Media Stories

Mothers Unite Online to Flex Political Muscle

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Becoming a mom meant being taken less seriously in political circles, says Joanne Bamberger in her book "Mothers of Intention." But the Internet has given mothers another outlet to share their political voice.




mom blogger

Credit: Stefan 1981 on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)--Mothers are political. If you don't think that's true, think again.

When children become part of our lives, we're committed to making the world a better place for them as they grow up. But we live in a culture where mothers often are undervalued and overlooked, so many people assume that once we have children, thoughts of anything unrelated to the care and feeding of kids flees our minds, our political thoughts and goals dismissed. As a result, it's often difficult for women with children to be considered serious political actors. In the age of the "mommy wars," mothers' opinions frequently are viewed as somehow less worthy of consideration than those of so-called experts, or even of women who don't self-identify as mothers.

The good news for mothers is this--the advent of the online world of the blogosphere and social media is changing that forever.

A commonly shared story among women is that when we become mothers, people stop listening to us at cocktail parties. Even if we were the neighborhood's most interesting girls in our pre-motherhood days with a life full of personal and professional accomplishments who made the best small talk in town, many of us discovered that when we brought up the topic of our children, we'd get tuned out by those who assumed we'd chat about nothing but potty training, pre-school and playgrounds. Often people make the assumption that with the birth or adoption of a child, interesting things get sucked from women's brains, replaced only by the mundane.

'Less Smart'

I didn't believe it until I lived it and clearly remember my thought bubble the first time it happened--"You really think I'm less smart or interesting now that I'm a mother?!" For 20-plus years as a working professional, I always had an answer to the opening party question, "What do you do?" People seemed interested--at least after a glass of wine or an apple martini--in what I, as a journalist, lawyer or deputy director of a federal agency public affairs office, had to say. How in the world could that change overnight just because I became a mother? I still had my experience and my education. I saw the headlines of the newspapers and caught enough cable news to discuss more than diapers and teething. And I was, on most days, still able to put together a coherent sentence.

But I learned that it didn't matter. The same types of people who had been happy enough to chat with me about politics, current events or any of a million other topics, were no longer interested in hearing what I had to say. The first time I replied to the "what-do-you-do" question with information about having returned from China after adopting our wonderful daughter and said that I was taking time off from the workplace, eyes glazed over in that semi-polite "I-need-another-cocktail" way before I could even mention the nice title of my previous job.

The "M" word had caused me to become irrelevant.

I also came to the realization that cocktail parties aren't the only venue where mothers' voices and opinions are dismissed. The worlds of work, pop culture, movies and politics do their fair share to keep us boxed into an outdated vision of American motherhood, one that portrays us as forsaking our education and intellect at the altar of opt-out motherhood.

Carving Out Online Space

But myriad numbers of women not only are carving out their own spaces on blogs and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, but they are also the majority users of those venues. The relatively new tools in the online world are built on networking and developing communities, skills that women cultivate every day in their personal and professional lives. So, figuratively, the online world was made for women. Now, no matter what others choose to call us or whether they call on us as political analysts or commentators on current events, women can and are becoming politically empowered as a direct result of the new media opportunities that have far fewer barriers to entry than in traditional media.

Even with increasing types of platforms in the brave new world of social media, like blogs, micro-blogs and fan pages, women who self-identify as mothers and who embrace political views informed by their parental status still face the challenge of being heard in a sea of over 150 million blogs. In the world of pundits and politicos, unless one is affiliated with an established group political site like Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Real Clear Politics, Talking Points Memo or Red State, it's difficult to break through the din to becoming political influencers.

Gaining Confidence

Fortunately, more and more women, especially mothers, have started using their existing online spaces--the so-called "mom blogs"--and the confidence they've gained through the influence they have earned in those spaces, to flex their political muscles. Increasing numbers of mothers online are embracing the newfound courage that's developed from writing about their lives and families to speak out for causes, social issues and candidates they believe in, moving from writing about their beliefs at personal blogs to creating their own online political communities and joining established networks that already reach millions of readers.

Political leaders and officials are seeking us out--we're being invited to the White House and we're being asked to participate in meetings and conference calls with national leaders like consumer finance watchdog Elizabeth Warren, presidential advisors David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, and many others. Mothers who have found their activist voices online are being asked to speak at political conferences and, occasionally, have been added to the ranks of cable news analysts to talk about topics ranging from Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy to Supreme Court nominees to election night coverage.

Women are on the cutting edge of social media and the odds are that the majority of those women are mothers. From Twitter to Facebook to MySpace to blogs, women are leading the way in online presence and influence. It's easy to see that connecting online can lead to connecting politically in the real world--women are finding common communities in the Internet world to create a true motherhood political movement that was hard to identify just a few years ago.

From "Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America" by Joanne Bamberger (Bright Sky Press).

Joanne Bamberger, the author of "Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America," is also the founder of the political websites PunditMom and The Broad Side. A new media expert and authority on the political involvement of women and mothers, Bamberger contributes political commentary and analysis to a variety of outlets, including MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, XM Radio POTUS and more. She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and was a regular contributor to AOL's Politics Daily. Find out more about Bamberger and her writing and consulting services at her site joannebamberger.com. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

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