I’ve given this post a really crap title. It’s a title so crap that if, say, Mumsnet were to arrange a debate on it as part of their annual Blogfest, you’d take one look at the programme and think “what a perfectly ridiculous question!” Then you’d swig a bit more free gin and giggle at the famous people but all the while you’d be working yourself up into a state of ever more righteous indignation. Mummy blogger! Feminist! Pah!
Finally the time for the debate would come and you’d be ready, primed to respond to any trigger words the panel (i.e. anyone on stage who wasn’t Alison Perry) threw at you. And then it would begin! They’d say words like “jam”! And “shoes”! And then, horror of horrors, Sarah Ditum would even utter the word “university”! All hell would break loose. There’d be shouting, hissing and fury. See? You just knew that debate would be shit. It was all in the title.
When I first heard the title of the debate in which I’d be taking part last Saturday, I didn’t think it was great. I thought my answer would at least be an obvious one (“yes”) and that hopefully we could then move on to exploring the nuances of responses to mothers’ voices online. That of course didn’t happen and I didn’t get to say all the things I had planned (I’d prepared a whole bloody mind map, dammit!). Since then I’ve watched the aftermath play out in blogs and on twitter. It’s made me wonder: was I right? If I had the chance to say all the things I’d prepared, would I change anything? Knowing what I know now, I’d say no and yes. Can you be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist? I thought so; now I’d add some serious qualifications.
I hate the way mummy bloggers are depicted in the media. Anyone who’s read my posts on the subject (she says, grandly) would know this. In particular, I hate the sexist mockery and trivialisation of anything connected with childcare and domestic life. Feminism has long pushed against this (Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room is a feminist classic not least because French refuses to focus on traditional, male-dominated lives and instead describes the real experiences of middle-class wives and mothers as she knows it). I did, at one stage, think mummy bloggers could be a modern-day version of French, perhaps even an improvement insofar as they’d offer a multiplicity of voices that French, as just one writer, never could. Now I think I vastly overestimated the purity of the genre. I didn’t want to notice the power structures lurking beneath it.
What is a mummy blogger? No one really got to the bottom of this. According to my mind map (sorry, but I was proud of it) it could be: someone who writes a blog and is a mum; someone who only blogs about their children; an activist blogger focussing on childcare and maternity issues; a blogger who idolises domesticity; a blogger who critiques motherhood from a personal perspective; a blogger who reviews household and child-centred products; a combination of any of these. I also made a note that some of the snide, chippy insults aimed at mummy bloggers – they’re too middle-class, trivial, privileged, self-absorbed — overlapped with those aimed at feminists. I thought this was interesting. I thought (and still think) it’s mainly sexism that drives these insults. However, whereas for feminism I’ve also known it’s because there’s a grain of truth, for mummy blogging I wasn’t so sure, at least not until now.
To judge by the responses of last Saturday’s crowd, a mummy blogger is someone who considers having children their greatest achievement and is proud to be identified as “a mummy” even by those who aren’t her kids. I’ll be honest: I don’t think having children is my greatest achievement. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done but I don’t think I can base my self-worth on it. Too much of it is down to luck. I had one miscarriage; I was lucky not to have more. There will be women who’ve had multiple miscarriages or women who’ve never even conceived who will have put far more effort into becoming a mummy than I did. I’m one of the lucky ones but when it comes to things I’ve had to work hard for, I’d rate my PhD as more of a unique effort (I know! A PhD! From a university! This OBVIOUSLY means I like books more than my kids and think any mother who doesn’t have GCSEs is crap, or something…).
It’s not that I don’t think being a mum is in itself hard work. Of course it is and of course I know — I am one! That’s why I think it’s important a wide variety of mothers find ways to articulate their own experience of the difficulty, not necessarily in a self-aggrandising “look at me and my hectic life!” way but in a way that is true to them. I thought that, as a project, mummy blogging was achieving this. I know that there is a wide variety of voices on Mumsnet and Britmums (hell, even I got to be a Bibs finalist; take that, woman who suggested the panel had “only spent one week familiarising themselves with mummy blogs”). I’ve never felt there was a party line, at least not until I was up there on that stage and until I read the blog posts that followed. I’ve now come to see that there are mummy bloggers (women like me)and Mummy Bloggers™. The latter are women who, through blogging, are not so much sharing the experience of motherhood as appropriating it.
I am as much of a mummy as anyone who includes the word “mummy” in their blog title. I am as much of a mummy as anyone who sees no meaning in their life beyond their children. I am as much of a mummy as a SAHM or a mother in full- or part-time employment. I am as much of a mummy as anyone who boasts of their self-abnegating style of parenting or offers impromptu lectures on the different roles of men and women. I am as much of a mummy as someone who thinks any woman on last Saturday’s panel who wasn’t saying “mummies rock!” was saying exactly the same thing. I am as much of a mummy as Alison Perry and as Charlotte Raven. No one owns motherhood. No one owns the articulation of this experience.
Broadly speaking, I think many women describe motherhood as a career because we (wrongly) value people only on their job title. Unless you make it analogous to paid work outsiders are dismissive and disrespectful. This frustrates me. We should not have to market our lives in line with the supposedly more “real” experiences of men and non-parents. However, when Mummy Bloggers™ describe motherhood as a career, I think something different is going on. It’s not just because careers are valued; it’s because careers are hierarchical. Other women might be mummies, but Mummy Bloggers™ more mummy than thou.
Mummy Bloggers™ exploit the very real discrimination faced by SAHMs in order to avoid any form of self-examination. If you make yourself into the mummy archetype, any criticism aimed at you isn’t really anything to do with you; it’s criticism aimed at all mummies, everywhere (unless they’re Sarah Ditum). I have a feeling that within the wider mummy blogging community we tiptoe around this. We’re not allowed to highlight the contradictions and challenges inherent in the way we present our experiences because there’s always someone who’ll accuse us of betraying the Motherhood. We treat all posts with an equal measure of reverence, even those which may say things we don’t believe, because there is no such thing as debate, at least not on what we do, that is, how we represent motherhood and the impact this act of representation could have on other women. To debate this with a Mummy Blogger™ is not to challenge a person; it’s to challenge the whole concept of mummy-ness. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a mummy, too; unless you’ve signed up to the Mummy Blogger™ pact, you’re an outsider. The minute you place your own experience as a mother in a nuanced context (as Sarah Ditum did) you are seen as a traitor. This is, quite frankly, pathetic.
And so this is what I am now thinking: yes, of course you can be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist. But a Mummy Blogger™ and still a feminist? I’m not so sure. Feminism is not about claiming one archetype as your own and attacking all those who dare to differ. Feminism has to be for all women.
As a global movement, feminism has attracted criticism because it has failed to include all those it claims to represent. At times, feminism has been elitist, exclusive and reductive. I now believe the same can be said for mummy blogging. It’s certainly not beyond redemption but I think that without a greater degree of self-criticism from those with the loudest voices, the rest of us – the mere common-or-garden bloggers who happen to be mummies too – will be silenced. If we really value the voices of mothers who blog we should resist this. You don’t have to prove your mummy-ness. All you need to do is express what matters to you.