It’s a well-known fable in the blogosphere—Johnny Appleseed for the Tumblr generation: Before the birth of her second child, Heather Armstrong, the mommy blogger behind dooce.com, bought a Maytag washing machine. It broke after one week, and remained that way for months. When Maytag’s customer service did zilch to help, Armstrong flexed her muscles. “Do you know what Twitter is?” she told the customer-service representative. “Because I have over a million followers on Twitter. If I say something about my terrible experience on Twitter, do you think someone would help?” The representative responded, “Yes, I know what Twitter is. And, no, that will not matter.”
And so Armstrong went all caps-lock on them. (“DO NOT EVER BUY MAYTAG,” read one not-so-subtle tweet.) Shortly thereafter, she received several mea culpas from the company, the washing machine was fixed, and she even got a second one donated to a local women’s shelter. (If your customer-service rep is clueless, press 1.) From mommy bloggers with devout followings to “nurse-ins” to support breastfeeding in public to Parenting’s own Mom Congress, the mom lobby is motivated, effective, and a little effing intimidating. I call them the Momfia.
Dads don’t have the same clout. Actually, we hardly have any.
“Dating back to the women’s suffrage movement, women have a history of organizing, and our culture is used to seeing that,” says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and empowering committed fathers. “But when men organize, it’s seen as suspect. It’s fine if we’re organizing around a football game, but if it’s done to make an impact, it’s somehow sinister.”
Why can’t dads be a force for change? Why are our proverbial washing machines still busted?
Here’s why: We are Maytag. Men hold the power; among the 50 individuals atop Forbes’s list of the world’s most powerful people, four are female. So when guys get together to right an injustice, it’s viewed as the man battling The Man. It’s us against us.
Fathers also have a credibility problem. “There is a ‘father absence’ epidemic,” says Warren, adding that one in three children in America lives in a father-absent home. And despite the Momfia’s clout, society views women as more vulnerable than men, and therefore we’re more sympathetic to their causes. By comparison, we rarely take guys seriously. Try this at home: Mention a mammogram, and a solemn hush will fill the room. Mention a prostate exam, and watch the jokes fly.
How can dads change this? “We need to be more vocal about our importance to the family,” says Warren. “Women do that very well.” And the Momfia should know that dads are like hybrid cars—we don’t have a ton of power, but we are critical to a better future.
As far as the nickname goes, sorry, ladies. Have mercy on my kneecaps.