Once upon a time, I took part in the BBC2 show ‘All That Glitters’ presented by comedian Katherine Ryan. The week the show launched, I read an article published about me in a national paper and cringed. The article began ‘Emma White, mum of 6, refers to herself as a Mumpreneur’.
I should have been excited to be featured in a national paper, but instead my heart sank.
Firstly, I’m not a mum of 6. I’m a mum of 3 and I am a stepmum of 3 more, which is an important distinction I think, as I’m sure my stepchildren and their actual mother would agree. Mostly though, step family politics aside, It was the term ‘mumpreneur’ that made me shudder. I discovered that the word was included in a press release sent out by the media company and I asked for it to be removed, but it was too late. I cringed again before the tone of the articles changed to focus on my (rather super) performance in the competition rather than the headcount and productivity of my reproductive organs.
A year on and I shared this tale to my instagram account and it went viral overnight, I was inundated with hundreds of messages from people from all walks of life. Not a single ONE was in favour of the use of this term and the other terms like it, including ‘Girlboss’ ‘FemEO’.
Comments included ‘Super patronising and disrespectful’ and ‘Isn’t it belittling?’ to ‘Urgh, only OK when we start talking about Dadpreneurs and Boybosses’ and simply put ‘No thanks’. If this was a jury someone would have gone down for a long stretch.
Clearly I’m not the only one who gets ‘the ick’ around the made up merging of words and roles. Interesting.
I am a mum, and a stepmum and I get that people are impressed that I manage to run a business, teach, design and make jewellery, whilst still raising a large family. They are impressed because they realise that that is a lot of balls to juggle and there is no denying that I have my hands full. I’m not trying to hide away from my family life or deny the existence of my children, or my stepchildren. I’m proud to be their mum and stepmum and yes it is bloody hard to wear all the hats.
My 80s feminist teachers, told us we were the generation that could ‘have it all’ because of their struggles and those of their mothers before them (no pressure then). So does the term ‘mumpreneur’ indicate a respect to us, us mums who are ‘having it all’?
I asked my husband, an actual father of 6, who started his photography business in 1999; ‘How many times have you been referred to as a ‘Dadpreneur?’
His answer; ‘Never.’ Quelle suprise.
So why don’t I like it?
Partly it offends me because it’s a made up word. It’s a Frankenstein of ‘Mum’ and ‘entrepreneur’ and notably the ‘Mum’ bit comes first. The very way they are mushed together, like crusty old brown play doh, screams ‘playing at it’ from a career point of view. Not one thing nor t’other, as they’d say here in Yorkshire.
The greater issue though is not the abuse of our wonderful language but the roots in why this word and others like it exist at all, the reason why there is no male equivalent or gender neutral equivalent, there’s no ‘dadpreneur’ or ‘parentpreneur’. It’s aimed at ‘mum’. Why is that? The answer is obvious; because it is an acknowledgment of who is most often found carrying the parenting load.
No one is shocked that my husband has built a successful business whilst also fathering 6 children! Why? Because he has me and his ex wife before me.
The instant (and correct) assumption is that he is not equally burdened with the parenting load, and there my friends, lies the problem for us all, mums, dads, parents and society in general. We have, as my 80s feminist teachers said, come a long way but we still have a hell of a journey in front of us before we get anywhere near equality, particularly when it comes to raising a family. Which is why mums everywhere are burnt out and collapsing under the guise of ‘having it all’ and why it was considered a massive achievement to have maintained a career and a family and to have ‘got in’ to the TV competition.
Gratifyingly, not only did I ‘get in’ but I fought through and reached the final of ‘All That Glitters’, which represented both an intense experience and and a huge investment in time. And I would agree, it was a huge achievement, and involved a lot of change in our family dynamics and without the changing of roles in our family I could not have reached that final, and won both of the challenges that day, very nearly almost (but not) winning the whole competition.
Didn’t this ‘mumpreneur’ do well?
Ultimately I’m never going to be a fan of the term ‘mumpreneur’, but in the context of the TV show, where our interests and personalities were part of the entertainment I understand why my family life was relevant. I represent a lot of working women out there. I am that stereotypical frazzled mum, rushing from work to school pick up, answering emails from school and emails from customers in the same breath, a master of spinning plates but inevitably dropping a few along the way. I get it. There was a story to be told and that was mine.
But from now on, just let’s leave it there. I’m done with that and I promise you I’m not ‘playing at it’ when it comes to my career. On my business card I’m a ‘Designer Goldsmith’, I’m also a Teacher, an Entrepreneur, a Writer (who happens to have a family), but my business card will never read ‘Mumpreneur’. That’s for sure.