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The Innate Hazard of Leading With Your Womb


I’ll be at Mom 2.0 in a week or two (not really sure of the date). This is the third year I’ve bought a ticket but it will be the first year I’ll attend. I remember one year thinking how great it would be to have an excuse to go to New Orleans and get some work done at the same time. My husband hates New Orleans so it seemed like the perfect excuse to travel. Then when I looked at the schedule and saw Mad Men parties and photo walks I felt like it would sap my energy just to get dressed to attend. I sold my ticket.

After reading today’s Wall Street Journal piece about the business of Mom Conferences I’m already starting to dread Laguna Niguel. I didn’t realize I had to dress 50’s or borrow a hat for a Kentucky Derby Party. I’ve promised myself I’d suck it up and do it all with an enthusiastic smile no matter how uncomfortable any of it makes me. Mercifully I’ll have Trudi as a compatriot. There are sessions I’m very interested in attending and I’m sure there’s a lot to be learned, I’m looking forward to the learning aspect. Because, like the columnist at WSJ, everything I know about Mom 2.0 I learned on Flickr I have the sense that it’s a boozy fashion competition. Ciaran assures me Mom 2.0 is a valuable use of my time and I trust Ciaran, plus it’s a short drive so if it’s awful I’ll just go home and Trudi can hitchhike like a big girl.

Ask me in a few weeks is Mom 2.0 is a Mom Vacation or a conference. At the moment it’s a question I can’t answer.

Now when a major conference is pending and it’s at a Ritz Carlton and it features things that bloggers want to talk about: food, fashion, cocktails, tech, networking, media, and fun… and when said conference is called Mom 2.0 and then a bunch of self proclaimed Mom Bloggers get themselves worked up into a frenzy about OMG The Patriarchy, people start looking like they haven’t thought things out very well.

Such is the hazard of leading with your womb. Call your self a Mom Blogger, Mum Blogger, Mommy Blogger or Mom 2.0 and the rest of the world will call you Mom too. They aren’t calling you “Mom” because you had a baby, they’re calling you Mom because it’s what you put on your calling card. 

Fix it if it needs fixing or just answer when the world calls you Mom.

Danielle Ellwood writes the following over at the Broad Side: 

If this was Marissa Mayer, or Sheryl Sandberg traveling for work, their trip would never be dubbed as being on a  “Mommy Business Trip“; it would simply be called a business trip. No need to be defined by the status of how many children their uterus has produced or the number of children they’ve adopted. So why are any other women being treated differently?

This actually proves my point. Neither Sandberg nor Mayer have built careers monetizing their motherhood. They are women who happen to be in technology, they aren’t Mom Bloggers attending a Mom Conference.

When I asked what all the fuss is about on Facebook (because I see the article as mostly innocuous) I was sent links to a zillion posts around the blogosphere and quite a few people commented. Audrey Holden had the most amazing comment and with her permission I’m publishing it here.

As someone who has been blogging, professionally and otherwise for 9 years, and someone who has never ever gone to a conference, I can give you an outside point of view by virtue of what I read from women who DO go to these. 

Not only are there millions of photos floating around out there of hanging out in bars or hotel lobbies, drinks in hand, or dancing at various PR/Brand parties – images that give the impression that it’s just a long boozy weekend, there are also the comments in post-conference pieces the bloggers themselves write, about how it was a great opportunity to go and hang out with other women they’ve long wanted to meet, to have a few drinks, party a little and get away from the kids and the mundane of day-to-day life. These same women write on and on about how they didn’t even hit any of the panels or roundtables/discussions because there was too much going on in the PR swag areas, or they didn’t have time because they were sight seeing, or getting together with other bloggers. 

It *seems* like for every three women who go to a conference and LEGITIMATELY get something out of it outside of self proclaimed “me time”, and attend the panels and discussions, there is one who only goes for shoe competition (I call it this because there are no end of posts, pre-conference where women are crying over which shoes to take) swag, free booze, and the schoomzing. Unfortunately, it’s this one blogger who make the rest look bad and give off the impression that these conferences are little more than how Joanne Bamberger characterized them – working mothers (and the non-working too- my own opinion) using conferences as vacations from their families. 

Is this why I don’t go to conferences? No. I don’t go because of social anxiety issues that render me unable to function in large groups of people. I’d genuinely like to go to a conference because I think there are a few out there that genuinely have something to offer someone like me. At the end of the day though, I bet I don’t have a single pair of shoes that would be OK to wear to a mommy-blogging conference.

It’s strange to me that we Mom Bloggers spend so much time branding ourselves as mothers and then lose it when our motherhood is acknowledged.

31 thoughts on “The Innate Hazard of Leading With Your Womb”

    1. There’s a difference between “acknowledged” and “taken as the entirety of her identity.”
      I take great pride in being my daughter’s mother. But I take great offense when someone suggests that having a child somehow not only made me lose all of my interests, knowledge, and skills that didn’t relate to parenting – but that it also suddenly made me a carbon-copy of whatever their idea of “mommy” is.
      Becoming a dad didn’t suddenly make my husband an archetype, so why should becoming a mom make me one?

  1. What happens at a conference stays at the conference. Of course that is no longer the case. A conference is what you make of it. It can be boozing all night. Or attending potentially boring sessions all day. Or meetings and business deals. Everything else is just a bunch of people spreading rumors (about the boozing and business deals).

  2. As with any event, people go to these things for different reasons. I almost always get something substantial – beyond new ‘friends’ or a hangover – out of blogging conferences. Sometimes its a new or better relationship with a brand. Sometimes its practical info that helps streamline my blogging processes. Sometimes its a sense of community or the rare feeling that I have “coworkers.” Usually it’s a mixture of all these. The parties and downtime can be fun too, but I certainly won’t be stressing about the outfits I pack and neither will the few people I know going to Mom 2.0!

  3. More and more I’ve been asking myself why I even read mommy blogs since I’m well past that phase in life. Problem is there doesn’t seem to be any “pre-empty nester, middle age, married half your life, what happens now” blogs out there.

    1. Give me 5 years and I’ll be right there with you!

      We’re approaching our 16th anniversary and someone on twitter just asked me if he “put a ring on it”… if I was a tree how many rings would I have?

      1. Ahhh, Year 16, I remember it well. That’s the year my husband actually LOST my rings… and cookbooks! Unforgivable. lol

      1. Right?! I don’t want to be alone through this. I have a blog with “how-to” in the title, thinking about changing subtitle to “how to survive the pre-empty nester, middle age, married half your life, what happens now phase without really trying” but first I need a nap. ;)

      1. I’ll wait. I imagine my blog covering topics like, Style: Oh, that would have looked so cute on me in my 20’s; Beauty: Ah, I can go another week without plucking my eyebrows… thank you bangs; Health: Always Start a Diet on Monday… what day is it, again?; Family: Who Are YOU People!? Marriage: Hey, are you asleep or are you just “thinking” with your eyes closed and breathing loud.

  4. my other uterus is a deathstar

    Kinda seems like a troll attempt, like WSJ is just trying to stir up sh*t… I think nerdmom nailed it. I have never heard of these conferences, I don’t know what they are. What I do know, is that if I go out there’s a good chance I might engage in dancing, drinking and may even smoke a cigarette. When I am with my kids, I am a mom and conduct myself accordingly. As long as we are all doing our jobs as parents, we don’t need to apologize to any person or newspaper.

  5. I haven’t attended any of the “Mommy” conferences, but I started, ran and sold a Mom-centric company. I have been to conferences. The ones I show up too, are usually stacked full of men, getting their drink on, hanging out and scoping the scene. It goes both ways. The last conference I was at, I was asked to bring someone a drink…

    I have been around for awhile, and when these conferences pop up, it is a little annoying to hear about the strife around what people are going to wear and who wants to share a hotel room. Its old. Yes, there is industry around “Moms.” We are powerful. That is great.

    We should probably take Mom out of the tagline – and just be who we are. It is also, disturbing, we are still calling ourselves “Women Entrepreneurs?” Really? No, I am an Entrepreneur. I am a Mom. I am a Wife. I am a Woman.

    I don’t identify in business, as any of these.

    I spend less time on Twitter these days, so I do miss seeing your posts Jessica. Thanks for this.

    We need to evolve.

  6. As usual, you made me think Jessica. I’m torn – I rebranded myself when I realized that having the name “GeekMommy” associated with my work allowed people to dismiss what I actually *do* and know as being related to the status of my offspring rather than my blog ID reflecting my 2 greatest passions.
    I will say that the BlogHer of today doesn’t much resemble the first one I went to in 2008… at which point the brands were just starting to realize the value of being able to connect with those women.
    But that’s not necessarily a bad thing… because the thrust of *any* conference of this nature (mom blog oriented, industry-specific, or organizational) is two-fold: 1) exchange and gain knowledge and skills relating to that profession, and 2) get all of those people in one place at one time for face-to-face bonding, networking, and socializing. That corporate sponsors have known for years that it’s also an opportunity for them to connect with those people at the same time? Well, it’s not exactly rocket science, is it?

    I look forward to seeing what you think of Mom 2.0 this year. I’ve never been to it, despite knowing a number of the founders and having heard nothing but positive feedback from others I respect.

    I don’t envy you the exhaustion though. One of the things the article managed not to convey was that the hours and energy expended at these conferences are considerably more than ‘vacation time’ would use. While 20-something-me would probably think ‘party with an open bar in a night club’ sounded like a great perk? 40-something-me just keeps thinking it would be nice to sleep after a 10 hour long conference day and dinner instead of being “on” and social and getting less than 8 hours of sleep at night.

    I’ve re-read the WSJ article a few times. From one perspective? It’s clearly just a “Wow! Look how clever these marketers are to have figured out how to reach these women by giving them an excuse to travel!” article. From another? It’s an inaccurate portrayal of the events, attendees, and reasons for participating that was achieved by taking quotes out of context.

    It’s just disheartening that the word “mom” seems to conjure an image of non-professional woman rather than someone who has added ‘creates &/or raises children’ to her resume. Like thinking of a character from “Animal House” as representative of the college experience rather than the reality.

  7. I didn’t read the WSJ piece, but I attended Mom 2.0 last year and felt it was the first conference I’ve been to that wasn’t mostly a waste of time. I loved all the panels and sessions and I learned a lot. I’m eagerly attending again this year and expecting more great content. I will also be wearing cute shoes.

  8. I attend a lot of women conferences (some called blogger conferences or mom blogger conferences) as a speaker. I’m a tech professional and small business owner. I blog. I’m a mom, but never considered a ‘mom blogger’. I took strong offense to the WSJ article. I attend a great number of other industry conferences as a speaker and see MUCH more craziness going on than I do in the mom blogger space, it’s just that it usually involves activities that the attendees do NOT want up on Flickr. Ladies at a bar with bright colored drinks is so tame comparatively it’s not even funny.

  9. I found the accompanying cartoon the most offensive, especially the upper left corner where mommy is sleeping in and the “kids are someone else’s problem”.

    Sad I’ll miss you at Mom 2.0. It’s my favorite conference, but we have some family obligations that weekend.

  10. I read the piece. I guess my issue with it was how it was spun. Instead of characterizing conferences as a place where women who are networking, learning, and MAYBE having a little fun on the side, it was instead spun as a lie to husbands/partners to get out and have a freebie girl’s weekend. (Although, not free. Which is why I’ve only been to one single one-day conference.)

    The label is less irritating to me as the entire slant. I mean, the lede (lead?) was, “Katherine Stone wants to leave her husband and kids.” (Or some such thing.) That’s just flat out crappy journalism. It smacked of condescension through and through. So what if the women have fun? They learn stuff too. They empower themselves. They network. They drive business, which helps drive an economy that is still hobbling along. THAT is a more appropriate slant. The label is meaningless to me, personally. I mean, I AM a mommy. The term ‘mommy’ is in my URL, for pete’s sake. But I’m also a bunch of other stuff, too, and so are the women who attend conferences. The way the piece read, it was, “drunk-fest with a side of hotel coffee.”

  11. I’ll be at Mom 2.0. It’s my 2nd conference ever. I’m excited about meeting bloggers that I’ve been following IRL. I could care less about parties (I’m really just afraid I’ll be in one of those photos with a lampshade on my head), but lord knows I will have a glass of wine at the end of the day with a few gals and then probably go to my room for peace and quiet. I haven’t even thought yet about clothes or shoes. Ideally cute and comfortable will rule the day and I won’t do anything to embarrass myself. Hope to see you there Jessica!

  12. What drives me crazy is the patronizing feel of articles like this, like mommy has a cute hobby. Never mind the ridiculous graphic.

    That being said, I feel like this has become such a predictable cycle: Reputable news source writes condescending, insulting article about
    mommy’s fun hobby, mom bloggers get infuriated, make the article go
    viral, demand to be taken seriously….and repeat.

    It’s like my obnoxious little brother, stop reacting to him and he’ll stop poking at you. You speak a lot of truth here!

  13. While I wholeheartedly agree that putting “Mom” in front of everything is a problem that we started, this is about so much more than being referred to as Mom-realted. It’s about condescending an entire industry, many of whom do NOT refer to themselves with Mom in their job titles. There’s a way to acknowledge Katherine Stone and the other women highlighted as Mothers without making it seem like they’re being foolish and frivolous. I guess the POTUS and Katie Couric speaking at last year’s BlogHer wasn’t as newsworthy as this coming year’s Instagram session. And as a small aside, I’ve never heard Katherine Stone refer to herself as a Mommyblogger once. She’s an advocate for women’s mental health and the way WSJ portrayed her was shameful.

  14. After reading the WSJ article again, plus many of the reactions to it, I’ve come to this conclusion: who cares?! If moms are going to conference to have fun and get away, great. If they’re going for content, great. I don’t get why moms are bothered by being called out for any of the things in the WSJ article. It all seems legit to me!

  15. fearlessformulafeeder

    Jessica, I LOVE you. I mean, I knew that I loved you from some of your other posts, but I REALLY love you now.

    As someone who has been to both business and blogging conferences, and who has been to blogging conferences both as a parenting blogger and a vendor, I think there’s something we all need to admit: our conferences are a big sorority party. I personally don’t like them b/c I’m not in the sorority (I always disliked sororities), and I have no interest in going to parties and wearing hats with penises on my head. When I go to conferences, I’m there to network and to learn, b/c why else would I be shelling over my hard-earned dough?

    Then again, I don’t make money from blogging, I make money from my day job, so I suppose it’s easier to justify these conferences if you actually are treating your blog as a business – which is exactly my point. I think the problem with the WSJ article and the corresponding fallout is that people like Cecily and Katherine are professional bloggers. When Katherine attends a conference, she is typically SPEAKING there. She is there as an expert, or as a celebrity if you will, and there’s nothing recreational about it. She’s working.

    Also, Katherine is not a “mommy blogger”. She does more than blog, she runs a group that saves women every day. She’s not doing product reviews and sponsored posts. So the WSJ should never have used her as an example. But the fact remains that most of the people who attend the parenting blogging conferences are making money off of their daily observations about motherhood.

    I think there is truth in what WSJ reported, but unfortunately they didn’t know the culture enough to realize there is a big distinction between an issue-based blogger like Katherine who is attending these conferences for very specific and professional reasons.

    To be fair, business conferences have just as much debauchery and randomness, but I don’t think they have the same degree of exclusion; there is no “popular crowd” at a car parts convention, for example. The high-school-like atmosphere of some of these conferences, with invite-only parties and the like, lends itself to the type of ridicule the WSJ engaged in. I’m sure I’ll get ripped a new one for saying this, but whatever. I’m already ousted from the sorority.

  16. The overreaction to the WSJ article is so typical and so frustrating. For one, the article itself is linkbait the way its written. All the foaming at the mouth over its content was predictable and played right into the hands of the content creators. I’ve been blogging for five or six years, but not as my primary source of income (or *any* income, really — my blogher ads make enough some years for my hosting fees). I have not attended a blogging conference, I’d rather spend my money on my horses.

    I’ve been in the transportation industry since the late 80’s. I’ve attended numerous conferences and trade shows and made many business trips to potential and existing customer accounts. You see the same thing there that I gather you would see at the blogging conferences with the difference being more people in my industry for a long time were men. Some folks go to trade shows or conferences and attend seminars and workshops, others go to meet people in their industry, but almost all of them party it up like serious business the entire time. Nobody’s writing articles about how the Boston Seafood Show and how the fish traders, mostly men, spend the night in the bar trying to get in the sack with the female attendees. Fifteen years ago I would be one of an extremely small percentage of females at these events and half the guys would treat you like you were there simply for them to grope and hit on. I have read post-blogging-conference recaps that indicate to me that there are at least as many bloggers engaging in this kind of behavior — but I’ve also read recaps from people who’ve been more oriented toward networking and learning. Why can’t people be honest about their reasons for attending? If you’re there to party? So what? Own that. You’re entitled to a free weekend every once in a while. If you’re there to work? Good for you. I hope you get a chance to enjoy yourself and relax too. Take the chance to have a little fun, why not?

    Truth is, as a mother I have often enjoyed the respite of a business trip. Its nice to order room service and read my book and have a nice glass of wine away from the cacophony of home. Its nice to connect with business acquaintances I haven’t seen in a while or to get in touch with friends who happen to live in the city I’m visiting and plan to go out with them. If anyone at all wants to point out that I enjoy that, I can’t be bothered to take offense at it. Its a couple of trips a year – at best a few days altogether – and I do enjoy the break.

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