Mums & Technology: How Negative Stereotypes Are Holding Us Back

Mums Women Tech BoxesMums and technology are not positively associated. I wish that wasn’t true, but sadly it seems to be. Mums are perceived as loving, caring and cuddly. Meanwhile, technology is cold, robotic and impersonal. These labels are not exactly complimentary.

That’s the trouble with labels.  Immediately, we conjure up our own image of what something or someone is supposed to be. We literally can’t help ourselves. Everyone is boxed up nicely. A dependable stereotype for future categorisation.

Let’s have a go with some job titles. Nurse? Dependable and caring, usually female.

Builder? Working class reader of ‘The Sun‘, usually male.

Programmer? Beaded and bespectacled nerd, usually male.

Wait, what?

Some Nurses are terrifying battle-axes, you say? Your Dad is a Builder AND a Guardian reader?
Yes I know.
Trouble is, we just cannot get away from stereotypes though. No matter how hard we try.
On a very simple level, they help us figure out where we belong and where we fit in and apply the same logic to others. But stereotyping at its worst leads to prejudice.

Before I became a mother, I judged mothers very harshly. Mothers were shrill and embarrassing. Mothers couldn’t operate their laptops. Mothers took up too much space in the supermarket with their pushchairs and their snot-nosed brats. Working mothers were scatter-brained harridans. Stay-At-Home mothers lacked ambition and took up all the best seats in coffee shops. My view of mothers had been carefully blueprinted by some of the UK’s most misogynistic tabloids.

The label of ‘Mum’ made me think of dinner lady tabards and Lynda Bellingham in the OXO Cube adverts from the 80’s. To be ‘Mum’ meant only being able to handle sparrow-amount of wine and then crying about nothing.

Mostly, ‘Mum’ is uncool. She’s past her best, physically and mentally. There’s not a chance in hell that Mum can be rational enough to turn her hand to coding and working in tech.

To be ‘Mum’ was to be irrelevant hominem.

In my pre-mothering days if you were a mother, I pitied you.

Mum Image Problem

My least favourite Mum sub-group were the ‘Mummy Bloggers’.

I used to work in Public Relations, just before blogging was universally recognised as a totally legit way to make a living. And those Mummy Bloggers? They drove me bonkers. They seemed to be after something for nothing. Free party decorations and expensive day trips to ‘review’. They seemed to be happy to take whatever they could get their hands on, so long as it was a freebie. Then they’d write some drivel about how the party went or how DS and DD loved their free trip to Legoland.

‘Who reads this rubbish?’, I thought. ‘Who in their right mind would read a blog post about a stranger’s child’s first Birthday party anyway?’

If you were so inclined, you could spend years reading about other Mum’s birth stories, breastfeeding difficulties, sleep training traumas, ‘must-have’ items and post-baby sex lives.

B.O.R.I.N.G.

And then one day I found myself pregnant.

My online reading habits did a complete U-turn.I certainly drew the line at some of the (barf-inducing) content out there, but those candid accounts of labour and birth were devoured. The gut-wrenching descriptions of Post-Natal Mental illness were comforting when I struggled with a new born. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Mothers, I needed you. And I had to admit I that I had been wrong. So totally wrong.

Mothers are Bad Ass. I had no idea.

I had no idea about the level of personal sacrifice, the unwelcome advice or the daily struggle. None of this is for the fluffy brained or the faint-hearted. I had been foolish to pity all these mothers. I should have been offering them a cup of tea and an afternoon off. My preconceived notion of motherhood had quite an adverse effect on my own early parenting days. I felt like I had become something I wasn’t. I felt frumpy and useless; my needs entirely secondary to my child’s and my job was to forget who I was before. I didn’t like it.

I had lost me and I wanted me back. And it was technology that helped me get me back.

It was little wonder that I experienced so much self-loathing for myself after spending most of my adult life regarding mothers with total disdain. It was only after that post-natal fog had lifted that I understood that I was not lost at all, and I was now more of something than I ever had been. Perspective is a truly marvellous thing once you have it. I knew I wasn’t a stereotypical mother, and I decided to own it.

I take partial responsibility for my horrible judgement of mothers, but I also place a lot of blame for my attitude on society. Mothers are looked upon in a pretty unfavourable way by basically everyone, it’s quite inescapable. Employers deny mothers the opportunities for promotions and pay rises because they’re suddenly perceived to have lost their devotion to their jobs. But in the same breath, they are denied flexibility and met with criticism for leaving the office at bang on 5pm so they can go home and work just as hard being a parent. All decisions will be damned.I know this, because I used to be that co-worker. I was the one that silently scoffed when new mums returned from maternity leave on ‘only’ 3 days week. I was the one that gave them the side-eye when they left for the day at 4pm. And for all these things, I am truly sorry.

Mum Working In Tech SectorBecause now I know.

I know what it’s like try and squeeze 5 days of work into 3. I know the challenge of working your butt of on only 4 hours sleep. I know how it feels to need to be something more than ‘Mummy’ for your own sanity.

I can only speak for myself, but since I became a mother and started learning to code; my ability to self-motivate and get stuff done has never been better. I am thoroughly more productive. Having my daughter has helped set my priorities straight and now my time is carefully managed. Somehow, less has indeed become more.

I may have overcome my own negative assumptions of motherhood but that doesn’t change the omnipotent image problem. I could quite easily elaborate on the misogyny and the media representation but these are paths well-trodden. I don’t want to rehash all the reasons, I don’t need to. I’m going to look forward and work on changing the narrative in the small ways that I can; by becoming a bloody good web developer in my 30’s. Which, somewhat paradoxically, only became possible to pursue because I became a mother. Which is pretty darn cool.  And, despite my previous contempt for Mummy Bloggers, I appear to be one myself. I even use the designated hashtag that used to make me recoil in horror. I’m an unbelievable hypocrite.

That’s the trouble with labels. They put us all in boxes we don’t want to be in. I thought I had gone from one box to another and any hope of occupying any other type of box was gone. Except that it isn’t. I’m trying to do more than just think outside the box, I’m trying to live outside of it.

My confidence as mother is fairly unshakeable these days, I know what I’m about. I couldn’t give a shit if teenage boys think I’m old and past it. I hope the hate-makers at the Daily Mail are enraged by my existence.

My confidence as a web developer is a different matter. Though that is a discussion for another post entirely, and one which I will most certainly be tackling.

So here I am, straddling two apparently opposing roles that are both subject to stereotypes that benefit no one. I hope to excel at both and I hope to challenge people’s perceptions of both. I am both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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