Feminism and wanting more from mummy blogging

Did you read Kiran Chug’s post last week on feminism and the power of mummy blogging? You should. I found myself nodding and “mmmhmmmimg” and mulling over her words for a few days.

What we are doing, while doing all of this, is talking, writing, shouting, recording, pleading – all in our own voices. They are not the voices of our family or our men or our bosses or our teachers or our children. They are ours. Mummy Says

As I went on with my week Kiran’s words stayed with me. I thought about the way mummy blogging has transformed my life, how empowering it can be, and how it has helped propel women’s domestic lives into public and political consciousness. These are things I’m very grateful for, but as a feminist, and as a woman from a community of women with identities that fit like square pegs into the round hole of popular mummy blogging culture, I want more.

A Christmas of change

December was a turning point for me. I got a much needed break from my stifling routine to take stock and realise, amongst other things, some truths about the world of mummy blogging that I so love. I think it was our unusual Christmas that really opened my eyes. After a year of financial problems that made us more vulnerable than we’ve ever been, we had the challenge of making Christmas special with far less money than usual. J and I weren’t able to buy gifts for one another and we had to cut down our spending on everyone else. Two stockings and one gift for each of the boys later and the job was done. Our self-imposed ban on couple-presents was a brilliant idea. For the first year ever the pressure was off. J and I didn’t have to ask each other cryptic questions, trawl the internet in search of inspiration, or get sucked into the never ending consumerist battle for the ‘perfect’ gift. We ate, drank, relaxed, and enjoyed the boy’s infectious excitement. It was our best family Christmas yet. But that’s only because I took a step back from mummy blogs.

We need to not compare ourselves to others and think that the grass is always greener on the other side it just deprives us of our happiness

If you spend a couple of hours sifting through mummy blog posts about Christmas you’ll find a veritable feast of wish lists, recipes, product reviews, present ideas and interior design suggestions. What you won’t find as much of are discussions about the grittier aspects of women’s lives. Reality, if you will. Talking about real life necessitates talking about diversity, inequalities and struggles. When I consider the women that make up my community and their experiences of Christmas, I see mothers struggling with the rising cost of living during a season of complete excess. I see lone parents spinning a multitude of plates, often single-handedly, at a time when society takes an ideological leap backwards to reclaim the nuclear family as the ideal. I see multi-cultural, multi faith families ‘doing’ Christmas in very different ways. But popular mummy blogging culture provides little platform for these discussions, at Christmas or any other time. The world of mummy blogging is, in parts, a place of half-truths and whitewashing.

Just how feminist is mummy blogging?

There’s a conundrum that regularly does the rounds on the mummy blogging circuit: can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger? Except it’s not really a conundrum because the answer is so obvious (it’s: duh, YES! by the way). The real question, I think, is how well does mummy blogging ‘do’ feminism? On paper the bare bones of mummy blogging reads like part of a feminist manifesto – finally we have a space to call our own, where we can choose our own identities, and tell our own stories, and speak with our own voices, to a supportive community. But a truly feminist blogging culture would celebrate and elevate women who write unashamedly and unapologetically about real life, in all its diverse and complex glory, and its narrative wouldn’t be so overwhelmingly white, middle class and consumerist.

Now, I’m not saying all mummy bloggers should write politically. I know there are lots of bloggers who would rather celebrate the good in life than dwell on the negative, and more power to them. I’m not suggesting that bloggers who write about interiors, clothes, beauty, or anything they love, should be made to feel bad about that. After all, one of the biggest joys of our blogs is that they’re ours, to communicate whatever we wish. But, my goodness, where are the other stories? Why is the rich diversity of women’s lives in this country so under-represented in the mummy blogging sphere?  Perhaps it comes down to this:

Blogging is a reflection of privilege.  I’m not talking about money here.  Writing for an audience becomes second nature to bloggers. We love the communication, collaboration and ideas that our words generate. So we repeat, ad infinitum. And at some point I think a lot of us forget what the process involves. Think back to the first time you clicked publish. You were excited/apprehensive, yes? It takes courage to start writing honestly to the world, but we make that initial push because we have the support, confidence, and resources to do so – those things are born out of a privilege that not all women have. It’s frustrating to think that the women most in need of a voice might be excluded from this empowering, transformative world, because of a lack support.

Not all posts have equal value. The mummy blogging community is commodified to such an extent that popularist blogs are more lucrative and desirable than gritty realness (that’s not to say these sorts of blogs don’t exist, but they go against the grain of popular mummy blogging culture). The simple fact is: when it comes to representing women’s lives, escapism and ‘pretty’ is what (still) sells. Which leads me onto…

The choice fallacy. I don’t think it takes long as a mummy blogger to recognise which posts ‘sell’, whether that be in terms of hits or media/financial success. On the one hand this is brilliant. The fact that women can become more financially independent through blogging is incredibly exciting. But a problem with this is that popular mummy blogging culture suffocates the alternative. I’ve spoken to several bloggers who feel unable to write about their views because they worry it won’t ‘fit’ the tone of their site. Lots of us have, at some point in our blogging journey, worried about blogging in the ‘right’ way, talking about the ‘right’ things – things mummy bloggers are ‘meant’ to discuss. I’ve certainly been there, and I know from my discussions with others that I’m not alone. It’s made me wonder – are our choices as mummy bloggers born out of freedom, or patriarchy gift wrapped as popular culture? Are we blogging in a particular way because we want to, or because we’ve internalised the messages that women should look, sound like, and be interested in certain things? The message being filtered down through the mummy blogging hierarchy (yes, there is one) is clear – success means conforming to a certain look, writing style and set of interests. We’re being encouraged to photo-shop our identities as well as our photos.

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I’m anxious you’ll think I’m being horribly critical. I hope that’s not the case. I love mummy blogging, it’s changed my life. And the mummy blogging community is incredibly important to me. But I think the lack of representation is something we need to acknowledge. To break up the cultural homogeneity requires not only embracing the diversity of women’s lives but actively reaching out for it and shifting the power structure within our community. I want to play a part in making this space even more accessible to even more women, so I’ve been thinking about hosting a regular session on my blog for women (bloggers and non bloggers) who don’t have the time, the resources, the support, or the confidence, to write honestly.

Dare I ask, what do you think?

By the way, if you’re interested in/irritated by anything I’ve just said you should definitely read these: 5 bloggers on race and erasure in the mommy blogosphere and social privilege and mom blogging. Both these pieces are a reflection of American mummy blogging culture but I think they also speak volumes about British mummy blogging.

My top posts of 2014, and the blogs I fell (and stayed) in love with…

and some recent photos, because this post turned out way longer than I expected and if you’re anything like me you’ll need a few cute pictures and a banana bar of chocolate to keep you going.

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Can you believe 2014 is almost over?! Halle-flippin’-lujah is what I say to that. This year has been so full of challenges and worry and tears, I’m beyond relieved it’s almost over. It’s silly really because the transition from December 31st to January 1st doesn’t mean anything in real terms. Things don’t change overnight. The crap we’ve dealt with this year will be right behind us for a long time, snapping at our ankles like a hoard of yappy dogs, making us swerve this way and that to avoid being bitten. But, cryptic analogies aside, the close of one year and the beginning of another brings with it the potential for change, and after a year of sludge, that potential is pretty exhilarating.

I won’t be making any resolutions this New Year, and not just because I’m rubbish at them*. The get healthy-eat well-spend less/more consciously-be a better/kinder human ‘thing’ is something I endeavour to achieve (albeit intermittently) throughout the year. Of course I often fall waaaay short of the mark, but to be honest seeing January 1st on the calendar has never done much to motivate me.

* It’s too cold to start running, also I’m pretty sure my body has developed an actual, proper, biological need for chocolate since having babies

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I’ve some ideas brewing for 2015, some risks I’d love to take and some changes I’d love to make, but I’ll have to wait and see if they come to fruition. I won’t be writing them down as resolutions, I’ll be keeping them up here *taps head*, because if the last, oooh, 15 years, have taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected, to allow life to unfold organically, to trust that I can (eventually) make things good, and to have faith in myself, rather than follow the crowd.

One thing I definitely want is to keep writing next year. I’ll be thrilled if I manage to carve out more writing opportunities over the next 12 months. That would be the dream. I love this blog, and my newer one and the way they’ve opened up my world. I mentioned on Instagram a while back that I had a blog post running around in my head about how important the internet is for women. I still haven’t written it, but it’s still true. We live insular lives, exhausted by the demands of society, and often isolated, without access to the practical and emotional support women had in previous generations. The internet is full of gremlins, yes, but for many of us it’s a place of friendship, support and sanity. I’ve always found writing the most comforting, cathartic experience, so it’s no surprise that my world changed for the better once I started tapping away on WordPress. My blogs allow me to be a better version of me, because they give me a voice.

I thought I’d round off this year by celebrating this voice of mine. Yes, that really does sound as egotistical as I thought it would. But the thing is, not that long ago I had only the quietest whisper of a voice and very little say in the direction my life was going in. So for me, this blog is a pretty big deal. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but that’s ok, because the only thing that matters (to me) is that these words you’re reading are mine. After years of keeping my thoughts tucked away in a tiny drawer at the back of my mind, I finally value myself enough to share them, not just with you, but with myself. Blogging is teaching me who I am.

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Here are my most popular posts of 2014, and some of the blogs I’ve fallen (and stayed) in love with this year. Happy New Year guys. Wishing you love and contentment. X.

International Women’s Day and the feminists who inspired me to reclaim my body

Why BritMums Live wasn’t what I expected

Peaches Geldof and the commodification of women

The Dark Side of Instagram

3 is a magic number

The Kirstie Allsopp effect and why it’s ok for women to disagree

Our first family holiday and how we made it out alive

The (possibly incoherent) ramblings of a guilty mum

Christmas and the muddle of multiculturalism

When being a working mum doesn’t work

Blogs I love:

Disclaimer – 2014 hasn’t given me much time to read blogs, so this list is only a fraction of the ones I love. Hopefully 2015 will be a bit kinder with reading hours.

Along Came Cherry is a beautiful blog that says it like it is. The sleepless nights, the crazy toddler antics, seeing the red mist when people compare breastfeeding to doing a poo, Jessica shares it all. I’ve been reading More than Toast for years now, it’s a bit like a comfort blanket, or getting in the bath with a favourite magazine. Alice talks about being a single, working mum to two beautiful little people. Her honest, gutsy approach to life is inspiring and in my mind her blog has a soundtrack that starts like this. I feel like I’ve met Charlotte, but that’s probably because we both have a bit of a thing for Instagram. After a blogging hiatus earlier this year, she started up a new blog. I love her honesty, not only about how awesome and shit and mediocre life can be, but her emotional honesty. It’s a breath of fresh air and so grounding. Like Charlotte, Caz speaks the truth. It’s impossible not to be wrapped up in and then changed by her words. She talks about the pain of depression, something I’ve become all too familiar with these last couple of years. And a few months ago, when I was hovering above myself in a doctor’s surgery and watching the ground crumble beneath my feet, she was my lifeline. Thank you a million times over for that, lady.

And then there are the blogs that inspire me to be a better person. I have so much respect for Lucy’s approach to parenting and I’m often blissing out on her tales of travelling around New Zealand, and her words *sigh* they’re just bloody beautiful. Emma is an inspiration. She set up First Days a charity providing baby equipment, clothes, furniture, toys and essential items to families in need. I see what she’s achieved and I’m inspired to make my dreams happen (cheesy but true). Catharine’s blog is fairly new discovery for me. During a year in which I did very little reading other than for work her posts stood out massively. She writes about topics that are niggling away at the back of my mind, in a way that teaches me something new and makes me reassess my own views and experiences. And lastly, Glosswatch and Louise put fire in my belly and teach me about feminism; the theory that has saved me countless times.

Each of these blogs discusses (quite different) challenges of being a woman. The writing isn’t full of the fun and whimsy that the don’s of mumblogland would have you believe defines great online writing, but despite that because of that they fill me with joy. They speak social truths, and about the importance of being honest, even when it’s the hardest thing to do. And that for me is key, because it’s not easy to present ourselves as we really are, even from behind a screen. The doubt creeps in, we feel exposed and quite often we’re judged. But we need to keep up the truth, because if we don’t, our words mean very little. Thank you to all the women who write honestly. Your words will be reaching out to someone, somewhere, and making them feel less alone.

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Christmas train rides and something I’d like to ask you about blogging

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School’s out. Finally.

I’m writing this while nursing a vat of green tea, pinned underneath two poorly babes. Christmas term hit us hard. We’ve been flagging for weeks.  E’s asked every morning for the last few days “there’s no nursery today is there, mum?” The look on his face when I was finally able to tell him it’s the Christmas holidays was one of pure relief. We’re so grateful for this work/nursery hiatus.

Having said all that, we’ve just had a particularly busy weekend. My friend booked tickets for the Dean Forest Railway on Saturday. Unfortunately her little one was too poorly to go (these winter bugs are the worst) but Little E and Bean had a great afternoon with Santa and his elves. I’d underestimated how ill Bean was and I hadn’t realised E was going down with the same bug, so they spent the journey with a poorly, glazed look on their faces, and at one point Bean got crotchety and looked like he was about to wallop Santa (personal space issues). Other than that they had a lovely time! Travelling on the steam train was like stepping back in time, it’s a really special Christmas experience for little ones.

We spent the rest of the weekend celebrating round 1 of Christmas with most of J’s siblings, many of whom normally live in different countries.  I’m lucky to have married into the most amazing family, so, just like when I was little, the getting together bit is still my favourite part of Christmas. The boys were spoilt rotten and loved spending time with their grandma, aunties, uncles and cousins. The goodbyes were typically hard. Bean wailed until I put him down for his nap and E lay by the front door in a theatrical heap crying “I just want them to stay forever!”. I have absolutely no idea where they get their emotional outbursts from.

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^^ At one *cough* point the boys were being especially loud and obstinate, catapulting themselves all over the place (great fun in a small space with lots of quiet people and unnaturally well-behaved children). Seconds before this photo J said “right, that’s it”, plonked Bean next to E and jumped over to my side for a cuddle. This is their reaction to us throwing our hands up at their crazy behaviour. I particularly like Bean’s incredulous face while eating all of J’s mince pie ^^

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^^ My favourite part of the train journey. Santa gave the parents gifts too. Yes! ^^

The bit about blogging…

I’ve left this bit until last, and attached it to the end of a completely unrelated blogpost for a reason. There’s a part of me hoping you skip past this paragraph, because I’m not sure how to express what I’m about to say. I have the seed of an idea in my head but it’s such early days I don’t know how to turn it into anything. Here’s the thing: I love blogging. I love writing my blogs and I love reading blogs. But the more I read and write online, the more convinced I am that there’s something missing when it comes to blogging as a platform for women’s voices. I don’t think the diversity of women’s lives is being represented. As in wider society, the blogging world is dominated by a small, mainly white, privileged (if only through the opportunities of blogging) elite and this hierarchy is starting to eat away at my online existence in much the same way as it does in my real world. I realise very few of us start blogging to represent others. Most of us blog, at last initially, for selfish reasons – to record, to become part of a community, and for catharsis. But perhaps once we’ve established an online voice and a readership, we’ve a social responsibility that extends beyond our own interests and experiences.

What I’d like to know is this: do you think women are fully and fairly represented by the female blogging community? Are the experiences and issues that are important to you, your sister, mother, partner, and friends, being discussed?

Personally, I don’t think things are right, not by a long shot. I’m convinced something needs to change, but I’m interested to read your opinion.