Editor’s Note: This entrepreneur is one of seven women helping women named to The Story Exchange’s 2018 Resist List.
Just to be clear, you do not need tattoos to be a member of Paula Clark’s parenting group. Nor do you need green hair. Clark, who has run the organization for the past 12 years or so, happens to have both — but that’s not the common thing she shares with her 6,000 members.
“Our mission has always been to provide a community for parents who felt left out of other groups,” she says. “We never ridicule, we don’t allow name bashing, we support women.” And judgment? “In our group, [there’s] no judging, even passive-aggressively, of others’ parenting choices and behavior,” Clark, 38, says. “Most of us are die-hard liberal intersectional feminists who swear a lot.”
Welcome to Punky Moms, an organization that welcomes the radical and rebellious to its ranks. Started in Dallas in April 2002, the group describes itself as a meeting place for “alternative” parents — that is, the kids who grew up sporting mohawks or black lipstick, who are now having children of their own, and who are more apt to dress those kids in black onesies with skulls rather than anything fuzzy pink or blue.
A for-profit business, Punky Moms organizes meetups of like-minded parents, provides “parenting and raising hell” advice on its website, and sells merchandise to its now-global audience (a recent best-seller was this Tiny Feminist T-shirt). It has more than 50 chapters around the world and a growing social-media presence on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. While it doesn’t charge a membership fee, it generates revenue through e-commerce and, increasingly, website advertising, which it plans to expand in 2018.
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A Home for Riot Grrrls
Clark, who now runs Punky Moms from her home in the U.K., first got involved as a 25-year-old stepmom living in Orlando, Fla. “None of my friends at the time were having any sort of kids,” she says. And she was different than most moms. “I’m an old-school goth riot grrrl,” she says (the term refers to young feminists who prefer aggressive punk-rock music). “When you’re kinda alternative, people look at you in a certain way,” she says. “They have perceptions of who you are.” But once she met the group’s other alt parents, “I had this instant family,” she says.
A grass-roots effort, Punky Moms was originally founded by Jessica Seymour, a punk-loving mom in Texas who wanted to find other moms she could relate to. Thanks to online forums, the group grew and spread beyond Dallas. “And then Facebook came along,” Clark says, who credits the social network with fueling Punky Mom’s growth. Today there is Punky Moms’ main public Facebook page, but also about 20 private Facebook groups (including Punky Mom Family and Punky Dads) where alternative and progressive parents can bond, vent frustrations and swap stories.
Around the time Clark became involved with Punky Moms, Seymour — whose kids were growing up — passed the reins to three other moms. Eventually, Clark joined the board, and not long after that, the other women stepped aside and “I was given it all,” she says. The timing, it turned out, was fortuitous. Clark had gotten a divorce and re-married, this time to an Englishman named Phil who she met at a beer garden in Astoria, Queens. She moved to the U.K. with him, and they now have a 3-year-old son named Oscar.
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Getting a Lift From Pinterest
Clark refers to herself as the “Boss Babe” and runs the site with three other women, who are all original members of Punky Moms. The four take a small wage, although right now “it’s more a labor of love,” she says. Annual revenue is less than $25,000. She still works as a virtual assistant to supplement her income.
While Punky Moms is small, “we have grown a lot,” Clark says. Back in the day, “punk rock was the common denominator, but now it’s intersectional feminism” — a buzzword that refers to a more diverse and inclusive movement than traditional feminism, which critics say tend to favor the concerns of privileged white women. Beyond old-school punks, Punky Moms’ site notes that it also welcomes “goth ladies of darkness, retro Bettys, hippy mamas, geeks & freaks, strange & unusual….no two Punky Moms are alike.” As Clark puts it: “We aren’t one voice but together we make a lot of noise.”
Clark says she has worked to increase Punky Moms’ reach by including original content on the site (a recent post is “10 Children’s Books to Smash the Patriarchy With”) and expanding beyond Facebook. “We’ve been working hard on Pinterest lately and so that has taken the top spot at the moment, as we are being very diligent in our keyword and SEO tactics,” she says. “We also do a lot of email marketing.”
Next up is a push for website advertising (starting at $25 per month) and sponsored posts (starting at $50 per month). Clark recently put together a media kit, and is scouting out likely contenders — say, a vegan-friendly drug store or a cruelty-free cosmetics company. “We’re very apprehensive,” she says. “It has to be the right fit.” She hopes the site’s traffic and revenue will grow quickly in the next 6 months. “We have a very niche audience but they’re very engaged,” she says.
Through the years, Clark says Punky Moms’ members have helped her feel less alone in parenthood. It’s about “women raising each other up,” she says. “And being pretty unapologetic.”
Members already have a plan for farther down the road, too. “We own the domain ‘punkygrandmoms,’” she says.