Mama w/ Pen

We’ve teamed up!  Deborah Siegel (a.k.a. Mama w/ Pen and our very own Girl w/ Pen founder) and I have collaborated on an OpEd on Elisabeth Badinter’s new book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.  We agree with some of her arguments, but take issue with others.  Our call?  Let’s move past all the mommy wars and focus on the real needs of U.S. mothers.  Read more over at

On a personal note, I cannot think of anything I have done this past year that has been as gratifying as working with Deborah on this piece.  Two is definitely better than one!


THIS SUNDAY, MAY 13, 2012 — Mother’s Day in the United States — women everywhere will simultaneously post this letter to their blogs, websites and Facebook pages, to honor the work of Mothers around the world.

YOU ARE INVITED TO ADD YOUR VOICE. To join our Mother’s Day Blog-In simply,

1. Copy & paste this letter on your blog, Facebook or Google+ page.

2. Add your name and links to your site, work or organization in the comments at

3. Tweet, share and post the link to your letter using the hashtag #MothersSpeakOut

We also invite all mothers to post a comment or image about their authentic, true reality as a mother — ones that they don’t often see reflected in the mainstream media.

* * * * * * *

Together, Mothers Are Powerful.

Last month’s furor over the remarks of political pundits and candidate’s wives launched a flurry of conversation among mothers.

Mothers have a voice of their own to add to the discussion. Authors, activists and others have been writing and identifying the issues raised this political season for decades, and women have been listening, again and again.

It’s time for mothers’ own voices to be heard.

We are a bi-partisan coalition of women’s organizations, experts, and writers who have diligently worked on bringing mother’s issues into the mainstream political discussion.

Some of us are advocates, and some are community organizations. Many of us are authors and experts about mothers’ lives as well.  All of us recognize the value of a mother’s contribution to her family, both the paid and unpaid work that women do.

Our message is simple: all mothers need more support.

This Mother’s Day we want to get the word out about our ideas, our work, and our priorities. We offer the following list to provide resources for real information and places for women to gather for intelligent discourse on the many problems — and solutions — to the issues facing mothers and families.

We offer this list as an alternative to the tired and cliched coverage of mothers in the mainstream media.

Please join your voice with ours this Mother’s Day. Together, Mothers are powerful.

* * * * *


Author, The Price of Motherhood

Co-founder “MOTHER: Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights”


Past President, Mothers & More


I’m thrilled to bring you this guest post from the co-directors of a poignant new film about impending, ambivalent motherhood that opens this Friday.  Spread the word! – Deborah

Greetings – we are Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson, guest bloggers for Mama w/Pen. We’re here because our film, SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS opens Friday, May 11 in New York City, then moves on to over ten cities nationwide. It’s a story about technology and self-expression, love and major life changes. Here’s the synopsis:

When technophile Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman) becomes pregnant, her uncertainties about motherhood trigger an impulsive road trip to the source of her anxiety: her long-estranged mother living far away and off-the-grid.

So, yes, our movie features a female tech-head protagonist, and that choice often has us thinking about gender and technology. The New Yorker this week features an article on youth hacker George Hotz, who at 17 was the first person to decode an iphone in order to use his existing data plan. George describes hacking as such to New Yorker writer David Kushner:

“It’s a testosterone thing,” he told me. “It’s competitiveness, but it isn’t necessarily competitiveness with other people. It’s you versus the system. And I don’t mean the system like the government thing, I mean the system like the computer. ‘I’m going to stick it to the computer. I’m going to make it do this!’ And the computer throws up an error like ‘No, I’m not going to do this.’ It’s really a male thing to say, ‘I’m going to make you do this!’ ” (“George Hotz, Sony, and the Anonymous Hacker Wars” by David Kushner, May 7, 2012.)

Is “I’m going to make you do this!” really, um, exclusively male? Granted this is one statement by one individual, but it’s reflective of an idea that’s clearly permeating our culture: that technology is more or less for the boys.

And on to film directing ….

In 2004 The New York Times ran an article by Nancy Hass that praised the number of women working in Hollywood as producers but included a sidebar about women directors that expressed some surprising assumptions. (“Hollywood’s New Old Girls’ Network” by Nancy Hass, April 24, 2005.)

The Dean of USC Film School, Elizabeth Daley, said this to Nancy Hass:

“There are talented girls who want to do this, but so far they haven’t done what the boys do – band together and sacrifice everything to make a small film,” she said. “It’s those films that eventually find their way into the hands of studio executives looking for the next hot young thing.”

And there’s more:

“Young women are less likely to get support, both financial and emotional, from their parents,” Ms. Daley added. “In my experience, parents of girls aren’t as eager to give them their life savings to make a movie,” she said.

A former studio head, who did not give her name in order to protect relationships, said: “The fact is that to be a director you have to be unbelievably ruthless…. They have a cold streak that most women I know don’t have and don’t want to have. They are both artist and commander, and they have a maniacal vision that precludes them from caring about anything but the film.”

Apologies, but denying all women the right to a natural-born cold streak, a maniacal spirit and the right to be, well, bossy – “I’M GOING TO MAKE YOU DO THIS!” — is only relevant if we allow these ridiculous stereotypes to continue to circulate.

Hack female style! And direct movies. We went to a film school wherein half of the class was female – and those women brought to their craft everything unique about themselves, and certainly got their movies made. Filmmaking is as varied in methodology as are the stories that any one individual wants to tell. Our story is about a woman and her love of machines … and how she comes undone in a transition toward parenthood. Watch the trailer here – and hope to see you opening weekend at Cinema Village!

—Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson, co-directors


Crossposted at The Pink and Blue Diaries.

I honestly think parents judge each other too much. So far be it for me to judge the expectant parents in yesterday’s New York Times article, “A Boy or a Girl? Cut the Cake”. But let’s just say, as a researcher, if I were going to judge the concept of a gender-reveal party, here are 5 things I might say:

1. The stat in the article regarding the percentage of people who find out the sex of their fetus through amnio or ultrasound is at odds with other stats I’ve read. The percentage is more like up to 80, not 50.

2. Gender – and therefore gender stereotyping – begins in utero. How do we know? Because in 1986, around the time that amniocentesis first allowed pregnant women to find out fetal sex, sociologist Barbara Katz Rothman asked 120 pregnant women to describe the movements of their fetuses. “Women who’d learned they were having a girl gave answers such as ‘very gentle, slow, more rolling it seemed than kicking,’ ‘moderate, reassuring but not violent,’ ‘quiet in the mornings and afternoons,’ ‘lively but not excessively energetic.’ Mothers who knew they were carrying a boy described ‘many somersaults and very vigorous movements,’ ‘rolling from side to side and little kicks and punches up and down,’ ‘a constant jabbing under my ribcage,’ and ‘a saga of earthquakes.’ Tellingly, the responses of women who did not find out the sex of their fetus showed no such stereotypical patterns.” (Lots more about this in Annie Murphy Paul’s meaty chapter on sex and sex selection in Origins)

3. This story about gender-reveal parties is the antithesis of last year’s stories about Pop and Storm – kids whose parents didn’t divulge their child’s sex, for months after they were born. I wonder what that says about us as a culture, or a zeitgeist, in terms of how we feel about young children and gender.  Thesis, antithesis, anyone?

4. I realize that finding out the sex is a threshold moment. It’s the thing that makes a pregnancy feel real. Sex transforms a fetus from an abstract “it” into a specific “he” or “she.” But don’t most enlightened parents these days act with shock and glee regardless of which sex is announced? So why all the fuss?

5. Shouldn’t we be a tad more concerned with “Who will it be?” than “What will it be?” in the end?  I’m mean, if I’m going to get all lofty about it and all.  And why, for that matter, are these called “gender-reveal” parties and not “sex-reveal” parties, which is what they actually are?

Lastly, a personal story:

When I was mentally preparing for the great reveal, lying on the table waiting for my ultrasound at week 20, I thought back to my grandmother who was pregnant with my mom and her twin sister back in 1941. Grandma Pearl, an orthodox Jew, assumed she was carrying boys—or, rather a boy. She didn’t even know she was carrying twins until the doctor suspected a second heartbeat in the seventh month and ordered an X-ray. My grandparents didn’t bother picking out girl names. Their sons would be David and Jonathan. When David and Jonathan turned out to be baby girls, my grandparents ended up naming them after two Catholic nuns who took care of my grandmother on the maternity floor: Sister Rita and Sister Renee.

I’m not sure what all this means, but I find it damn funny somehow. I mean come on, it was an act of irony destined to make even a stern Old Testament God crack a smile.

PS. Did anyone else find the photo below incredibly creepy?

I’m SO late to the table on this one (as usual these days) but hey, I’m still a mama with a pen.  And I couldn’t refrain from weighing in.

Every few years, the question—“who’s the next Gloria Steinem?”—seems to recycle itself in the mainstream media.  But it’s media, and not the women’s movement, that abhors a vacuum.

In “Gloria Steinem, a Woman Like No Other” (New York Times, March 18), Sarah Hepola is at it again.  The piece, while thoughtful in many regards, has a logic problem. Feminism is a living, breathing movement, always in evolution.  To name a sole leader now is like trying to push a tree back into a seed.  I’m pretty sure Gloria–a reluctant spokesperson herself, famously anointed by a media hungry for stars–would agree.

Hepola is right to note a lack of a singular voice, or face, today.  But there has never been unity in the women’s movement, and look what feminists have accomplished.  To be sure,  “two feminists, three opinions” might not be the most effective formula for a movement intended, among other things, to effect legislative change.  Still, feminism has since become, for many, as much culture as cause.  That signifies progress, you could say.

Yet progress, more generally, seems to be what’s really at issue.  Perhaps more compelling than the question of the movement’s public face is one more fundamental: Have we come a long way, baby, or just maybe?  It’s a question I find myself pondering daily.

As the Times article rightly points out, the Komen kerfuffle and Limbaugh’s most recent slur are simply the latest in a steady stream of events demonstrating the need for continued vigilance and response on the part of those who care about women’s health and well being, not to mention advancement.  For better or worse, the questions our feminist foremothers asked are ones younger women are asking still.

In my opinion, we need more focus on the unfinished work of feminism–for there is so much left undone–and less on the question of the movement’s brightest star.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for The Forward titled “Occupy (Working) Motherhood, Anyone?“, which generated a, shall we say, interesting comment.  The post began like this:

Susan B. Anthony was born 192 years ago today; we share a birthday. I am 43. The late great suffragist once said: “Our job is not to make young women grateful. It’s to make them ungrateful so they keep going.” Much of my Jewish practice these days is about gratitude. But in light of our shared birthday this week, I’ve decided to dwell on some serious ingratitude.

I grew up in the 1970s listening to “Free to Be You and Me,” and singing joyfully that “Mommies Are People.” Who would have guessed, now that I’m one of those people, that the dilemmas my own working mother struggled with would become mine? In middle school, when I’d call home sick my mom would try to talk me into returning to class, so that she wouldn’t have to leave work or find a sitter. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’d do, too….

The post ends with the following birthday wishes:

1). Affordable quality childcare, paired with a change in the cultural expectation that women’s careers are expendable. That ingratitude is owed to President Nixon, who vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Bill. That piece of legislation would have provided a multibillion-dollar national daycare system that would have circumvented much of our struggle.

2). Workplace structures and a society transformed to allow for the fact that workers have families, too. Though we’ve made progress, we’ve still got a ways to go. Ingratitude to employers who put paternity on the books but support a culture that makes The Daddy Track anathema to all but the bravest men. And why does it have to be a track, after all? Haven’t we learned that the women who opt out eventually, in various ways, opt back in?

3). A future so bright on the work/life satisfaction front that neither my daughter nor my son will have to write this kind of post.

(You can read the full post here.)

The comment in question was in response to the wish for more affordable (meaning, yes, subsidized) childcare.  It went like this:

“By ‘affordable,’ I assume you mean ‘subsidized by others outside my family.’ Thanks, I’m spending enough on my own kids (and my wife chooses not to work outside the home) without having to subsidize your parenting choices.” -morganfrost

Now, there’s nothing I appreciate more than when, just as I’m considering a response, the perfect retort pops up in my Inbox.  In this case, a number of folks emailed me comments directly, though they experienced technical trouble posting them on The Forward’s site. Here’s what some of them said:

“‘Affordable’ means ‘subsidized by all of us.’  We need to have a society where people can have children AND careers without having to face too many impossible choices.  My career isn’t optional–it’s what pays the bills in my family.  The same is true for my husband’s career.  So we must have childcare, and we’d prefer that it be quality childcare, because our child–like EVERY child–deserves to be well cared for.  This should be a value that our entire country embraces and will help to support.” -Alison Piepmeier

“Susan B. Anthony did her job well. I’m glad you make the point that childcare should be subtracted from parental income, not maternal income, one of my pet peeves.  what matters most in a relationship, I think, is not necessarily that domestic/parental tasks be divided evenly but that each partner respect the other’s contributions, whatever form they take.  That’s harder in a society that, for all its talk of ‘family values,’ makes childcare the responsibility of individual familes.@morganfrost, relax. We’d like fewer predator drones and bank bailouts, not a crack at your piggybank. And keep in mind that your wife has a choice that many do not.” -Ashton Applewhite


And hey, morganfrost’s comment also inspired a wonderful post by Cali Yost over at Forbes, titled “Think You Don’t Benefit Directly from Childcare? ‘WIIFMs’ That Will Change Your Mind”.

So thank you, morganfrost.  You inspired some great stuff.

And thanks Alison, Ashton, and Cali.  I get by with a little help from my friends.

Note: This post originally here on, a new site offering “a Jewish twist on parenting, everything a Jewish family could need for raising Jewish children–including crafts, recipes, activities, Hebrew and Jewish names for babies…and advice from Mayim Bialik.”  We reprint it today, a few days later, in honor of Labor Day!

Sept 1, 2011

For those not in the know (and until yesterday, I counted myself among you), today marks the first day of a new month on the Jewish calendar: Elul.

The morning begins like any other: our toddler twins wake up screaming, I change diapers, prepare breakfast, play with them, get them dressed, call my parents so that they’ll Skype with them while I shower and give me time to actually wash my hair.  As I get the computer ready and open the door to the bedroom, wherein our linen closet lies, to find a towel, I realize that this morning is not like all others.  It’s the first of Elul.

I enter the bedroom and find my husband Marco wrapped in the tallis my parents bought him for our wedding, and my father’s tefillin (phylacteries).  Two Judaic reference books lay open on our bed, illuminated by the glow of his iPad, which is on.  It’s his first time laying tefillin, and he’s trying to follow the rules.

I’ve come in to hustle him into the shower—I need to get ready before the babysitter arrives so I can start my workday on time, he needs to shower first and get out the door!  But seeing him dressed in the regalia of full Judaic manhood stops me in my tracks.

“Oh—I’m sorry,” I murmur, slightly embarrassed that I’ve walked in on him this way.

He looks up from the texts.  I notice a YouTube video streaming on the iPad: How to Lay Tefillin. “This is going to take some time,” he says.

I restore his privacy by closing the door.

In the Hebrew calendar, Elul is the twelfth month of the year.  In Jewish tradition, it’s a month of repentance and preparation for the biggest holidays of the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  The word “Elul” is similar to the root of the verb “search” in Aramaic.  According to the Talmud, the Hebrew word “Elul” is an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li” which means “I am to my Beloved as my Beloved is to me” – a line often recited at Jewish weddings.  In this case, the Beloved is G-d.  Put it all together and during this month of Elul, we’re supposed to search our hearts and draw close to G-d in preparation for the big holidays, on which we are judged and atone.

I’m moved by Marco’s embrace of the rituals.  Just one Elul ago, he dipped in the Upper West Side mikvah in the presence of three rabbis and officially became a Jew.  His becoming a Jew is the most romantic thing I’ve ever encountered, on so many levels.  He did it so that we could raise our boos as Jews and he would know what to do.

But on this particular morning, this first morning of Elul, I’m cranky.  Either I didn’t get enough sleep, or the sleep I got was interrupted, I’m not sure.  After Marco emerges from the bedroom, I’m still compulsively pestering him to hurry.  I can’t seem to stop myself, even though I’m aware, now, that this day is special for him.  But it’s also now become stressful for him: Since the time spent on davening conflicted with his getting ready for work, he’s made himself late.  He already feels rushed so he lashes out at me, a rare occurrence.  I breathe tightly and murmur “f*ck you too,” under my breath.

“F*ck you too,” echoes a sweet little voice.  Baby Girl.   My crankiness breaks and I walk into the bathroom, where Marco is now showering, to share.

My Beloved and I share a chuckle.  We remind ourselves how careful we have to be with our words around here these days.

And how careful, I’m reminded, we should be with each others’ hearts, too.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“I know,” he says.

He tells me how Baby Boy had spotted him from the hallway when he was busy donning the tallis and tefillin, and laughed.  “I think he thought it was funny,” Marco says.

“He’s not used to seeing you that way,” I say.  “Or maybe he thought it was Hallowe’en.”

Frankly, I can relate.  I’m not used to seeing my mod, handsome Puerto Rican husband wrapped in the accoutrements of a traditional Jew.  When he first told me he was interested in learning how to lay tefillin, I rolled my eyes.  We’re not Orthodox; we don’t keep kosher; Marco grew up Roman Catholic, for Chrissake.

But seeing him there this morning, hands and head bound by the leather straps my great grandfather, an immigrant from Russia, gave to my father when he was bar mitzvahed at thirteen, I’m humbled by the extent to which Marco’s conversion has prompted my own remedial education as a Jew.  What I’m learning is not knowledge, per se, but practice.  We’ve started playing a recording of the bedtime sh’ma for the babies before they fall asleep.  We light candles and eat challah, which Baby Girl affectionately calls “agah”, on Shabbat.  We observe all the holidays—even the minor ones with names I used to mix up, like Tisha Ba’av and Tubishvat.   To the extent that we can, we’re creating a life lived in sync with the Jewish seasons.  It’s given our life beautiful new grounding amidst the swirl of potty training, jobs, earthquakes, and hurricanes too.

Later this morning, Marco leaves for work.  The boos Skype quickly with my parents and I get my shower.  I feel repentant.  Even if I don’t get to shampoo.

K’tiva VaHatima Tova, a todos.  And Marco: may the search find you, and your heart, renewed.

A number of folks chided me for not including a link to the opEd when I wrote about process of writing that oped here last month for  Er, whoops.  So here it is!  Bachmann, Palin and a New Season for Sexism.

And while I’m on it, it’s been a quite a week for a number of OpEd Project alums who are also writing opEds:

*Tera Hunter, a historian at Princeton this spring, ran an opEd in the New York Times this week “Putting an Antebellum Myth about Slavery to Rest

*Meg Urry, an astrophysicist at Yale, published an opEd this week in CNN Opinion, “Heavenly Discoveries, Earthly Interventions

A ton of GWP readers–and bloggers–are prime candidates for writing opEds.  You can read about the kinds of things The OpEd Project does with universities and nonprofits.  If you’re interested in bringing a seminar (or one of our longer programs) to your campus or organization, please email me at deborah[at]theopedproject[dot]org.  I’d love to work with you.

Say yesI wasn’t planning on spending a day and a half turning around an op-ed.  But when editors from certain venues call, I jump.  Some opportunities are just too good to turn down.

Colleagues—especially, often, academics—sometimes ask me how it’s possible to turn something around with the speed that today’s media requires.  So I thought I’d break it down, blow by blow, in an effort to demystify the process and show how it is possible to hop on the news when you’re ready with expertise—even on a day when you have other things planned.  I hope this helps!

(A note of gratitude: I could not have made this happen had my babysitter not been flexible and able to stay that extra hour.  Thank you, Erica.  This one’s for you.)

Day 1

1:01pm – I check my email before walking into a restaurant where I’m slated to meet a colleague for lunch.  There’s an email from an editor from national news outlet, inviting me to write—quickly!—an opinion piece of 500-700 words on a general topic she suggests.  I haven’t written for this outlet before.  I know what this opportunity means.  I get fired up, order a Caesar salad with egg, then email the editor to say that I could file a draft by end of day tomorrow and ask whether that would work.  That time frame feels realistic, given what else I have slated for that day (specifically, this lunch, a short meeting, a hospital visit, and a babysitter to relieve at 6pm).

1:40pm – I receive a second email from the editor.  It’s a hot topic and they’d really like to run it tomorrow morning.  Could I file it today?  I tell her I can get it to her later tonight.  The editor asks for my approach, my thesis.  I tell her I’ll get back to her with it soon.

2:15pm – I walk my colleague back to her office, have a brief meeting while there concerning other topics, then read a number of online articles related to the op-ed topic from my colleague’s office.  I formulate my angle.  It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about before receiving this particular invitation today, and it doesn’t take me long to know where I stand.

4:10pm – I email the editor a paragraph and some bullet points.

4:12pm – The editor emails back to say “great.”

4:30pm – I call the babysitter, realizing that I’m not going to make it to the hospital to visit my friend and make it home at 6pm.  She says she can stay a little late.  I race to the subway and go visit the friend, 30 weeks pregnant and on bedrest, picking up Haagen Dags and chocolate bars on my way.

4:50pm – One block from the hospital, I email a savvy colleague my angle to ask if she’s seen any other articles on the overall topic I should read.  She sends me a helpful link.

4:55pm – I visit with my friend.  We commiserate about bedrest (I was on bedrest when pregnant too).

5:45pm – I outline the piece on the subway home.

7:00pm – I arrive home, late for the babysitter, and apologize profusely.  I read Goodnight Moon to my toddler twins and begin easing them into sleep.

7:30pm – Toddlers are out.  I get to work fleshing out a full draft, consuming half a bag of Oreos to stay awake (all the while reminding myself: I really must learn to like coffee one day).

10:30pm – I send the completed draft to a trusted reader, whose opinion I deeply respect.  While awaiting her feedback, I insert links.  She sends her feedback, with tweaks, swiftly.  She likes it.  I breathe a sigh of relief.

10:45pm – I incorporate my reader’s feedback and send the draft to two more readers who I know are still awake, then incorporate their feedback as well.

11:00pm – I send the draft to editor, thank her for this opportunity, and tell her how energizing it was to write.

Day 2

9:05am – I email to confirm that the editor has received draft.  The editor thanks me for the quick turnaround.  She’s just sitting down to her desk and will have edits for me soon.  She asks about my availability this morning to make changes.  I tell her I’m available!

9:30am – I reluctantly cancel plans to meet an old friend in the city for a writing date long-scheduled for today.   I don’t want to be on the subway when editor responds, in case there are questions we need to resolve by phone.  I wipe my slate clean for as much as the day as I can.

9:45am – The editor and I chat via phone about the need to flesh out some details here and there.  She braces me for heaps of edits, reassuring me that they are “garden variety”.  I tell the editor I love to be edited (because honestly, I do) and I promise not to panic when I see her revision.

10:00am – I leave the toddlers with my husband, who happens to off for the day (holiday weekend) and therefore available for the handoff to the babysitter in an hour.  I’m ready to go.

10:30am – Astonishing breaking news has hit.  I email the editor to check in.  She explains that she’s been diverted by the breaking news but is now returning to my piece.

11:27am – The first round of edits come in, with a gracious note to please tweak and adjust or push back as necessary.

11:33am – I email the editor that the edits all make sense (which they do), thank her for her thoughtfulness, and set about filling in the gaps.

12:42pm – I send the editor the revised draft, with all holes filled but one.  I call her to make sure the revise works.  She asks that I address the remaining hole.

1:35pm – After a second search, I email the editor that there is very little out there I can access today that would help fill said hole.  She emails back ok.  I make sure she has my bio.   I tell her I’m going to be away from my computer, in a meeting, until 4:15pm but reachable via cell and email anytime.

2:00pm – I enter the meeting, checking email every 10 minutes or so (oh, the obsession!)

2:24pm – I start getting antsy, as I haven’t heard from the editor and know that she wanted the piece to go live as early as possible.

2:50pm – She emails back that she’s been diverted again due to the breaking news story from the morning and will let me know where we stand when she can.

2:51pm – I start wondering whether the piece will indeed go up today, or whether it might be killed, and start brainstorming alternate outlets.  I’m invested.

3:19 – Editor kindly reassures me it will go up today; it’s just a normal upended day, due to the breaking news.  The piece now goes to the Standards and Practices desk, and she may have more questions after that.

5:10pm – The editor emails that the piece has cleared the Standards and Practices reviewer.  She asks me to eyeball the final changes that she made, based on the S&P review.

5:23pm – I make the case for the reinsertion of some links that were taken out during the last edit but approve all else.  The links go back in.

5:59pm – The op-ed goes live.  I send the url to my network, tweet, and race home to the babysitter.

7:00pm – Once the twins are down, I network the piece around a bit more.  The negative comments start pouring in, as do the Facebook “recommends.”  It’s Shabbat, and my husband and I try hard not to check the site every five minutes…but it’s hard.  My op-ed is the lead opinion piece and makes it to the homepage.

And so it goes – a day and a half in the life of an op-ed.

This post is crossposted at She Writes.

This month I was a nominee in Babble’s Moms with Clout contest.  In the end, Sausage Mama won, not me.  But the whole enchilada got me thinking: What is “clout”?  And why do so many women have trouble owning theirs?

My dictionary defines clout as “power and influence.”  Synonyms include “pull,” “authority,” “sway,” and “weight.”  In the public sphere, traditionally, clout has been gendered male.  To an overwhelming degree, it still is.  (See the depressing stats here.) Women, however, are mixing it up.  At social networks like She Writes, where authors promote one another and not just ourselves, at game-changing initiatives like The OpEd Project, where established thought leaders help fellow female experts embrace their expertise and get heard, “clout” is being redefined as something more communally achieved.  But even in the push for collaborative clout, and particularly among women, the tension between the one and the many remains.

I know this tension personally.  I experienced it this past month as I emailed my friends to ask for their vote, then opted against posting the request at She Writes or at my group blog,Girl w/Pen.  It just didn’t seem Girl w/Pen-y (or She Writes-y) to promote myself just for the sake of winning an iPad 2 (the prize).  I meticulously checked to see if any other of the 30+ nominees were She Writes members, so that I could shout us out collectively, as my colleagues in leadership at She Writes and I agreed that that would be the right way to do it.  But since they weren’t, I let it go.

In the end, I mildly regretted not saying something about it in the forums available to me—forums, heck, I’ve helped create.  I admit: I wanted that iPad!  I would have put it to good use, downloading e-books and apps and learning about the new forms all our books might take as I work toward my new project (The Pink and Blue Diaries).  But as early as day 2 or 3 of the contest, I quickly learned that I didn’t want it that bad.  Just as I couldn’t bring myself to harass my non-She Writes friends and followers more than once (ok, twice), I felt that promoting myself here for commercial gain would compromise the spirit of the community.  It felt like a conflict of interest, you know?

And that, exactly, is the problem.  Not just my problem, but women’s more generally I fear.  Are women collaborative, at times, to a fault?  In putting the community above ourselves, are we losing out on opportunities to enhance not merely our pocketbooks but our careers?  After all, winning a contest like this one is not just about winning an iPad.  To say you’ve won a contest breeds…clout.

And why should we care about clout?  Love it or hate it, fact is if you want to be a successful writer these days, clout matters.  It’s no longer the merit of our work but the reach of our platform that gets us the goodies.  Clout has been a social media buzzword for “influencer” or “community leader” for a while, but interestingly, now it’s also a website, complete with metrics and scores. measures “overall online influence” through an algorithm that determines exactly how much influence someone has over their social networks.  In a Klout score, numbers mean nothing; “true” influence means more.  (Come on, you know you want to, so go for it: check your Klout score here.) Will publishers start looking up our clout scores, like they look up our previous book’s sales in Book Scan?  Who knows.

In the meantime, I am not alone in my hesitation.  But nor do I necessarily think that’s a good thing.  In an article for a Canadian parenting site, top blogger Ann Douglas explores the dark–or rather, the ambivalent side–of making the top “mommyblogger” lists, while Catherine Connors of Her Bad Mother notes in a post at her own blog that top blogger and clout lists can be a source of bad feeling in the mom community, leaving those not listed feeling badly.  “I think, to that extent, they’re a little problematic,” Connors says, then adds: “I think it’s interesting that we worry about…whether feelings get hurt and the community spirit gets undermined—when this kind of discussion would be pretty much unthinkable in almost any other sphere.  Does anyone talk about Forbes business rankings making men feel bad?”

Um, no.

And that brings me back to my main concern: I was flattered to be nominated in Babble’s “Moms with Clout” contest.  In the end, I couldn’t do what it takes.  I find it interesting—and problematic—that I am so comfortable writing this post after the contest is over, revealing my ambivalence, but wasn’t comfortable asking for your vote.  Either I am being too ladylike, or simply not woman enough.

Attention GWPenners in the NYC Area: Join me, She Writes, and The OpEd Project for a joint Happy Hour in Manhattan on Sat. April 16! And for a break from all that clout-making and clout-sharing, come recharge at the mini-retreat I’m leading for writing mamas with Christina Baker Kline on May 21 in Brooklyn.