Get In the Kitchen and Knit Me a Sweater; Or, The Trope of the Good Mother in the Maker Movement
So it’s no secret that I have a penchant for Kickstarter projects. I have backed more projects that make the geek world more accessible to children in general and girls in particular than I care to remember, everything from flash cards, to games (board and video), to graphic novels, and iPad apps. I want my daughter to be able to see herself in these things (if she so chooses). I don’t want her to miss out an a chance at pursuing a career is a tech field or never see a positive representation of herself in a game until she’s too old to still be excited about it. In short (and cliche), I want things to be better for her than they were for me. I want things to be better for all underrepresented groups in geek circles (girls/women, minorities, queer people, you name it) and I want to do whatever I can to help that. And as with all Kickstarter projects these things are a crap shoot. Sometimes you get awesome products, sometimes you get not so awesome ones, and sometimes you get nothing. But here’s where the real issue comes in. Even with a platform that gives creators the opportunity to argue the worth of their project in order to secure funding I have noticed a disturbing trend, women (especially mothers) are still being marginalized. (Cue the appropriately startling music.)
Some of the biggest most “heartwarming” stories in geek circles are dads who have built cool things for their daughter. Video game mods that let them play as female characters, female versions of superheroes and villains for cosplay, and all kinds of other great stuff. And I think that this is awesome, but we really need to stop celebrating this as extraordinary. It’s not extraordinary (and that’s what most of these dads will tell you) it’s just good parenting. We do what we can to make things better for our children using the tools that we have at hand. For some folks that means knitting clothing, making awesome meals, helping with school projects, or building go carts and for others it means building/modding games or other educational tools. And in many ways I can understand why this happens. Much of the community that we, as gamers and geeks, find ourselves a part of have not yet (or may never) start families of their own. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing, but a thing that prohibits them from knowing the great lengths that mothers, fathers, and caregivers of all kinds are willing to go through for their children. Hell, I admit it. I didn’t realize it fully myself until Pea came along…and then all bets were off.
But once again I have taken a circuitous route to get to my point about Kickstarter. I have backed a number of projects made by fathers who claim to making awesome techie things for their children (usually daughters) and those things fund so fast they would make your head spin. And it’s like adding the tagline “Look at what I did for my kid/daughter” guarantees these dads funding that far exceeds their orignal requests. It is not unusual to see these projects exceed goal by 50, 100, or sometimes 1000 percent or more. And don’t get me wrong, that is AWESOME. I am supremely happy when anyone makes a product than can entertain and educate children. But what seems strange is how things differ when it is mothers who are making things for their children. I meet women (at conferences and in online groups) all of the time who have done awesome projects for their daughters, but those projects don’t go viral in the same way as the projects of their male counterparts. It’s as if the notion of “mother as teacher, father as distanced breadwinner” has found us once again and men are being celebrated for doing what women are simply expected to do. And this seems to even get reflected in the success (or failure) of Kickstarter campaigns. N.B. this is completely anecdotal and only based and the pornographic number of hours that I spend pouring over Kickstarter campaigns, but not only don’t “mommy-made” projects go viral online and hit mainstream media, but the campaigns don’t do as well. I have seen more of these projects struggle for funding (and sometimes fail to get funded at all) than is usual, even when the “mommies” creating them are PhD bearing educators.
Now, I fully recognize that this may be a simple fact of percentages. I know how data works. Fewer women start these projects so when they don’t get funded it looks like more women don’t get funded, but in actuality the statistics are the same. I get it. But I am making a larger argument here, that it is these mommy-made projects that don’t get the attention that they should (or would) because of the mommy status. And the mommy moniker is the important part here, because we do see wildly successful projects intended to entertain and educate children that are made by women. Most recently we have seen Debbie Sterling’s GoldieBlox project explode (even though I would argue that it has been unfairly attacked from various fronts because it is a woman made project intended for girls) and Linda Liukas’ “Hello, Ruby” storybook project, intended to teach children the fundamentals of code, quadruple goal in 24 hours. And while both or either of these women may be mothers it is something that we don’t know. They are both young, pretty, and in the case of Liukas a little quirky. They get read as contributing something to the education of other people’s children, which is far more noble and self-sacrificing than educating the children that you are responsible for because of parentage.
As quiet as it’s kept (as my grandmother would say), the maker movement was started by mothers (usually working from home) to provide other mothers with handmade products for their children and then it was more WAHM (work at home mom) movement. This is something that we have seen represented at craft fairs, in online fora, and more recently on Etsy for years. It is only now that the movement includes small production runs of techie/geeky things that it is being seen as being the realm of men (or women of childbearing years who have not yet had children) and the mommy-makers are being pushed back to the margins. As a mother, a maker (of the crafty sort), an educator, and a geek I want to stand up and support as many other maker mothers as I can and in whatever way possible.
Photo note: As a knitter I would be remiss not to point out the fact that the sandwich in the featured image is, in fact, crocheted and not knitted.