Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Feminism and the freelancing mother

When her book, The Black Widow Agency, got a questionable Kirkus review that referred to it as a "bitch-a-thon," author Felicia Donovan got proactive: she spearheaded the Bitch-a-Thon, a way to help women in need. “When a reviewer, especially a reviewer from a major publication critiques a book, it should stay professional,” she wrote. “Attack me professionally. Keep it at that level. Don’t gripe because you can’t handle a story about four strong women who join forces to take on a male-owned business that allows blatant sexual harassment of its female employees.”

Her experience got me thinking about my past six years as a working woman--specifically, a working mother. In general, I try not to disclose that I have children. It’s not really anyone’s business; I would simply say, “Between 1 and 3 are best,” without saying that it was my son’s naptime.

However. It does seem to come up more often than not, often when I’ve tried to schedule something that turns out to conflict with my children’s schedules. People do tend to wonder why, if you work at home, you’re not available all day every day. You don’t have meetings. You get to schedule your writing time with no boss to argue. So if you say you’re unavailable, what does that mean? You’re goofing off when their time is so much harder to come by?

Well, no. I have these kids, see....

Most people are great, very understanding. That said, I must say that I’ve had better responses from men than from women.

Women aren’t rude when I say I have children whose needs come first, but they’re a lot less likely to have a conversation with me about kids and scheduling and work vs. family. No joke--mentioning my kids to a guy is an instant ice-breaker, while I’m always afraid that mentioning them to a woman will make my job harder.

Why would this be? We’re all working women. Many have children of their own. Are my office counterparts afraid their bosses will overhear them talking about their kids (even if it’s in the name of forming a relationship with a member of the media)? Are they jealous that I get to stay home with my kids and they don’t? Are they fearful that I look down on them for working in the office instead of at home?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had great conversations with marketing and PR professionals who do manage to telecommute, or who wish they could work at home, or have quit to start freelancing full-time. But I usually wait for them to broach the topic. I have fears that mirror the ones I mentioned—that some poor mom will think those things, or will have the same outlook toward me.

Or maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe it's just a taboo I wasn't aware of, one that many women think they have to perpetuate. But as my friend PT-LawMom notes, "Part of me thinks, hey, if my colleagues don’t want to hear about my kid, screw them! If my male coworker can say, 'I’ve got to leave early to coach little league' and everyone thinks he’s a big hero, why should the bar be any higher for me?"

It’s sad, really. And much more complicated than the standard men-are-pigs or feminists-are-bitches arguments. Whether mothers and fathers get to spend more time with their children appears to be primarily up to the employer, as well as the individual and his or her needs and yes, preferences. For me, then, my current policy of letting the client decide the discussion is probably best for me... along with my signature on MomsRising petitions, which will hopefully lead to better working conditions for all my working client-parents.

Oh, and my own purchase of The Black Widow Club. Folks, if someone you know would enjoy this, buy them a copy for Christmas. It's a good read and will help support a worthy cause - women not unlike ourselves.


Anonymous PT-LawMom said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Christa. I hadn't heard of this book and will definitely purchase a copy.

I have had similar experiences with women and I wonder what it is that makes us judge each other rather than doing everything possible to promote advancement, workplace flexibility and family-friendly environments. It's almost like, "I had to suffer, so now so should you." Ridiculous!

28/11/07 10:01 PM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

I swear people who think you should have to share in the suffering think it's some rite of passage. Why?? Does it really hurt to have some compassion, try to make the road easier for those who follow? Sheesh.

3/12/07 9:32 PM  
Blogger S. Joanna said...


I find myself always weighing whether I should tell clients about my kids - or of scheduling conflicts because of them. Sometimes I do - if they have kids and it seems OK. But I don't want to come off as unprofessional. Most of the time, I just say when I'm free -- not that it's when the sitter is here. I let them think I'm just uber busy and that's when I can squeeze them in. ;) Ha.

But when the kids are sick and my work schedule is totally blown away...sometimes I confess this to clients. Sometimes I don't. It's hard. And it shouldn't be.

6/12/07 5:48 PM  

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