Response to "Mommy (and Me)"

Via Prof. B., I see that the New York Times story on parents' weblogs has been published. I'm dismayed but not all that surprised with what's in there, and I'll tell you why.

I was interviewed for this story because part of my dissertation research focuses on women's weblogs, many of whom are mothers. When David Hochman was talking to me about the story, he used the words "narcissistic" and "confessional" to describe parents' weblogs, albeit in a questioning way ("Aren't they just kind of narcissistic and confessional?" that kind of thing). As I told him about my dissertation, I tried so hard to explain to and persuade him that "baby blogs" are often -- almost always -- so much more than "the new baby book," that they're a way for parents to express what's on their minds, but children figure in prominently, obviously. By the way, I'm still working on communicating my dissertation topic in a sound bite, but here's my attempt: I'm doing a feminist rhetorical analysis of political discourse on weblogs, particularly an exploration of what gets interpreted as a political weblog and what perhaps doesn't, and how this difference is gendered (a personal-reflective approach to political writing as opposed to punditry). For an illustration, see the difference between this Eschaton post and these posts by Prof. B.* Different in terms of style and topic, but both political, to be sure. I actually emailed Hochman the links to those posts, as well as links to 11D and Laura's excellent Family Politics category of posts. Laura was also interviewed, and her comments -- again, not surprisingly -- aren't mentioned.

It's nothing personal against Hochman. He was friendly and great to talk to, but comparing my initial conversation with him to the finished product I just read, it's clear to me that he'd already made up his mind about "baby blogs," "mommy blogs," "daddy blogs," what have you: "The baby blog in many cases is an online shrine to parental self-absorption." Parents are "insecure," and they crave "attention and validation." And the thing is, I'm sure a lot of people agree with this attitude, as though there's some sense of undue entitlement about wanting to blog about one's experience as a parent. I wonder if those who espouse this view would say the same about political bloggers "proper," who have the apparent decency not to bother us with their personal lives, or if so, very seldom.

* I'm looking at differences, and I realize that what I'm doing may sound very Chodorow/Gilligan/Belenky et al., but I'm not interested in saying "men write this way; women write that way." If you can think of a good way for me to show that I'm distancing myself from theories criticized for essentialism, I'd appreciate hearing it. I'm more interested in the gendering of the discourse itself as well as the Where are all the women political bloggers? question. There's such a pronounced disconnect for so many people in what counts as political writing, from the issues discussed to the writing style/rhetorical approach, and the disconnect is brought up over and over again, to the point that many have likened the debate to a dead horse or poked fun at it, though none as well as flea:

Popular, Liberal Male Blogger: Why don't women blog? I've looked on my blogroll and I don't see any women bloggers. Therefore, they must not exist. Women must not be interested in thinky stuff like politics or computers.

45 Women Bloggers respond in the comments section: WTF? We all have blogs!

Liberal, Male Blogger: I don't mean blogs about tampons**. All women do is talk about feminine hygiene products. I mean, Where are all the women who blog about important stuff; the stuff *I'm* interested in.

45 Women Bloggers: You're right. We only talk about feminine hygiene products. Here's more talk about feminine hygiene products: You are a douche.

Liberal Male Blogger: Wahhhh! You're oppressing me! Censorship! My civil rights are being violated!

One Asshole Woman: I am so embarrassed to be a woman right now! Don't you listen to those hairy bitches, Liberal Male Blogger! *I* understand you!

Liberal Male Blogger: See there? One woman has validated me! That means you all are wrong and I am right!

45 Women Bloggers: douche.

Liberal Male Blogger: Wahhhh!

Repeat in three months with a different blogger. I'll point it out next time it happens.

** Link added to demonstrate the political bent of many women's weblogs.


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Funny, the post I just put up

Funny, the post I just put up ("The Children of Iraq") is another good example for you.

I would suggest that the difference isn't at all essentialist. There are men who write "personal" blogs of this type, and women who write "political" pundit-y blogs. Those blogs get invisibilized (neologism alert) because they don't fit the cultural stereotype of gender, where women boil everything down to the personal. So I would say that your argument isn't directly about the gender of the bloggers, but the gender of the writing. Now, of course, because people do tend to internalize social constructs (that's how social constructs work), there will be a lot of women who will write in the personal, "feminized" style, and a lot of men who won't; but also, a lot of people who violate those expectations have their genders mistaken. I for one have often been wrong about the gender of bloggers: for quite some time, I thought "Respectful of Otters" was a man (as did a lot of other people, apparently) and that "Heading Out" was a woman.

As to narcissistic and confessional, that's all part of the larger social dismissal of parenting as unimportant. Like the tendency we all have to find parents who talk about parenting/kids "boring," or to praise parents who "don't just talk about their kids all the time" (I've done that too). But then, you already knew that ;)

Who doesn't crave some kind o

Who doesn't crave some kind of attention and validation? It's odd, as if parents should never be worried that they are making the wrong choices, that it's unnatural to be worried. But once you've got your cubbies to fit people into . . .

Knowing the name Rivka, I never assumed Respectful of Otters was a he. But I realise that, without any evidence to the contrary, I tend to assume bloggers are male. And I've been called he a few times, which surprised me, but shouldn't, given my basic assumptions.


Saying hello

The NYT article has me ranting and wandering further into the blogosphere. Glad to see you and this site.


CC--we should talk. I study blogs as communities, as well as other virtual groups.

I think I'm the only one saying this right now, but doesn't it seem that his whole premise is a bit sexist? I agree that he had an idea and was looking for verification (which is why I had a big fight with a friend who said qualitative research is the same as reporting). And even though he's talking about "parents", he's really more focused on women? And that he's really saying Good Mothers don't focus on themselves, despite the fact that women have been looking (off-line) for validation in their parenting choices for a realllly long time? He's just a lame-ass who has never seen this before???

Just my thoughts.

If there's one really great outcome of this, I've found some great new blogs!

In my opinion, what he was

In my opinion, what he was writing was JUST his opinion, and not news, NOT facts.
The point that he missed is that there are some really good writers out there. It doesn't matter if they are self absorbed, narcissistic, or even boorish, if they write well, they are worth reading. His article, with all of its mistakes, was, in my opinion, not worth reading.

You can bypass the essentiali

You can bypass the essentialism problem by showing that it's not that women are different but that our category of "political" is constructed in a way that favors "male" or, mainstream, views of politics. Because of their roles or perspectives, some women may see the politics in issues that, for some men, are simply private.

In the Susan Glaspell story, "A Jury of Her Peers," the female characters have a different view of justice not simply because they are women but because they perform different labor in the household and thus have a different view of the facts. Hence they see what the men in the story don't see, and they draw different conclusions. One can appreciate this story without assuming essentialism. I expect that you'll do the same in your dissertation.

Best of luck! Great work!

just call it like it is

There is all this focus on how majority of bloggers are male. In what world? I think there are just as many if not MORE female bloggers. There's a saying - if you focus on your belly button too much and too long, you forget there's a whole rest of a human being.

The "Mommy and Me" article reflected the author's opinions, YES, no question. However, unless a blog remains completely professional/academic (i.e. Kairosnews - in keeping with the rhetoric group), a blog is an online journal. You are noting your 'personal' thoughts, opinions, misc. activities, hobbies, photos, etc etc for the world to read and comment on. 'Narcissistic' is a bit too harsh of a term to use, but blogs are kind of narcissistic. You are saying 'hey world, this is me and my life. look at me. read my ideas. comment on me and my ideas.' ... and that's okay! It's kind of therapeutic actually... and thought provoking too. Helps keep your head clear. But how can one say it is completely not even near narcissistic when you seek to be a 'frequently visited blog'. You want people to read YOUR opinions, YOUR thoughts, YOUR news, YOUR life-snippets. The NY Times isn't your publishing platform, but it's the same banana. ... and again, it's okay. Just calling it like it is.

- a female blogger

thanks for the insider perspective

Very interesting to hear the way he couched his questions. That's a sly dog, that one. I suspected that he'd made his mind up before the proverbial pen had been introduced to the proverbial paper.

Vanity v. Sociality

So many new acquaintances! Thank you for leaving comments, and thanks to the reader who emailed me some great feedback (he knows who he is); your comments are really helpful and much appreciated. Sorry I had to turn off trackbacks; there were five under this post -- spammers are ruining the blogosphere. :-( Hopefully the great community of developers at Drupal is working on a patch that will screen trackbacks so that I can turn them back on soon. Anyway, I also found this discussion insightful. In the comments, TR raises the question of whether vanity (narcissism, etc.) is the right word. Collin replies that perhaps it's "less a matter of vanity" and more about "sociality." I tend to agree, of course.

I blogged about mommy blogs n

I blogged about mommy blogs not too long ago, if you're looking for a mom who blogs and is aware of what she's up to:

A fantastic topic

The nature of "men's" vs. "women's" blogging has come up in our "blogosphere" before. Check out What a fantastic topic to write about. What's interesting is that some of the discussion I've seen is about the nature of the anonymous blog vs. the personal blog. As a mother and a "wayward" blogger, I'd be interested to hear how many mothers who blog often blog about being sporatic bloggers. I find quite a bit of self-deprication for not blogging regularly the way male counterparts do.

Best of luck.

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