Can you be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist?

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.

31 thoughts on “Can you be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist?

  1. I am so confused by all of the posts I have read in the last week, from a multitude of sources, that I genuinely have lost track of where I ‘fit’. Certainly not a trademarked mummy blogger, but also perhaps not a feminist in the strictest sense (apparently I am only content not to break glass ceilings because of decades of brainwashing by the patriarchy) I started last week thinking I was a parent, a blogger, and a feminist – in no particular order. I am ending the week still a parent, still a blogger, and I still believe staunchly in equality. In some quarters you get abuse for labelling yourself a feminist, in others told you are not fit to call yourself one! I shall settle for just being me, although I am still arguing with myself about that…. X

    1. Who told you you weren’t fit to call yourself a feminist? *prepares self for fight*
      I haven’t broken any glass ceilings, either. And at “being on a feminism panel at a mummy blogging event without getting shouted at” you’re way, way more successful than me!

  2. It’s interesting that you’ve written this, as I’ve actually been put off blogging (despite wanting to) due to not feeling like I was “mummy” enough to talk about my experience now I’m a mum, but also not wanting to avoid talking about it either. There seems to be this divide between blogs by “mummys” and other bloggers, as if there’s no middle ground between being 100% devoted (obsessed?) mother and being allowed an opinion on other subjects. I worried that if I talked about nappies and sleepless nights I’d not be able to talk about all the other things that affect my life, and vice versa.

    I think you are right that we need to resist this elitism, and show the variety of forms that mothers do actually come in, rather than all being forced into one cramped and restrictive box.

  3. Could I please use one of my mansplaining chits for this year to say “Don’t give these people the airtime”? I only learned one thing from the trenches of economics, and that was that a lot of the time, internal debates over “the nature of….” and “what does it mean to be a….” or “who is really a….” are almost invariably started and dominated by small groups of people who have mistaken their own personality problems for a political or methodological position and the biggest mistake you can make is to start debating the political position that you think you can identify rather than simply calling them on the unacceptable personal behaviour. It’s not “a problem with …” or ” a crisis in….”. It’s a small number of people acting unpleasantly and they need to be made to own it.

  4. *has second thoughts about commenting under my blog name*

    Like Sonya, I have no idea where I stand anymore. I’ve read so many posts, so many conversations / debates / arguments on Twitter my head’s spinning. I walked into that infamous session really interested to hear some debate about the subject but rather quickly felt the atmosphere in the room totally change and could envisage the fallout on social media before I’d even left my seat. I’m so sorry you’ve had such a shit time of it this week, but really believe that you came across really well if it’s any consolation. I guess Blogfest affirmed that I’m still a huge advocate of equality, and maybe I shouldn’t blog about jam anytime soon…

  5. Honestly, I think we’re all (myself included) too into titles and labels for our own good. Labels like ‘feminism’ have a much broader meaning then some appropriators of it will have you believe. Being part of one group or label does not automatically bar you from another. It is how you act and think and the opinions you hold that decide that. You can be a mommy and a feminist, it depends on your take on the matter, not your inclusion in the former group.
    Great post and a point well made. I recently wrote a post on being a housewife and a feminist (http://bunglinghousewife.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/feminist-housewife-not-an-oxymoron/) which looks at similar issues with ascribing to two seemingly different groups.

  6. Fabulous post. Although I didn’t witness the debate, having read a lot of the aftermath, I feel you have solved and resolved the situation there. We are all individuals, our blogs should be about our own choices and what we believe in. Our choices and our blogs don’t make us better parents than people with different choices, different blogs or (shock horror) NO BLOGS.

  7. I think that many bloggers become so distracted and even obsessed by the rankings and blog stats and freebies that they stop saying anything meaningful. In the past, housework and childcare held women back from pursuing feminist goals – they were chained to the kitchen sink. Today many are chained to the laptop, distracted by the art of perfecting their version of family life for a readership made up entirely of other bloggers.

      1. I just can’t help but think all those hours spent blogging and promoting products for companies… instead, become a magistrate! Become a school governor! Volunteer for Homestart! There are so many ways to make a difference to womens’ lives, and make your voice count.

  8. Good post. I agree that a major problem is that the term “mummy blogger” has no clear meaning, and the range of different possible meanings for it that you state is spot on.

    One difficult consequence of this is that when people criticise the pejorative use of the term — the lack of respect for “mummy blogging” — there is sometimes unclarity about which female bloggers are being spoken of pejoratively.

    Usually in my experience people who speak disdainfully of “mummy blogging” are speaking of those blogs which are specifically about motherhood and also treat motherhood in a particular way (somewhat pastel, somewhat sentimental, possibly focused around reviewing products, etc).

    But a lot of the talk and PR around the Mumsnet Bloggers Network, and around Blogfest, has tended to suggest that to speak pejoratively of “mummy blogging” is to express disdain for *all* people who happen to be mothers and who also blog, no matter what they blog about and how they treat their subject matter.

    That attributes a massive dose of misogyny to the pejorative use of the term “mummy blogging”. In particular, it identifies antipathy towards “mummy blogging” with the poisonous strand of misogyny that attacks women in their role as mothers, by means of the double punch of first trivialising motherhood and then identifying women who are mothers as being *essentially* and *exclusively* mothers, with all their other attributes dwindling into insignificance: depending on what they blog about they are not philosophers or carpenters or political activists, they are mummy philosophers and mummy carpenters and mummy political activists (with “mummy” taking on the meaning of “marginal,” “less good,” “special interest”).

    I’m sure that that kind of misogyny is often present in the sneering at “mummy blogging” but I do think it is inaccurate and dangerous to pretend that all or even most antipathy to mummy blogging is misogynistic. Inaccurate because their are a lot of non-misogynistic women — like me! — who have reservations about the activity that the post above calls Mummy Blogging TM. And dangerous because if you assume that all disdain for “mummy blogging” is in fact disdain for all blogs written by any person who happens to be a mother, you are reinforcing the false idea that there is such a thing as “mummy blogging” in that broad sense. You are reinforcing the idea that any blog written by a mother is a “mummy blog”: you are performing the misogynist’s dodge of identifying a woman who blogs essentially with her incidental status of “mother.”

    It is a real difficulty for the Mumsnet network, I guess: for accidental reasons we have a huge voice for women on the internet which is marshalled under the “Mum” label. Mumsnet facilitates women’s voices on a wide range of subjects but involves them in speaking under the Mum banner. One response to this has been to try to rescue the term “mummy blogging” by claiming it for all mothers who blog and attacking the pejorative use of the term.

    But that is a blind alley, I think, because it is fraught with the possibilities of perpetuating the same trammeling of women-as-mothers that it actually seeks to fight. It left me feeling for a while that I was possibly being misogynistic by resisting the pressure to see myself as a mummy blogger: the Telegraph piece promoting Blogfest actually led me to feel that to blog without making my status as mother a defining part of my blogging was to “hide” my motherhood, like I was participating in the denigration of motherhood just by choosing to blog about some other part of my concerns.

    Far better *not* to try to stretch the term “mummy blogging” unduely. Far better to leave it to the subgroup of blogging mothers who might actually choose to self-describe as mummy bloggers, those (in the words of the post above) “who idolise domesticity … who critique motherhood from a personal perspective [or] who review household and child-centred products.” That makes mummy blogging a well-defined activity that some people can enjoy and endorse but which others can either ignore or criticise without their stance being artificially assimilated with misogyny.

  9. Thanks for this, really very interesting, eloquent and articulates what I also think. I saw the debate and was horrified at the way Sarah Ditum was attacked as I understood her point precisely; she was speaking of her own experience – no one else’s.
    I asked someone who it was that had first shouted out, and was told, with sympathy, how much difficulty this person was going through. But, call me harsh (many do), I think this is no excuse, particularly not to listen to Sarah explain the misunderstanding.
    While I am a long-time blogger, I’m not involved in the trademarked MB circles (way too old) but I have watched them spring up and form virtual cliques, just like the school playground all over again. That’s nothing to do with feminism, it’s the age old game of being in with the popular girls, something I personally always failed at. These days I’m quite pleased about that.
    Hadn’t found your blog before Blogfest, glad I have now!

    1. She was upset Tania, for her own reasons. But the first rule of dealing with an angry person is to let her have her say, the fire soon moderates itself. I have no problem with what Sarah said – with what anyone said for that matter, at the time – but she shouted the blogger down so quickly that I think others felt they needed to join in.

      All the anger this week has been so unhelpful though, on both sides. Sadly I feel that both feminism and mummy blogging has been damaged by how that session went.

      1. If you had no problem with what Sarah said, you could have defended it yourself instead of seeking to add fuel to the fire with your own provocative blogs and tweets. If anger bothers you (I really don’t get the impression it does!) why not resist the urge to be such a stirrer? Why not think about people rather than page views for a change?

        1. That’s unfair. I haven’t been inflammatory and I’ve criticised no-one on twitter. I just disagree with you on this. Surely it’s ok for someone to have a different opinion?

        2. You’re not entitled to an opinion on how upset I’m allowed to be about abuse, nor on what it felt like from my perspective, nor on whether I’m allowed to be part of a dialogue which you presume to own. You’ve sent plenty of “rounding up the troops, let’s all bitch about this” tweets. Your “let’s get a man to argue against arguments that were never made” post was dishonest tripe. You have lied and misrepresented and you’re lying about it now.

        3. You also fail to answer my question (and indeed to respond to anything specific): if you felt Sarah said nothing wrong, why did you lack the basic decency to say so when you witnessed what was happening? Doesn’t that feel like a moral obligation?

  10. I wasn’t there either ..

    And I wish that certain folk wouldn’t torch the blue touch paper ..( not you )

    People get hung up on labels and when a group of certain label get stuck together it’s pack mentality ..

  11. I’m really sorry my comment was so long: I don’t often comment on blogs so I was a bit inept!

    Just to relate it more explicitly to the difficulties at the Blogfest discussion, I think that those might have arisen from the pressure Mumsnet might feel to try to rescue a term which is profoundly unclear in its meaning and which is therefore capable of insulting everybody — not only the people it is used to describe but also the people who use it. No wonder everyone was on the defensive!

    If Mumsnet does feel under pressure to salvage a broad use of the term “mummy blogger” to apply to all mothers who blog, that is an interesting reflection on the tensions involved in the fact that one of the most powerful platforms for women on the British bit of the internet has women accidentally gathering as “mothers” when speaking not as mothers, as such, but as women or as people.

  12. I think the panel we’re attacked by people who mistakenly thought they were under attack.

    When people ask me what I blog about I always get a bit stuck and find myself telling them it’s like a mummy blog if you took out all the reviews and recipes and replaced them with swearing.

    Can someone come up with a new name for non trademarked mummy bloggers to march under?

    1. I dunno – “bloggers who are mothers but don’t put their own egos and obsession with page views ahead of treating others like human beings” is probably too much of a mouthful …

  13. Having seen the deluge of blog posts in the aftermath of Blogfest, I got a bit overwhelmed by it all and yours in the only post I’ve read in full to be honest. Thanks for giving the topic the edge it needed and making things a bit clearer, at least for me.

    1. Not sure what happened there. I recall it saying something about you only shouting because there were no mics on the balcony (I’d say content and tone have a role to play in this, not just volume) and there being no booing or hissing (God knows what that noise was when Sarah mentioned her personal parenting choices – happy to hear your suggestions). That’s about it, isn’t it? Feel free to add anything else. No censorship here (it’s not like, say, Communist China or that time when Mumsnet banned the Great Wall of Mean Tweets…).

      1. you guys always like to ramp things up *I say delete you say censor. *I disagree you say bully *I raise my voice to reach the people down below you call that shouting *On another blog post (not one of yours) I was accused of “attacking” someone just for heckling into my OWN camera. I think they even said the person I attacked was YOU. If the biog photos on Mumsnet are anything to go by I don’t think I even said anything each time you spoke….. the whole thing seems to be a whole load of attention seeking

        1. I hope that, eventually, you calm down and deal with your issues over this. I think I now know enough not to take any of this personally so thank you. Wishing you all the best, whatever interpretation of femininity you feel is best for you. Further comments will be deleted (I don’t think it’s helping you or me).

  14. I think this post is outstanding, Gloss. Slightly disappointed to see myself accused of “shouting down” by Actually Mummy: presumably the appropriate response would have been to let someone defame me very loudly? As it was, I thought it better to correct her misinterpretation of what I’d said, rather than leave her berating me on a false premise. Being angry/emotional doesn’t entitle you to be wrong.

    But I’ve got good news for Liska! I checked your blog and saw that on your about page you say “my blog is going on a NEW journey about the NEW me,” which means that whatever criticisms I made about the cultish worship of self-abnegating mothers at the event and subsequently can’t apply to you, because you’re clearly very much at the centre of your own subjectivity. Quite right too.

    1. wow, so it was deemed bad when I was a self abnegating mother, and now, just because you have read my “about me” page, I am no longer allowed to be one….. this whole affair the last fortnight gets curiouser and curiouser. You “guys” and I use that phrase on purpose are so masculine in your approach and you don’t even realise it. To read someone’s about me page just to undermine where they are coming from is a masculine way of approaching a problem. A technique of the patriarchy you guys claim to despise. The whole tirade the past fortnight has been so disingenuous and so caught up in a row of vocabulary that it is no longer worth the battle. There is no reality or heart in it. Just a bunch of dictionary bashers, akin to bible bashers but your “religion” is feminism. I have found the whole thing exhausting, and draining. I’d hate to live my life constantly looking for signs of female subjugation just so that I can write about them. Much more fun writing about the participation in a child’s awesome formative years.
      P.S. I *hate* the phrase “cult motherhood”.

  15. I cringe at some of these blogs, cupcake colour scheme, sentimental whitterings, oh dear. I just blog as me, the way I see fit. These ladies seem middle class sweeties with a nice little hobby and a lot of navel gazing. I’d rather be practical, a bit tongue in check and down to earth, I want to help mums around me who are doing a difficult job with community dinners and writing groups, real life and proper old school feminism. I’m no yummy mummy, probably a slummy mummy and a proper Rabble mum.

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