Wednesday, 7 April 2010
I realise that I may be coming to this conversation a little late - such is my habit I'm afraid - but after reading what I felt to be a rather objectionable on-line article that had been featured in the New York Times and is entitled: 'Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand' I felt moved to write a response.
The piece was written by American journalist Jennifer Mendelsohn, and from the very beginning is shot through with exactly the same patronizing tone that so distinguishes the title. Mendelsohn portrays Mummy blogging as a self indulgent and silly hobby, enjoyed by mostly middle class mothers with far too much time on their hands. An air of mockery can also be detected consistently throughout the article - Mendelsohn quotes the titles and tag lines of womens blogs with a superior and sardonic air - as though she can't quite help but cock a speculative and disbelieving eye at how anyone could possibly concern themselves with reading and writing such trivia.
Unfortunately this point of view is not an uncommon one. I have often heard it implied (by other bloggers too, interestingly) that mummy bloggers specifically are a sad, socially challenged bunch who use blogging and social media as a substitute for real friendships and interaction, and who have nothing better to do with their free time than to spend it documenting their little darlings adventures on the toilet for all and sundry to read. Mendelsohn herself describes the mummy blogosphere as functioning as a kind of "modern day kaffeeklatsch" and in doing so reinforces this attitude that mothers who blog have nothing of value to contribute to any serious discussion. As offended as I am by the tone of her comments, I nevertheless can acknowledge a grain of truth in what she says. The mummy blogosphere can indeed sometimes resemble something of a virtual coffee morning, but mostly in the sense that it provides often isolated mothers with the support, advice and company of their peers. Being the sole or main carer for children is not always conducive to an active social life, or necessarily to an active working one, and so what many resourceful women are finding is that blogging can provide new ways of connecting with other mothers, of discussing the issues that affect them, and of engaging with a world from which they can sometimes feel excluded.
What I take real exception to is the derisory tone Mendelsohn chooses to adopt when discussing the possibility that some mummy bloggers might take their writing seriously. I presume (and it is a fairly large assumption, but bear with me) that as a well educated, successful woman in a male dominated field she would have at least a passing familiarity with the principles of feminism. I wonder then why she feels it acceptable to dismiss what is in effect an entire genre of female writers in one fell swoop, and why she is happy to imply that women who dare to take a bit of time out for themselves in order to write are neglecting their children.
The attitude that mothers have nothing of value to contribute to any discussion that doesn't involve either nappies or baby food is - unfortunately - not an uncommon one either. Even the feminist movement itself has sometimes marginalised or ignored mothers and the issues that can affect them, which has always struck me as being hugely counter-productive. After all the majority of women become mothers at some point, how can we claim to advocate for womankind whilst simultaneously pretending that the majority don't exist? The occupation of motherhood is often denigrated and given low status by both men and women because it is unpaid and is therefore classed as having no economic value. Stay at home mothers especially suffer at the hands of a male dominated and profit driven society that often seeks to class them as being brainless amoebas with nothing to contribute and nothing to say. Never mind that we have given up our independence in order to bring up the next generation. Mendelsohns article plays neatly into all of these odious stereotypes. 'How dare these women entertain such ideas above their station' seems to be the message. 'What thinking person would possibly want to read about their lives?' To quote the inimitable Germaine Greer: "Motherhood is now regarded as a sort of personal indulgence." If that is the case, where then might that leave writing about it?
Of course as any blog reader will tell you there is in fact an infinite amount of variation in womens on line writing. Although if you are a woman and you mention your children on your blog - however tangentially - be prepared for your blog to be instantly labelled a 'Mummy Blog' whether or not that is how you would choose to define yourself. There has been a lot of talk in our corner of the internet recently about the term 'mummy blogger' and how well it defines what we do. Are we 'just' mummy bloggers or are we more than that? Does the term itself invite others to take us less seriously? Or are we proud of that label? Would distancing ourselves from it simply play into the hands of those who would seek to denigrate mothers and their writing? Or does it not really matter either way because we only blog for fun anyway?
In truth I have not read many blogs that focus exclusively on relaying the day to day bringing up of small children, although I certainly do not think blogs that do are less relevant than any other. The beauty of having a blog is that it is your own space to write about what you want. What I have found to be mostly the case though is that the vast majority of mummy blogs are actually concerned with all sorts of subjects aswell as parenting. Popular culture, politics, history, mental health, feminism, crafts, creative writing - it's all there. Not only that but it is being documented by some extremely talented writers. Writers who without the medium of blogging might not have found a space to use as their creative and intellectual outlet. Just imagine what a treasure trove it will all make for the future social historians of the next millenium.
Mummy blogging is important, simply because through it we are telling the truth about ordinary womens lives. It is the story of our time and place from a myriad of different perspectives. It is relevant and it is worthy - and not only that - it is being kept safe for future generations.
So with this post I am asking: What does mummy blogging and your writing mean to you? Leave a comment, or if you are interested in doing a guest post with a view to answering the question in more detail, feel free to e-mail me (contact details are linked to at the top.)