again. I get it that headlines are supposed to grab readers but did you really intend to do that with a headline that is insulting and has nothing to do with the story?

    The article does, in fact, present some of the facts about the reasons and results of blogging, but the headline and opening lead are insulting and don’t match the remainder of the article.

    Perhaps it is because these enterprising bloggers have succeeded where newspapers are failing. When newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and ad revenue, bloggers are giving audiences what they want and are gathering the eyeballs and the wallets that go with them.

  17. PunditMom Says:

    Bravo, Debby! I hope they publish it!

  18. Susan @ 2KoP Says:

    Loved this, although I really didn’t get the humor in the article (the mockery, yes, but not the humor). Thank you for pointing out that the possibility that being a mom might actually bring something new and different in terms of insight and perspective to the table.

    My daughter is older than yours, a senior in high school, and thinking about her future also prompted me to respond: http://2kop.blogspot.com/2010/03/blogging-and-feminism.html.

  19. mariah Says:

    The mockery in that article was pathetic. It kils me that moms are only considered moms and that we can’t talk politics or mechanics or *gasp* sex. we’re moms, not idiots. And Tiffany from Bloggy Boot Camp has helped empower women.

  20. Judy Says:

    I really don’t understand what your outrage is about. I read the NYT piece, and it treated the conference seriously, noting the growing number of women bloggers who are courting sponsorships, and other relevant business and legal issues related to the blogging world. To take the phrase “coffeeklatch” out of the context of the article is just silly. And look, one of this conference leaders apparently spoke while barefoot, calling out “You guys” a lot. If the treatment of this conference seemed a tad too “light,” maybe next time, conference organizers ought to wear shoes.
    Really, get a grip.

  21. Star Rockers Says:

    This is the best response I’ve seen to that ridiculous story. Well done.

  22. Chelsea Bell Says:

    Great post. I have worked in the male dominated tech world for 19 years, and I was so offended by the NYT column! Thanks for this intelligent rebuttal; you took thw words right out of my mouth.

  23. Rose McNichols Says:

    Greetings:

    I think you missed the point of the Times story, which I also read. As a matter of fact, I was surprised that they took the whole “mom blog” craze so seriously.

    Mothers today seem to think they’ve invented parenting. They haven’t. We’ve all been there, or many of us. And while it’s nice to get support, don’t they (mom-bloggers) realize it’s terribly redundant and after a while not particularly interesting to read this avalanche of domestic detail.

  24. deborahlquinn Says:

    It’s the “style” section thing that gets me. Because, you know, this online thing is really just a passing whim, like harem pants or shoulder pads. And while it may be very, very petty of me, the thought crossed my mind: Jennifer Mendelsohn, writer of the NYT piece… failed blogger? One of those bitter folk who just couldn’t keep going, day after day, week after week; who found the bar set by NaBloPoMo just a tad too high? Is that the real source of her snark?

  25. Jennifer Martin Says:

    And yet my blog is my attempt at the humorous side of mothering and I don’t think that even if the topic is point-blank motherhood, that shouldn’t be marginalized either. But as you point out, they are lashing out due to their weak business model.

  26. Virginia B. Elliott Says:

    Active regional writer, member of NSNC, 91 years young this month, mom of 4, grandmother of five gr gr of 6. Earned my living since age 16, yes during the great depression when I quit school to help support the whole family. So what is new about working, writing, successful creative Moms? Has there ever been any other kind? Even with a successful husband, we did all the business entertaining in our home, I was hostess, cook, writer for his business, promo writer for developments that feathered our nest and cared both hands on and $$ wise for three aged relatives for 15 years..sent kids to college…so what else is new and where have you all (N. Y. Times) been the past 75 years? Get a life. Ginny Elliott

  27. adriana Says:

    wondeful!

  28. Josh Says:

    Their are some important take aways here. 1) People love to read about niche groups accomplishing things. While the article may have been a condescending joke piece doled out to the lowliest writer, it did accomplish its primary purpose.

    The other important take away is that if you DON’T HAVE HATERS YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT. Of course people are out there to marginalize, demean and belittle you. If you were paying your dues working in mainstream media for 27k/year and you saw this niche of “Stay at home Mommy Bloggers” turning over 6 figures/year, you’d take advantage of your relatively wide audience to try to move the universe back into alignment as you saw fit.

    Haters gonna hate.

    Nice write up.

    Josh

  29. Quizzlar Says:

    Your blog is called “PunditMom.” You are doing the same thing as the NYTimes.

  30. Amy@UWM Says:

    Just saw this. Love it. That last line was brilliant. Good luck at BlogHer!


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