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 She Writesy (or Girl w/Pen-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 Kamy 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.  Klout.com 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. 

 

Join She Writes and The OpEd Project for a joint Happy Hour on Sat. April 16 if in the NYC area! Kamy and I will both be there.  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.  (More about that--and its upcoming online incarnation--soon.)

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Tags: #publicity, marketing

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Comment by Tania Pryputniewicz on April 8, 2011 at 10:42am

Deborah, love the honesty and share the dilemma; love that you linked to so many others in your short piece—there’s the collaboration. I’m thinking of how as women we’re more wired to go compassionately, inclusively forward…and probably believe that eventually the work will speak for itself and get its day in the sun. I tend to want to make personal, real connections—a few I can sustain with a comment now and then (or else sacrifice the writing time) on She Writes, so I would be loathe to ask for group “likes” etc., but that’s a problem in today’s “like” /vote-heavy field of publishing…so thanks to your article, I’m entertaining the thought that to be part of a larger network, and then to ask that network to back my work, is just the next cheerful step in growing up as a writer.

 

Now let’s see if I can actually do that…Rattle’s next poetry contest (www.rattle.com/rpp/rpp.htm ), which I read about today, claims it will post the 15 finalists and ask for votes to allot the final prize. Would I be able to send out that email asking for votes? When/if I should ever be lucky enough to be in the position, I’ll report back to you…

Comment by K. A. Laity on April 7, 2011 at 8:57am
Either I am being too ladylike, or simply not woman enough. I think you've nailed it right there. So much of our culture rests on "ladies" making nice, encouraging others and squashing their ambitions. It gets drilled into our heads that we must be liked. Let's stop apologizing.
Comment by Sj Heckscher-Marquis on April 7, 2011 at 4:58am
Unfortunately, if one is raised to be a lady, especially if one happens to be British, one is supposed to spray a bit more starch on that upper lip and carry on quietly. I rejected that reality and substituted my own. I do a far amount of marketing. In marketing, standing out is actually helpful. I am a huge, flamboyant, tattoo'd hippy with absolutely no nerves and natural eccentricity. http://mock-ing-bird.blogspot.com/2011/03/stripes-with-paisley.html In many ways, this is a gift. I never feel uncomfortable about self-promotion, however much it makes my mother wince. Most of my friends rejoice in my exuberance, I plough my own furrow, and I am very proud of the fact that (apparently) all naughty things start with "since meeting Sj..." I would encourage every woman regardless of size, or station in life, to get out an celebrate your inner "naughty!"
Comment by Bev Murrill on April 5, 2011 at 5:15pm

So yeah... it's a problem. And it's a problem to me too, not just in my writing but also in my leadership role. I am definitely very collaborative in my leadership style, but I'm also decisive and focused. However, when I do forge ahead with a decision, I'm aware of the voices on every side - both those who cheer and see me as a role model and become more aware that they too can be decisive and push forward in and through themselves, and of those who wonder who the hell I think I am, pushing forward like that.

 

Oh dear! Dammit... I'm my own worst enemy! And I'm not even a shy and timid type... !

Comment by Fawna on April 4, 2011 at 7:36pm

Synchronicity!  I spent the day in conversation with girlfriends about this- Grandeur vs. Grandiosity- accepting our GREATNESS.  I actually blogged about it yesterday too- and posted it today- and then bam- your heart felt blog.  Here is a link to my blog- feeling uncomfortable even as I'm doing it- irony.  If you want an energy medicine view on what I believe to be a similar idea here it is.   Thank You for sharing your story, I love the combination of outer and inner experience.

Fawna

Comment by Christy Laverty on April 4, 2011 at 4:50pm
Thanks for this ... I recently found myself feeling the same thing. I entered a contest. I wrote a post and the winner was determined by how many votes from were logged for a particular blog post. It meant reaching out to anyone and everyone I knew to vote for my post. It left me with a bad feeling because I wanted people to read all the posts and vote for the one that struck a cord with them, not just vote for me without reading my post or the posts written by others. I held back. I didn't send out a zillion emails or tweets ( ok I sent out some but not nearly as many as was needed to actually win).
Comment by Deborah Siegel on April 4, 2011 at 1:36pm

@RYCJ: Honored to accept your friendship -- and back at you!  Thank you for accepting mine.

@Barbara: I'm doing some work with OpEd Project in Chicago -- I look forward to connecting with you.  Your words below resonate deeply.  I think you're right: transparency is all.

@Deborah Batterman: Yes, voting (repeatedly) doesn't laud merit so much as something else, I fear.  It seems a very fine line. I'm off to read that link you shared...I just finished reading Dinty Moore's book on personal essay/memoir, so your timing is a propos!

@Patricia: Thank you for your congrats -- and I know, it's becoming a classic issue for all of us, no?

Comment by Barbara Field on April 4, 2011 at 11:59am

As I'm now Regional Manager of the fabulous Op Ed Project here in southern California and can't wait to get more involved with it, I really appreciated the ambivalence you expressed. I look back on all the opportunities I missed back in NY because I didn't speak up. A famous poet teaching at Columbia (girls weren't allowed in then as undergrads, but I still got to take his course as a Barnard girl) misunderstood my shyness for conceit and I never spoke up. In fact, I wrote in a male voice in class so nobody heard my true voice. I was awarded a prize for my writing when Toni Morrison gave our graduation address, but I didn't get up to get it. My God, she's my hero! I was offered an opportunity to be a reporter at a major tv station in my early twenties, but nah, I said. I respect your hesitation to ask us she writers for your vote. We act out of politeness, not wanting to be pushy, viewing respectful lines in things, maybe out of fear. But then again, why not ask? As I'm now in my early 50s and I've seen the disparities in men and women's careers, let me just say shout the news and ask for everything. Admit what it's for so we can ignore your plea if we choose. Be transparent and then see what takes. Take care and all the best to you!

 

Comment by Deborah Batterman on April 4, 2011 at 6:50am
Maybe at the heart of this 'dilemma' is a sense that clout, as a concept, is something to be earned, though we all recognize that a certain amount of self-promotion can go a long way toward that. Here's a terrific post by Dinty Moore on Writers and Self-Promotion. While it doesn't speak exactly to the 'clout' question, it does speak to the hesitancy writers have to sing their praises, or at least let potentially interested friends/colleagues, etc. know what they're up to.
Comment by Patricia A. McGoldrick on April 2, 2011 at 1:37pm

Seems like a never-ending debate, Deborah!

Congrats on your own ranking honour!

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