One of the reasons I started Chairman Mom was for working women to recognize and celebrate how badass they are.
For some reason we celebrate when someone decides to do an Iron Man or quit a cushy job to start a new company—both things that will push you to your physical limits and odds are they’ll end in failure. We see those challenges as badass.
And yet, how do we handle it when someone says they are going to be a working mom? Women I knew—incredibly successful women, I might add—told me to “get ready to feel like a failure all the time.” We tell people they “just can’t understand” how hard it is over and over again. 60% of workplaces tell women they must be totally available to employers or they’re “bad employees” or totally available to children or they are “bad moms.” And if there’s a stumble, they suffer from the “prove it again” bias.
Women are even weaponized against one another. Go back and read the reaction when Marissa Mayer was asked about early work-life balance and said that she was lucky that she had a relatively easy baby.
This is one reason that high-achieving moms like Sheila Marcelo, CEO of Care.com, were told early in their careers to hide their motherhood at work.
But there’s a problem with that: It only reinforces the stereotype that so many women like me believe for most of their adult lives working moms can’t be high-achieving.
Enter Lynn Jurich ringing the opening bell with a baby in her arms when she took Sun Run public. Enter Katrina Lake doing the same with StitchFix, as the youngest woman ever to lead a tech company to an IPO.
And on a much bigger stage, enter Serena Williams. From the Post this weekend, one of many write-ups on just how much she’s inspired women in recent weeks: “Serena Williams is a lesson in the varieties of strength. There is absolute strength, explosive strength, sustained strength. All of which she has, to one extent or another. And then there is the out-of-category strength it took to return to the top of her profession at 36 years old with a baby on her shoulder and scars on her belly and in her lungs from the childbirth ordeal that almost killed her.
Nothing against Angelique Kerber, who is a great champion, but Kerber was playing just one opponent in the Wimbledon final. Williams was playing against a lot of them, including time and nature. In the end, time and nature won, but didn’t Williams give them a run for their money?
In addition to the C-section and the blood clots and the baby weight, there was a torn pectoral muscle that meant she couldn’t serve for three weeks. A touch of something was missing off that serve, a lack of heat. The feet were a tad slow, which made the ball tick the net or spin just beyond the baseline. Result: 6-3, 6-3. Afterward, her voice broke as she said: ‘To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried.’”
That women have allowed giving birth, nursing a child, and the power of motherhood to be cast as a weakness is one of the patriarchies most devious tricks. I’ve long said if men gave birth it would be sponsored by Mountain Dew. No one has proven that more than Serena Williams. You can actually see the ads, can’t you?
We don’t all have a way to prove our strength on such an international stage, but every single woman proving how strong motherhood makes them changes the narrative that the most superhuman thing our bodies can do is somehow a weakness.
Our questions for the day:
PS: You’ll notice some changes in our new front page today. It’s another small step towards smarter feeds and more functionality, based on your feedback. We’re pushing new stuff all summer long, so if you haven’t yet been sold on $5/month for the ultimate badass sisterhood, give Chairman Mom a try today! Personally, I find it way more invigorating than a cup of coffee.
– Sarah Lacy