Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mommy For Sale

Recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: the monetization of motherhood. We are no longer individual people or women, but rather seem to be a highly lucrative brand. Let’s be clear: I get it. Women and particularly mothers have tremendous purchasing power and when those energies and dollars are harnessed toward a specific product, the receiving company (and potentially its partner mommy website) can reap tremendous financial rewards. And I think I’m supposed to feel good about that, right? Women finding alternative ways into the workforce and connecting and working to get their share of the pie by finally hawking something we know how to sell: motherhood. But I’m bothered, I think by the idea that a) my mommy-ness is somehow for sale, and b) the version of it they are selling is so one-dimensional. After all, what are they really selling and what am I supposed to be buying?

I happened somewhat accidentally upon a site I’d never been to the other day: The Ever been there? If not I’ve just given them free advertising – sweet! I have no idea how I found them except I think I read something on the Huffington Post Parents or Womens section that connected me there (and don’t even get me started on some of the Women and Mommy-themed Huff Post headlines you’ll find there (The Real Key to Great Sex!). Okay wait – I have to sidebar here, but that ridiculous story about great sex which was one of the Huff Post Womens headlines the other day totally buried another interesting story which was all the way at the bottom of the page. In it, Barbara and Shannon Kelley discuss the danger of subverting our individual selves to a larger culture induced “gender identity.” They write: “…surely there's some wisdom in … consciously putting more investment in our ‘individual personhood’ as opposed to our ‘gender identity,’ in worrying less about what it means to be a woman and more about what it means to be our self.”[1] Yes, maybe that’s what’s bothering me here. When did I stop being an individual person and start being a mom-themed brand?
Now, cut to my new found not so guilty pleasure – The The subsections call out to me, oozing their punn-ification of my mommy-ness. Am I a Mamarazzi? What is my Mommentary on life? First stop – Mamarazzi. Not too much here except some coverage of a red carpet event for the newly released Won’t Back Down. I’m interested. Let’s get their take on the movie and what it means as a mom and a woman and person currently interested in the battle to save our schools. Have you heard of this film? Let me give you the short form description – based on a true story of two moms in a Florida school who activated a law that does exist in some select states called the Parent Trigger law. The law enables parents of students in failing schools to effectively take over the school and create parent-led reforms. I haven’t seen it, but I know based on some chatter from friends and running commentary about the movie, that it is incredibly controversial in that many view it as a highly inflammatory piece that demonizes both public education and teachers unions. Now look, I don’t know. As I mentioned before – I didn’t see it. But I was hoping the overly punny mommies might help me break down some of the debate here.

The movie (either directly or indirectly) highlighted an ongoing, complicated and often times vitriolic debate regarding failing schools, and specifically the role that parents, teachers, teachers unions, and ed reformers can play to address this. I suspect the movie was overly simplistic here and didn’t get into any of that. And by the way, the didn’t either. I saw a red carpet with the movie stars. I saw some guy representing both Office Depot and Lady Gaga’s Born this Way Foundation (is it possible someone really lives and works in both those worlds? I digress…) talking about the importance of saying no to bullying and leaving messages of hope on post it notes about bullying, which is weird because that’s not what this debate or this film is about.
After about 5 minutes, I felt more stupid. I felt the Moms, whoever they are, didn’t know me or what I cared about. What was the deal with this site? And would I ever get the past 5 minutes of my life back? Doubtful. So who are these women? According to their site, they are “…a multi-platform lifestyle brand and event company with exposure on the web, television and in print.” In another words, they want to sell me a mommy lifestyle, a brand. They are to moms what Lulemon is to Yoga. If I watch, if I read, then whether it’s real or not at least I’ll look the part. Yuck.

I get that marketing to women as a unified one-dimensional block is not a new marketing strategy. In fact it’s an old and rather useful hat for brands and companies looking to sell a message that they assume most women and mothers want or need to digest. But I think what feels more raw and slightly annoying to me now is that they are using my mommy title specifically as the marketing hook. My mommy name and badge is special. Dylan was the first person to ever give it to me back on a very cold day in December of 2007. I love it for a lot of reasons, but especially because it links me to a generation of women who came before me who gave and shared and loved in a way that was so strong and unique and selfless and complicated, not one-dimensional or brand specific.
This and likeminded sites have their place and are working for someone out there, but not me. I suspect what I’m looking for I’m much more apt to find on the individual posts and blogs of my genius women and mommy friends who in their great collective wit, intelligence and good humor make me learn, laugh and feel each and every day. So you can keep your mamarazzi and your mommentary and your mom-alogues and your pseudo gender friendly brands. Because my mommy-ness is not your version of mommy-ness.  Because I am more than my mommy-ness. And because either way, whatever my is-ness is, it isn’t for sale.


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