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. New York Dad Says:

    @PunditMom: This is the kind of article that makes me love being online and connected. I am a professional dad and have just started writing online (I am a very new addition to the so-called “daddy blogger” community) as my own way to “express myself” (whatever that means). My line of work is, simply put, Marketing – so I was very perplexed after reading the NYT piece. What I don’t get, aside from the cheap swipes at mothers doing anything other than cooking and cleaning, is why the author cannot get over the fact that someone can make money from writing – ironic, no?
    I am not sure, as you point out, she understands that today people turn elsewhere for news because so much of mass media has lost touch with “the reader”. Should there be greater transparency about who is pitching what brand online? Sure. That will be defined and regulated better as time goes by, just like it did for journalists (and especially if the IRS sees a new revenue stream in it). Will there be abuses? Certainly. The online community, though, is much faster at catching on and taking immediate “punitive action” against such abuse because of its vastness and flexibility. Something “traditional” media sorely lacks. Keep in mind, too, that the author’s paycheck comes courtesy of the same PR and Corporate Marketing machines that are now courting the online community and that she spins into an uncouth relationship-in-the-making – her slant is hypocritical to say the least.
    This article is, also, proof that nerves are frayed amongst many journalists who are resentful that they spent money on Journalism school and years bringing coffee and donuts to their editors before their first byline was printed. I too spent money and time on getting an MBA (not that it helped me in getting my current job), but that only makes me admire (in my case as a man) the self-made entrepreneurs like Gates, Branson or Jobs because they did it without pulling out all the “traditional” stops on their way to fame and fortune like I did (minus the fame and fortune!).
    So, in my opinion, whomever, let alone a mother, can get paid for a legitimate venture (and in this case writing about themselves, their experience, their day, the products they use etc.) because people trust their judgement or appreciate their advice – chapeau to them. That’s the American Dream, right? Thank you for the article and for keeping the spotlight on today’s mass media ignorance – not that it’s something new!

  2. jodifur Says:

    Fantastic post, as always, from someone who really gets is, and can see the issue from all sides.

  3. Jozet at Halushki Says:

    Well, another issue at play is that Mothering is about, education. And sometimes that education is play. And Mothering is about nutrition. And blogging about nutrition sometimes includes converations about fishsticks and hot dogs. And Mothering is about children’s health. And sometimes that means poop and vomit. And sometimes Mothering is about the solitude and loneliness even depression that comes from lack of support via modern interpretations of society and community. And sometimes it comes out as bitching.

    I don’t give two fishsticks that Mothering does not look like any other job description or does not fit into a business metaphor. That some people don’t have the creative capacity or vision to understand a new idea without viewing it through the lense of analogy is a problem, but not one that I have to bend to. It’s one that I intend to fight and champion.

    It IS personal. And sure, criticize it. But be prepared for some return eludication. There is at the very least a financial foothold here that will eventually garner some crude respect from someone. And if it takes working from the dollar signs upwards, so be it. NYTimes can write all the articles it wants. We have the right to respond with a counter-definition.

    As women, we can begin by telling the next woman we hear saying, “I’m just a mom”, to take out the “just”. It is enough. Even if we don’t believe it because we’ve been told for so long. Even if we ourselves have to fake it till we make it.

  4. Chris (Tessasdad) Says:

    Nice post. I found the whole tone of the NYT article to be very condescending as well.

  5. Lolli Says:

    Bravo, Joanne! I adore your response. Thank you for piping in!

  6. romi Says:

    Bravo Joanne! You speak for all of us who are trying to forge our way and hope the system catches up.

  7. KnitPurlGurl Says:

    Thank you for this well written post. The NY Times article felt sensationalist and condescending. And quite honestly, I’m sick of people assuming that I’m a bad mom or a bored housewife because I blog.

  8. adrian Says:

    Whoohoo! I LOVE it. I love that instead of pouting and name calling, all these amazing women are zinging this hateful article back in the most classy and professional way. Yay, respected women bloggers!!!

  9. The DADvocate Says:

    I have to say as a relatively new daddy blogger (1 year at the end of the month) I’m amazed at what the online women writers who happen to be moms have done. They have become extremely influential and drive marketing dollars and consumer opinion. Many are doing this in addition to the responsibilities of running a household. They are creating the life they want to live so they can do everything they want to do. Corporations are loosing valuable women because the corporation can’t even offer a close flexible alternative.

    Joanne in the end I think you hit the nail on the head when you look at the reason this article was written. The NYT is loosing it’s circulation to bloggers and is trying to gab some of it back.Poorly

    BTW my wife a stay at home mother of three is incredible. I can not keep up with her or her ability to manage and schedule and get things done quickly. She will occasionally tell me that she can’t do anything in business which just blows me away. I have rarely seen any manager as competent as she is. I can only try to keep up.

    Signed,
    A Humble dad

  10. Alex Says:

    I agree that the piece was quite belittling. I’m posting my first strongly opinionated “op-ed” on my new blog and I wondered how it would look between the silly stories of my preschool son’s “golf game.” But I don’t care. I have a BA in Political Philosophy and a Medical Degree and I’m a Stay-at-home Mom. And my blog is going to reflect ALL those aspects of me. Why does talking about being a mom make my blog posts about politics and healthcare trite?
    I also noticed a comment on your post about how men don’t mention getting “sloppy drunk” or “hitting on young women” in the workplace as an example of how mommy blogger need to separate the personal from the professional to be taken seriously. Well, men in business and medicine DO talk about that stuff. They just don’t when you’re around because YOU’RE A WOMAN, and if you’ve never overheard it, you’re a woman who isn’t paying attention.

  11. jennyonthespot Says:

    Excellent, excellent.

  12. Amanda Says:

    I have a series that ties into this on my blog (interestingly enough titles ‘i am mommy’)
    http://iammommy.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/03/big-blogs-versus-small-blogs.html

    I dont get offended by being called a mommy blog, but I get feel the sting of disrespect. Sadly, I feel a lot of that comes from within the blogging community itself. If you cant pull in big numbers your words are considered as valuable.

    I would love to see this printed though… good luck!

  13. selfmademom Says:

    Best said by you… as always!

  14. Tilly Says:

    Great response – thank you. Tilly

  15. Julie @ The Mom Slant Says:

    Joanne, this is wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  16. Myrna Says:

    Well done Joanne! The first thing that came to mind when I saw the headline and graphics was, “Why couldn’t they have reported on this a different way?” We come off looking like either we neglect our kids to build our “brands” or we are ONLY defined by being mothers because that is often part of our perspective. I tell you – I’m out there giving speeches and working on educational programs for other parents. I’m (hopefully) engaging in a vital conversation about how our teenagers are using technology today and the implications for their future. These teens ARE our future. How can the impact of what we’re doing be taken any less serious than someone who works in an office? I AM having an impact on the world as are many other female writers who happen to write online. Mommy bloggers only?? sheeesh

  17. Lisa Belkin Says:

    Hey Joanne. Thanks for leaving a link to this on Motherlode. I responded to your response (we can spend the day visiting each other…) Here’s what I wrote over there:

    Yep Joanne, and you said it well.

    The only part I would take issue with (and remember, it was not MY story, and I am getting uncomfortable being the defender of the Times here) is that somehow “the press” lumps any gathering of women together and labels them “mommies.” That accusation makes no allowance for the fact that those gatherings pitch themselves as such, and regularly serve that purpose.

    Most blogs written by women are directly or indirectly about their identity as mothers. If a group of men were to attend large conferences about how to make a business of their blog, AND if most of their blogs were about themselves as fathers, then it would be egregious to call them businessmen and their female counterparts “mom bloggers.” Similarly, if a group of women who wrote political blogs — of which yours is one of the platinum examples — were to be dismissed as “mom bloggers” that would be equally outrageous.

    BUT to focus on the role blogging has played for so many women — giving a public and creative and commercial outlet to mothers-in-their-role-as-mothers that they didn’t have before? I think that is a legitimate lens. Not the only lens, to be sure. And perhaps one that is applied too often, but not a nefarious one pulled from thin air. To the contrary, I think what blogging has

    As for the illustration, isn’t the most important element the $746 million?

  18. Cynthia Samuels Says:

    Joanne you are always the thoughtful one! This it a great, thoughtful consideration of all this. I was thinking as I skimmed all the comments and those on other blogs that the Times has a history of this. They were, I think, the LAST major publication to use the term “Ms.” Years after everyone else. But at least they’re consistent – hide-bound and cumbersome in other ways too. OH and consider if this piece were about a Jewish or Catholic or African-American or Hispanic convocation of a similar nature.
    Anyway – nice, nice job. As usual.

  19. Apolinaras "Apollo" Sinkevicius - The Operations Guy Says:

    It is shameful in 2010 we are still dealing with sexism.
    I learned early on from my father, that it does not matter “if you have something dangling between your legs”, what does matter is what is on your neck. Without both men and women successful and contributing to the economy we will not be prosperous. Without both men and women starting businesses and creating value to the society we will have the long unemployment lines we have now. Without both men and women in the ranks of leadership we will continue seeing dumb decisions companies make due to groupthink.

    I have an article on the subject, if you would like to see some research of the subject: “Time to end the frat house culture! We need more women in our midst.” http://leanstartups.com/time-to-end-the-frat-house-culture.html

  20. ParentopiaDevra Says:

    I would further encourage the NYT, and other media outlets, to Netflix “Free To Be You And Me” and fast forward to the segment “Parents Are People.” Yeah, it’s a little dated, but I still think it stands the test of time.

  21. Suzy Says:

    I think part of the problem is naming a conference Bloggy Boot Camp. It doesn’t even sound serious and invites critique. Ditto the name Mommy Bloggers which is impossible to change at this late stage of the game.

    I do know that when I tell people I blog I get condescending looks from both men and women who don’t have an online presence. It is assumed that I couldn’t get a real job.

  22. Emily-TheMotherhood Says:

    Joanne, so well said, as usual!! And since so much has been said on the substance of the discussion, let me just add on a light note, I love seeing you on the CNN clip with Rick Sanchez!!!

  23. PunditMom Says:

    Lisa, Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment. But I don’t entirely agree with your take.

    I know you did not write the original article. There just wasn’t a good place to leave a comment there and you had picked it up on your blog.

    The conference actually was never called a mommyblogger gathering by the organizers. I went to the website and while the name of Bloggy Boot Camp is a little cutesy, it is billed as a conference for women, not just mom bloggers.

    Yes, there are many who proudly wear the mom blogger moniker, but isn’t it the job of a reporter to sort things out for themselves and not fall into the trap of repeating things that have become common wisdom, even if they are neither? As someone how has been a journalist for two decades myself, I’d like to think that the writer would have checked that out.

    I would also like to think it would be a good thing if more men did self-identify as fathers in their writing. Why should it be a bad thing to have that important role minimized? Looking at some bloggers through a lens of their self-identification as mothers is legitimate. Looking at all that way isn’t.

    It seems to me that this is more a case of using sexism to diminish what some mothers are trying to accomplish online — just as many reporters tried to do that with Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign.

    As for the art — it still seems pretty insulting to all mothers, no matter what kind of work they do.

  24. Luann Abrams Says:

    That was an incredible response. I heard many opinions about the article before I read it, and I was sure it couldn’t be that bad. I was very wrong. It did wreak of condescension, and your response is well-written, inspiring, and spot-on.

  25. Jill Says:

    GREAT post, Joanne. Nothing more to write. Thank you.

  26. Stephanie @MingleMediaTV Says:

    Well, written letter to the NYT. Now if only they had the sense to see this as a sign of the times… but as you and I both know, it’s not going to be that easy.

    So if the boys in the newsroom have had their laugh, I would recommend they start dusting off their resumes as they’re gonna need to have them sooner than later. Take a look at the circulation situation boys, the numbers are declining and you just pissed off a huge demographic that you needed to engage with not alienate.

  27. Jill Says:

    Joanne – ok – I do have something more to say. ;) But only in response to the exchange with you and Lisa Belkin (and many thanks to Lisa for engaging).

    Lisa wrote, “Most blogs written by women are directly or indirectly about their identity as mothers.” This simply can’t be true in part because, according to stats that have come out over the last couple of years, we know that more than half of all women are single and we know that a good number of those women are not parents. Likewise, there are women who are not single who also are not parents.

    And surely these women blog and do not blog about being a mother, or about their mothers. And of course the moms like Joanne and myself and Morra Aarons and Veronica Arreola and so so many more who really barely even touch on the mom stuff in the large bulk of our writing.

    What I think would really be useful, to get a handle on this, would be to get some numbers from Technorati, BlogHer, Pew and others who deal nearly exclusively in blogging and who blogs and what they blog about. I also believe that learning more about who reads blogs and which blogs they read would help us see whether this assertion is true re: most women blog about their identity as mothers.

    To wit, Lisa, I have an enormous sidebar full of women bloggers – as do sites like BlogHer and the other usual suspects. But most of them are not mommy bloggers – and in fact, BLogHer has a widget composed completely of political women bloggers. Catherine Morgan has a list of more than 400 women political bloggers.

    And then of course there is tech, not for profit, media and on and on.

    I know Lisa is a long time journalist with deep credentials and I’ve admired many of her long-form narrative pieces in the Times. Truly. There are many of us women who write about parenting (I’ve had a published in print column about it for six years) and write about something completely different that does not depend on my identity as a mom. I am not unique.

    Well, you know – unless you want to tell me that I am. ;)

  28. Lisa Says:

    @Alex

    The fact that men don’t talk about their drunken debauchery in front of women is EXACTLY my point. If the CEO got up on stage and spoke of his recent conquests, wouldn’t you roll your eyes and wonder how this bozo got to be where he is? I think it comes back to “know your audience.” If you want to talk about the children and the marriage issues and where you find the best price for product XYZ, on a personal blog or with a group of friends is the place for it. Sexist or not, I will not be as impressed with your political knowledge if that knowledge is sandwiched between kid/car/cat stories. If you want to be taken seriously as something other than just a mommyblogger/product reviewer, then move that info to a separate location. It’s not about not being taken seriously, it’s about dressing the part. Stop wearing your blue jeans to the board meeting.

  29. Kirish43 Says:

    The comments here are outstanding. Howeverr might I suggest everyone take a short trip over to the New York Times Internet site and express your ideas there. If they hear from enough of us-maybe they will get it

  30. Leslie M-B Says:

    Amen. Just amen.

    And thank you!

  31. Caroline Says:

    Thank you so much for writing your eloquent open letter to the Times. I, too, made a living before becoming a mother by writing (marketing/ advertising). If there had been blogs back then, I would have been a non-parent blogger.

    As a mom, I have worked hard to create a career / family balance. As a result, I have my own marketing/advertising firm and continue to write professionally, but this time from my home and for my own clients. I have several blogs–and only one relates to being a parent. I resent the pat-on-the-head feel of the Times.

  32. Unplanned Cooking Says:

    I blogged about this as well. There are many talented women who blog, and their article did them a disservice.

  33. Debbie, i obsess Says:

    Oh my god, Joanne, your last line is pure comedy gold. Love.

  34. ilinap Says:

    Excellent post from one of the women, mothers, and writers I admire most. And thanks to this blogging community, I am proud to call you a friend. And a fellow benevolent dictator.

  35. Daisy Says:

    Wow! By the time I got to this post (after teaching all day, making supper, helping my teenager learn about Women’s Suffrage for his history class, and interviewing for a magazine article written by yet another writer/blogger who would be insulted by the NYT’s attitude), there were 85 comments.

    Sing it, Punditmom, you’re my hero!

  36. Janine (@twincident) Says:

    Well said my friend. Now let’s have coffee and figure out our next steps for taking over the Times :)

  37. carma Says:

    Excellent post. I touched on the harshness of the NYT title in my post today:

    http://tinyurl.com/yjee2mb

  38. Melissa Multitasking Mama Says:

    Thank you for putting this debacle into eloquent words. As a side note, unfortunately, the “journalist” from the Times did know a lot about us (if she was actually paying attention to the answers to the questions she asked several of us). I am assuming she just caved to editorial pressure and apparently totally betraying her peers is something she can live with.

  39. FireMom Says:

    Ah, your snarky undertone was better than her snarky undertone! Good job! I loved this piece. Thank you for writing it.

  40. Jennifer Says:

    Excellent response. I would love to see somebody from the New York Times give all female bloggers an apology. I saw this in the actual print version of the Times and before I even read the article, I couldn’t believe the size and content of the accompanying picture. That picture was worse than anything written in the article.

  41. Rachel ~ Southern Fairytale Says:

    Just simply, yes.
    Thank you.

    Thank you for saying it in a way that is just brilliant and inspiring and powerful and passionate and impactful.

    Hell. Yes.

  42. Sugar Jones Says:

    Thank you. So much.

  43. Carrie Says:

    Well done!

    Thank you from another “member” of your village.

  44. dysfunctional mom Says:

    Just wanted to add my voice to say thank you.

  45. PunditMom Says:

    So here is my question after all this — I so appreciate your responses and comments. It’s clear from some comments here and at other posts, that this NY Times piece hit a nerve among many. But a significant few who I respect believe that was nothing wrong at all the any of the piece and that, in fact, it was helping to promote women bloggers. Is it fair to criticize the reporter who is also a mom and a writer? While I tried to focus on the newspaper overall and not the author, especially because a lot of my beef was with the headline and the graphic, I would love your input — if one takes those things out, do you feel differently about the article? I’m not sure I do, but would love to hear from you.

  46. Pat in Falls Church Says:

    I like the article, but I’m baffled that you call yourself “punditmon”.
    While Not just Pundit from NY or EntripneurialPundit, or anything that does not drive home that you are a mom. You are clearly smart and talented, why do you need the extra points of “momness”? Does that make your arguments better? I doubt it.

  47. Kellie Says:

    I do agree that the title was a bit of a disaster. I think it was meant to be ironic, but irony is dangerous, because… well, I think we all saw why. For those who ‘got it’ as a bit tongue in cheek, I think we didn’t then read the article as condescending, as we were not predisposed to do so. But some people clearly felt it was an attack, and I’m not inclined to tell people that the way they feel is the “wrong” way. And then to be sure there were still others, who took the title and the articles content as confirmation of what they already believe, and therefore felt perfectly permitted to unleash their vitriol.

  48. Joanne Bamberger aka PunditMom Says:

    Pat in Falls Church — Why PunditMom rather than another name? Yes, I self-identify as a mom for a good reason. When I started this blog, and still today, there are few women who write about politics from the viewpoint of motherhood. As someone who wrote op-eds for a while for a Washington, D.C. paper, I knew I wanted that to me my focus — hence the name, PunditMom.

    I get plenty of questions about that and snarky comments at other blogs ridiculing me — how can she be taken seriously when she calls herself a mom? And I say, why not? When we get to the point where people don’t have to ask that question, I know it will be a good day for all moms.

  49. PunditMom Says:

    I didn’t see that it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, at all. If that was the case, they really missed the mark. Most of the women who blog who I know have great senses of humor. I think there is something to pat attention to in the feeling of outrage among the majority of moms who have taken objection to the tone, the headline and the graphic.

    I like satire just as much as the next person — this wasn’t it.


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