That Mumsnet feminism thing: I (sort of) blame the patriarchy

Not all choices are feminist choices. It’s a good thing too — what kind of pressure would women be under if, every hour of every day, every single thing they did had to be weighed up on the basis of whether or not it was passed feminist muster? It wouldn’t be fair. It would hold us back, hence we each just have get on and do what we need to.

Some decisions help improve the lot of other women. Some decisions, while beneficial to us, inadvertently send out messages which are used against others. Some decisions do neither. I’d say one objective of feminism should be to help women’s decisions become less loaded. It’s oppressive to have to represent a whole sex in everything you do. I don’t want to do it — would you?

I ask this because, following yesterday’s ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ debate, I get the impression that some women feel this is precisely what they have to do. It’s not enough to make a choice that’s right for you, or to make the best of a limited range of options. You have to gain external validation for your choices otherwise you’re a bad person. If others fail to see your choice as the only one for women to take, you interpret this as them actively questioning your decisions and indeed your life.

That’s the only way I can explain anyone taking offence at a woman having the temerity to suggest her personal decision to support her family through education is a valid one. It’s the only way I can explain any woman thinking that it is judgmental for another to say having children is not a “full stop” in her life. It’s the only way I can explain a woman believing it is fair, reasonable and right to shout from a balcony that each mother’s breasts have a purpose and that this defines motherhood (sod you, adoptive mothers, mothers who’ve had mastectomies, mothers who for any reason cannot or do not wish to breastfeed — apparently you don’t count). It’s the only way I explain perfectly intelligent women so misunderstanding the difference between making jam not being a feminist act (honestly, it’s not, it’s just jam!) and it being an anti-feminist one that they’ll fire off whole blog posts on the topic, defending a right to make preserves that was never, ever under threat.

I think there was a lot of potential in the question ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ (contrary to those who would rather rudely use arch-feminist Joss Whedon to refute such a position). I think there is clearly an argument to be made that some elements of mummy blogging form an extension of the 2nd wave feminist attempt to give domestic life the same status as so-called “public” life. Caring for children is not an alternative to living, it’s an essential part of it. We need to challenge the view that only those who earn and those who do things outside of caring should have a public voice. We all know that mummy bloggers (whatever one wishes to call them) have the capacity to lead this challenge. I had hoped — naively, perhaps — we could have moved the debate on to ask which forms of mummy blogging support this enterprise most effectively. Instead one panel member was castigated for failing to boost the egos of those who want constant approval for their choices simply because they’re choices (choice as a principle might be feminist but fawning over the “empowering” choices of each and every woman isn’t. It’s just patronising).

I think Sarah Ditum is a fantastic writer and thinker and I don’t believe she said anything which cast judgement on others. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Charlotte Raven says, but I respect her enormously (especially as she showed a tolerance and receptiveness to other viewpoints sadly lacking elsewhere). As a mother who’s always been in full-time paid work, I don’t take particular offence at those who suggest I’ve not done the right thing. I know what options I had and the sacrifices I had to make. That’s personal to me and while I have regrets, they’re mine, not yours. It takes a particular type of entitlement to fail to recognise that everyone’s life is shaped by different restrictions. I don’t go to the office as some great “fuck you” to stay-at-home mothers. I’m sorry, but you don’t even figure in this decision-making process, just as I’m sure I don’t figure in yours.

Until women have the confidence to take a joke about jam, to permit others to decide when the “full stop” comes in the narrative of their own life and to allow others to make their own judgements about what their tits are for, then I say we need feminism more than ever. It disappoints me to think the egos of mothers are so fragile. You should be angry. You should be shouting. But if you value choice at all, think wisely about who you choose to put in your firing line.


38 thoughts on “That Mumsnet feminism thing: I (sort of) blame the patriarchy

  1. For me, the problems were all caused by misconstruing of things the panel said. The problem with the jam thing is the question was ‘Can a feminist make jam?’ The answer being given as no. And while I am entirely with you that the act of jam making is not itself a feminist act, of course you can BE a feminist and make jam on your days off from overthrowing the patriarchy! They aren’t mutually exclusive, they just have no bearing on each other.
    As for poor Sarah, again people seemed to misunderstand her personal experience as a dictat for all, which I don’t believe it was for a moment.

    Unfortunately I think peoples back were up jut from the name of the session. I don’t consider myself a mummy blogger. I am a woman who is a mother, and a woman who blogs, sometimes the two cross over, sometimes they don’t.

    I loved your point about the value of blogging in giving women in all their glorious variety a voice. And while I found the panel session itself a little less productive than I hoped, not through anyone’s fault in particular, I am delighted to have got up this morning to discover many people discussing feminism and what it means to them, which is a brilliant thing.

  2. I was in the audience yesterday and I must admit, I think there was a lot of potential to the discussion – potential which was never realised. From an onlooker’s point of view, it seemed that there were quite a few different discussions taking place at the same time and I wonder if that might be what caused the confusion. Personally, I think some comments from the panel were misheard and misunderstood, within the context of all those different debates happening at one go. I’m not sure it was made entirely clear at the beginning of the discussion what a “mummy blogger” actually is – I felt like there was an element of confusion about this point before we even got to the interesting stuff. I also think there was confusion about the understanding of what a feminist act is and whether doing something makes you “unfeminist”, eg. It’s not a feminist act to make jam, but you can still make jam and call yourself a feminist. I hope you managed to say some of the things you’d wanted to and didn’t feel like it was a total waste of time!

    1. I think at some stage “mummy blogger” got merged together with “stay-at-home mother” and then there was no going back. It did need more definition but I really do think that Sarah being made the focus of so much anger says something about the insecure status of mothers and not Sarah herself.

      1. I agree – I think that if Sarah had been heard properly, many members of the audience would have actually agreed with much of what she was saying. As I said, it’s a shame it ended the way it did.

      2. I agree with you. I felt terrible for Sarah and hoped that she didn’t walk away kicking herself for having stepped into the limelight in the first place. I am American and in the States there is no shame in being a mommy blogger. They are an all-powerful group with the capability of righting wrongs, speaking out and holding people/brands/businesses accountable for the dumb things they say and do. I would have much rather focussed our time yesterday in talking about how mommy bloggers can be feminist (if they want to) by taking pride in their individual and collective accomplishments, taking strength from one another and in working together to push forward an agenda where we women have a choice to do whatever we want to do – blog, mother, not mother, stay at home, work, or dance on the table tops. That message was missing from yesterday – I hope they’ll think to put it in next year.

  3. Wow! Wow! Wow! When people query others being judgmental but are actually judgmental themselves, I find that very odd. Yes, it is convenient to say “sod you, adoptive mothers, mothers who’ve had mastectomies, mothers who for any reason cannot or do not wish to breastfeed — apparently you don’t count” as that puts you on the good cop side and me on the bad cop side, without ANY attempt to see where I was coming from with that point. It was a point about anatomy and the fact that we are BUILT differently, and we can be equal to men, without having to be the same as them. What prompted me to say it was a person on stage saying “why would you want to be called a Mummy, when that is what a CHILD would call you”. Sorry I love the things my CHILD calls me.

    So we were supposed to correctly understand what was meant by the references to jam, but you’re completely off the hook for not understanding me? Nice! Irony is alive and well!!!


    1. I think my point still stands. Take away the breastfeeding and what, precisely, is it about our function and how we’re built that means so many women make the wrong choices (in your world of nurturing women vs non-nurturing men)? You were being judgmental simply insofar as what you mean by “built differently” implies there is a correct function for mothers that can’t be replicated by others. Not all women or men can live like that. You should be able to accept that without getting angry.

        1. If videoing it and combing over what may or may not offend you and who said what makes you happy, knock yourself out. Blimey! (Is that a woman-only activity or can it appeal to anyone?)

  4. I agree that what Sarah said was misconstrued, but there was a better way to deal with the fallout. Personally I was more disappointed by Charlotte’s opening statements, but watched her listen intelligently and try to understand other women’s points of view. That is good feminism in my mind, and I ended with immense respect for her.

    1. Yes, me too. I did wonder what selection of mummy blogs she had been reading as I don’t think she’s experienced the diversity of what’s out there. But I thought the way she listened and was willing to give ground was so impressive.

  5. I chatted to Sarah Ditum earlier and she seemed like a real sweetie so I felt for her when she was getting battered. Her points just got taken the wrong way and the audience was ready to rumble. The breasts thing from the balcony was a bit random but I kinda got what she was saying….not the time to start a bfing vs ffing debate!

  6. Excellent blog post.

    I am a feminist, and a blogger, and a mother. I don’t believe that I have to choose between these labels, or even that I need to label myself at all.

    While I adore my children, I do not identify myself only as a mother. To do this would be to deny my own life, my own feelings and my own opinions.

    I took the decision to stop blogging about my children when they went to school. I don’t judge anyone who continues as a mummyblogger, as that is their decision and they have to square it with their family.

    Feminism isn’t only about being equal, or having the choice to do what one wants. Even in a true feminist society, there would still be options to weigh up, and decisions to make. Feminism isn’t about putting ourselves first, nor is motherhood about always putting everyone else first.

    It is a shame that the discussion was so disrupted, as the excellent panel could have given valuable insight into a difficult topic. He who shouts loudest is not the winner of the debate. In the end, the debate was the loser.

  7. I think a post “combing over what may or may not [have offended]” is what brought us to this very point, so in quite a circular fashion I am back once again to saying what I said in my 1st comment that irony is alive and well! Whatever feminists may or may not have to say about men, it is often more rare that they nitpick over semantics. For example, a spade should be a spade. If it looks like a Mummy blogger, writes like a Mummy blogger, talks like a Mummy blogger, and labels itself as a Mummy blogger then, downing tools to tell the whole of Twitter they’re not a Mummy blogger (apart from if brands were listening) is as ridiculous as this whole debate. Each to their own I say!

  8. I was also there and found the whole experience a bit depressing. How can we as women expect to move forward and deal with all the very real barriers that still exist for us, if every discussion we have degenerates into a shouting match about breast v bottle, stay at home mum v working? Isn’t that exactly what the like of the Daily Mail would love to see?

    It’s understandable that women feel the need to defend their choices, whatever you do will be criticised by some. But women who blog, mummy bloggers or whatever you call us, do have the potential to be powerful and influential. We’ll never realise that if we are so insecure and overly defensive that we can’t even listen properly to the opinions of other women.

  9. It’s such a shame that so much ended up being misunderstood between women – I felt sad about that. I agree with Sonya regarding the whole jam thing…. of course, making jam in itself isn’t a feminist act, but you can be a feminist and still make jam. Was it meant to be dry joke? Was Charlotte being ironic, I guess in a way she was, but the way the question was couched and the directness of response clouded any subtlety and wry humour – or, I think there were many tired women in the audience at that point, including me, and it went flying over our/my head. I did however love Charlotte’s maturity and openness in listening to other opinions, and respecting them – a strong and secure woman. What the debate should have been about, and I hoped would evolve into, was how the experience of being a parent blogger can push the agenda of inequality etc forwards, how we can strengthen our voices as women and parents. That to me, is a feminist issue, but unfortunately because of all the misunderstandings going on, the discussion never quite got there.

    1. Glad you have that opinion of Raven but frankly you’re being conned. Her ability to switch opinions when under fire is simply a strategy employed to deflect attention away from the fact the ‘the new voice of feminism’ is the emperor with no clothes. She hates debate because she knows nothing about online feminism (or feminism at all for that matter) and is engaged in a cult-like project with herself as ‘leader’ where women are encouraged to turn their backs on the democratising possibilities of the internet and return to a glorious age when journalists talked down to readers and we pay for the privilege. She wants your money: of course she’ll capitulate. It’s called the commodification of feminism.

      1. That wasn’t the impression I got of her but I do think it would have been interesting to compare what Raven’s doing with the Feminist Times with her dislike of those who “commodity” family life. One thing I wanted to say (but didn’t get the chance) was that if parenting is not financially rewarded how can you possibly judge women for monetising it? In suggesting that it should somehow be sacred isn’t Raven buying into the very motherhood myths that damage all of us? I’d have been interested to go into that but there really wasn’t an opportunity with everything else going on!

        1. Sorry. Ignore comment. Just very upset about my friend and don’t know any people who work in a similar field to Raven and thought you may have advice. But its unfair of me to involve you in any way. Sorry.

    2. Older mum, I quoted you on my post on blogfest. “I’m a feminist and I bloody love jam”. Brilliant! Just summed up the absurdity of that question.

  10. I left before the feminism debate so can not comment on specifics but I think that as women, we are sometimes too quick to feel that we are being judged. Breastfeeding is a great example of this, I constantly hear women who say that they felt judged because they bottle fed their baby. I bf my daughter and also felt judged. So, perhaps these feelings are more to do with our own insecurities than other people. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that as women and as mothers particularly we are judged by many quarters. Media, employers, men etc but we have to be able to differentiate between someone actually judging us and someone just having a different opinion.

  11. As someone who was in the audience, I have to say I found the attitude of some of those who spoke from the floor incredibly aggressive. Berating panellists isn’t just rude to people who have given up their time (probably for free) to speak, but also rude to all the other people in the audience who paid to hear the advertised panel, not some random ranters!

  12. You’re right. That too many women lack the confidence to do anything but judge each other’s actions negatively demonstrates why feminism remains a priority. For men as well as women.

  13. I bloody love this post. Women can be their own words enemies sometimes. I can’t claim to know enough about feminism per se, or really to comment on whether ‘mummy’ blogging is feminist or not. I do think the world needs re-ordering to better enable parenting and living and your quote, ‘Caring for children is not an alternative to living, it’s an essential part of it’ is a brilliant point.

    Unfortunately there is so much judgement in motherhood by mothers themselves. Whilst I think we’ve got a long way to go before we can say we’ve reached genuine gender equality, the first step is surely as you put it in your last paragraph.

    Well said.

  14. This is a great post, and extends the discussion much further than it appeared to go on saturday.

    I was shocked at the lack of ability or willingness for a group of women to discuss feminism and blogging in an extremely rare and priviliged ‘safe’ environment. It seemed much of the audience were guilty of seeing stereotypes in the labels put onto them, as Charlotte Raven had the grace to admit when she could see the benefits of why some women choose to blog.

    Whatever we all are, and have made our own choices to become, we should have the confidence in our own lives to extend the discussion and come not to an agreement but to an acceptance that women’s lives today can be such a varied and enriching collection of experience.

    This is what will help us each to make the world a better experience for our sons and our daughters.

    That’s if we decide to look at the real barriers to change, and not keep fighting each other.

  15. I was really looking forward to the debate, as I thought that the topic really did have some interesting potential, even if on the face of it, the answer is yes.

    From the audience perspective, I thought the panel as a whole in general came across as quite judgmental towards mummy blogging, both the people that might do it and the genre as a concept, even though the term is probably not an accurate description (I see it as akin to chick lit or other technically accurate but loaded and deliberately derogatory description). That, I think, perhaps caused the audience to be ‘off side’ from the start.

    I also felt the panel could have been better chaired. I can also see how from the audience’s perspective, Sarah’s comments about academia could have been interpreted. I didn’t think she meant it as it appeared to come across, and do agree with her, but there are a lot of people with fewer academic qualifications who feel, rightly or wrongly, a constant need to defend their choice.

    I also can see the difference between feminist acts, and things which people (including feminists) do, but perhaps in the context of “can you be a feminist and x” which was the topic of the debate, and then asking about jam and giving such a categoric/prescriptive and implied judgmental “no”, was an error. I think actually, things like “jam” and “high heels” have taken on an implied significance that goes beyond the actual act. Perhaps if the question was making coffee it would have been easier to see the semantics of the distinction and the reason it was being asked.

    1. No one on the panel got to choose the title. The audience must realise that and I’m a little shocked so many of them lacked the basic human empathy and manners that would have prevented them taking out frustration at a mere title on a group of women who hadn’t chosen it. I also wonder what kind of person thinks it’s reasonable for someone who’s never sat on a stage in front of 400 people to have women tweeting glib insults about her over her head and chuckling while she’s speaking and has no fucking idea what people are laughing about. I would like to see a bit more understanding of just how cruel, needless and upsetting it was. I had no animosity towards anyone, no problem with mummy blogging, yet a minority of women made me intimidated, frightened and deeply upset just because their fragile little egos got piqued by a sodding title.

      I never entered (or indeed left) that debate anything other than for mothers writing blogs. However, it does frustrate me that the person willing to give the most one-sided “isn’t being a mother ace” comments was viewed as some sort of champion while everyone else was seen as much of a muchness. I wasn’t there to boost anyone’s ego – I wanted a discussion that was actually useful.

      It is, quite frankly, a piece of piss to sit there and say “having kids is the best thing that ever happened to me”. Of course it is. Why even say it? It’s far harder to tease apart the ways in which we limit the lives of other women by imposing our own chosen narratives on them.

      1. I got the feeling – being in the audience – that the tweets were angry at Mumsnet for the frankly stupid title, and the piss-poor direction (and chairing) of the debate. I felt increasingly sorry for the panel being in such a hostile environment, but, under the circumstances, I also felt increasing anger towards Mumsnet for letting the situation occur as it did.

        You say you were upset at the audience for the lack of courtesy extended to you. I understand that, and even agree with you. However, there was a distinct lack of courtesy extended to the audience by both mumsnet and the chair of the panel. The chair didn’t (couldn’t? Wouldn’t?) pull back the debate, or even frame the debate sensibly to quell the hostility (when, if you ask me, it was her opening sentences, and those utterly stupid questions to Charlotte Raven that lost the audience in the first place, you were all fighting a losing battle against that). And as for Mumsnet, why give it that title in the first place? Surely the better title would have been “Mummy-blogging AS a feminist act.”? In the spirit of the day, which was dedicated to being supportive of both motherhood AND blogging, why choose such a divisive title in the first instance?

        I know why (because I asked one of the organisers afterwards) it was “to be provocative”.

        I was offended by Mumsnet choosing that debate before I even got into that room. I know I’m not the only one. The chair only compounded those fears for most of us, and the barracking was the result of the “provocation” put into effect by the organisers of the event before you even got on stage. And I’m sorry about that. Of all the questions of all the effects of feminism in the twenty first century, why ask THAT one? To provoke. To cause a media-storm. To create a debate. It certainly wasn’t either to entertain or educate their audience. I thought it was abhorrent, the panel was, essentially, thrown to the lions.

        I think it backfired on Mumsnet – spectacularly. I’m seriously considering my place in the network, and I don’t think I’ll be at Blogfest next year as a result of this. Which, as I was a speaker myself at the inaugural Blogfest in 2012 is a big deal for me.

        I get that you’re upset that the audience was angry at the debate, but I think you need to be angry with some other people too. I came away with renewed respect for most of the panellists for their grace under fire – which is why I’m here, commenting on your blog, even though I was one of the angry tweeters on the day – the panel weren’t the only ones badly treated by the debate, and hey! At least *you* didn’t have to pay to be insulted by the organisers.

  16. I’m not sure what I expected to find in this post with the explosions witnessed on Twitter but I’m pleasantly surprised to find I mostly agree with you. You’ve highlighted something I also touched on in my review of that session – that there were a lot of hurt feelings and the bigger issues got lost in process. I understand what Sarah Ditum was saying and I also could see where her “challengers” were coming from. Unfortunately, whenever we start speaking from our singular, personal experiences in a forum like that, rather than in more general terms, there is always the danger of descent into chaos.

  17. @TheCarapace: I agree that the discussion was disappointing as I had hoped for a more measured discussion (and agree poor Sarah inadvertently managed to make herself unpopular when talking about her personal choices). However, I did think the discussion was worth debating. The whole concept that family life and children are worth less than, say, commenting on the Governor of the Bank of England’s view on interest rates, because domestic life is (mainly) a female preserve seems to me to be ill judged.

    I have been at various times in my life, a City high flyer, a SAHM, mum of three, writer and teacher. I have never, ever felt that what I had to say was less “valuable” when talking about my children than about anything else (including Carney’s slightly dubious comments on interest rates) and I want that for other women. Of course you can be a mummy blogger and a feminist, just as you can wear lipstick and be a feminist or shave your head and wear sackcloth and be a feminist. I am not worth less than a man purely because I am a woman THAT is being a feminist.

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