Motherhood is something that most women (around 70 to 80% in developed countries) experience in their lives, and which can impact their geek lives much more strongly than fatherhood does for men. Due to the Second shift effect and other problems, motherhood can be very difficult to reconcile with work in geeky fields such as the Technology industry or with attendance at events such as Technical conferences or Science Fiction conventions.
- Women may suffer hiring discrimination if they are mothers, are likely to become mothers, or are assumed to be mothers soon due to their suspected age.
- For biological mothers, pregnancy itself may sometimes be difficult and dangerous, requiring unplanned leave and rest periods, which can be seen as incompatible with high-pressure tech work.
- Women who take breaks from work to have babies may fall behind in their technical skills
- Women who take breaks from work may have lower income than their partners, and the household may therefore view her career as "not worth the effort" (especially when childcare costs are considered)
Childcare and the second shift
- The Childcare workload falls disproportionately on women, giving them less time for geeky activities ranging from late-night hacking to attending conferences. Childcare quality expectations also expect disproportionate amounts of time and energy from mothers (see for example attachment parenting, one criticism of which is that the pair bond between mother and child is expected to be all-consumingly powerful to the point of being detrimental to mothers)
- Women may experience disapproval or criticism if judged by others to be insufficiently dedicated mothers, by, for example, attempting to advance their technical career
- Disapproval often manifests as only being allowed to game/hack/code if you've already done an equal or greater amount of child caring recently. Such attitudes are less often applied to male parents.
- Even in previously fairly equitable male-female relationships, traditional women's household work may shift irreversibly to the woman when she is a mother.
- Women may experience negative career effects regardless of their actual parental status.
- Heterosexuality and a desire to wed and have children is oftentimes presumed.
- Non-heterosexual and child-free women raise uncomfortable questions about income disparities under patriarchy, so their existence is often ignored or downplayed.
Perception of non-geekiness
- Mothers are typified as the most clueless possible users of computers: So simple, your mother could do it
- Women attempting to begin a technical career with older children may have difficulty learning it due to existing responsibilities or outright hostility from their own family (for example, if there is a 'family' computer, older children have been known to be very reluctant to let their mother use it)
There's a whole set of issues for mothers choosing to breastfeed young children:
- Some geeks events (as with non-geek spaces) may bar breastfeeding in public. (This is illegal discrimination in some jurisdictions but allowed in others.) If events don't have explicitly pro-breastfeeding policies — and very few do — individual security staff, volunteers etc may mistakenly bar breastfeeding and the mother may not be able to/willing to assert the child's legal right to be fed even if it has such a right.
- At events, the carer and child may be excluded from the venue unless they are registered, meaning that the mother must regularly leave the event to feed the child.
- Some mothers are not comfortable with nursing in public, and thus at events need private spaces.
- Even mothers who are usually comfortable nursing in public may not be comfortable nursing at a geek event with a very skewed gender ratio with an atmosphere of sexualisation.
- Even mothers who are comfortable nursing in public are often not comfortable expressing or pumping milk in public, and comfortable rooms with a closable door and a power point are rarely provided at geek events.
- Maintaining breastfeeding is quite difficult with a younger baby (under 6 months especially) and a full-time job (due to pumping not providing as much milk production stimulation), especially if the mother's maternity leave was short. Many technical careers have extremely limited part-time options.
- Maintaining breastfeeding ranges from very difficult to impossible if the mother needs to travel apart from the baby (or toddler), as is required by many technical jobs.
- Families with children typically have less disposable income and additionally in many families, spending money on the mother's hobbies are extremely low budget priorities, after the needs of the family and then the interests of the father (if he is involved) and children (not necessarily in that order)
- Interest in learning about and discussing parenting and childrearing is viewed as a female domain with low importance and value.
Approaches and positive examples
Some ways that geek communities can be inclusive of parents are described at Childcare, together with examples of specific events.
- Conference participant Amy Muller refused entry to Web 2.0 Expo in 2007 when carrying a 4 month old baby
- Conference participant Rachel Chalmers attended FOO camp with her 8 month old daughter in 2006. At the general closing session, another FOO camper requested that the event be made child-free in future
- Hackerspace NYC Resistor has adopted a child-free policy. Ironically this was posted to their blog immediately after a cute photo of two hackish kids.
- San Francisco hackerspace Noisebridge has soundly rejected suggestions that it should ban children, but provides a disclaimer that the space is not child-safe.
- "I recognize that I was the first pregnant contractor in Taos' employ, and that I should have expected a few hitches here and there as things got figured out. And I did. But I also expected Taos to work with me, a committed employee with considerable skills and a good reputation in her own right, as evidenced by the fact that I never went to an assignment where I didn't already know someone, or by the fact that a recruiter at a large system administration conference spoke with dozens of people who said, "Hey, I know someone who works for Taos," and mentioned my name. What I didn't expect was for Taos to fight me every step of the way, making every tiny thing about ten times the hassle it needed to be. I didn't expect misinformation about my legal rights, or misrepresentation of Taos' obligations under federal and state law. I never expected to be receiving my first check for meager disability insurance only after my disability was over, thanks to Taos' ineptitude with their books. I expected the same good faith back that I gave, and that's not what happened. In retrospect, I probably should have quit in about October and spared myself the misery of trying to keep dealing with Taos."