She Is Vast, And She Contains Multitudes, And She Also Sometimes Throws Her Bra

March 16, 2010

When I got to the South By Southwest Interactive festival this past weekend, someone told me to not tell anyone that I was a mommyblogger. “Say personal blogger, or lifestyle blogger,” this person said. “Just not, you know, mommy.”

It was too late. I’d already ridden in from the airport on a short bus full of hipster boys, who had asked me what I was there for, and whether I was in film or tech (the fact that I did not sport an ironic mullet tipped them off, I suppose, to the fact that I was not there for music), and I had felt compelled to explain that I was kind of in tech, if by ‘in tech’ he meant ‘writes about frankenvulvae and Ativan-dependence online.’

“I’m what’s sometimes referred to as a mom-blogger,” I said. “Oh,” he replied. “You’re a mom? Do you know anyone who buys animated shorts? Like, say if they were kid-friendly?”

It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have been like the now-infamous-in-the-very-small-circle-of-hundreds-of-thousands-of-mom-bloggers-and-friends New York Times article. They could have said something like, oh my god, that’s so cute that you do that! How nice for you! I hope that you don’t forget your children while you’re drinking margaritas out of sippy cups and pimping out their stories in exchange for dish detergent! They wouldn’t have, though, because hipster geek-boys don’t speak like that. That the New York Times does speak like that, and in those terms, is making my head explode.

It’s not exploding because (or, just because) it belittles mom-bloggers, or even because (just because) it belittles moms generally – these are grounds for head-explosion in themselves, and my head has already exploded more than once in consideration of these – but because that belittling threatens to shape how I view myself and how I present myself and determine whether or not I say things like “I’m a mom-blogger” to buses full of hipsters at SXSW or identify myself as ‘Her Bad Mother’ to Darren Rowse or John C. Reilly or anybody outside of my own community of, you know, moms. It threatens to bend my psyche in such a way that when somebody tells me that I shouldn’t identify myself as a mom-blogger outside of women-centric conferences, I listen.

To say that that sucks is to understate things to an extreme.

(That the Times article described my project for Tanner without naming it or linking it and more or less dismissed it as a) a “perk” of being a popular mom blogger, and b) a project that should be looked upon with suspicion because it was such a “perk” and dependent upon corporate sponsorships – the sponsor duly linked, of course, just so no-one missed the point – caused not only my head to explode, but my heart, and summoning the words to take that on right now is beyond my ken. Tanner is dying. You fuck with how I’m handling that it and it causes all kind of damage.)

I’m proud that I’m writer who writes about, among other things, motherhood. I’m proud that I’m a mom. I’m proud that I have integrated my motherhood and my writerhood, that I am able to bring my motherhood to bear upon my ideas and my ideas to bear upon my motherhood and that I am contributing, in a very important way, to opening the space of discourse for mothers and for motherhood and raising the discursive veil on the important work that we do – the art and craft and joy and brilliance of what we do – and that I sometimes wear a McDonalds bag on my head and sometimes throw nursing bras and sometimes engage in boot smackdowns while I am doing it. And I don’t want to not be proud, or feel stifled in expressing my pride, or be made to feel as though retaining that pride requires me to never do the sort of silly things that a New York Times writer might seize upon and use to support her implied argument that these women are not to be taken seriously. I don’t want to read an article like the one that I read this weekend and say to myself – as I did, as I totally did -  I don’t want to be associated with women drinking margaritas out of sippy cups and writing about coupon-clipping. Because even though I don’t clip coupons, I would totally drink a margarita out of a sippy cup and I don’t think that that makes me any less interesting or powerful or awesome. I think that it actually makes me more interesting and awesome and I look forward to the day when I and my fellow moms – and women everywhere – can do silly things and not only have that not invalidate our power but perhaps even bolster it.

South by Southwest was full of random eruptions of silliness. In fact, if I had to summarize SXSW in 140 characters or less, I’d say that it was a whole lot of silliness held together by networking, wisdom-sharing, connection-building, and awesome. But nobody ever writes articles about how cute it is that the boy-geniuses of teh internets get drunk and make awesome asses of themselves doing karaoke. Men are allowed to be silly and still be taken seriously. Men are allowed to make silliness part of how they build their communities and – yes – how they do business. Women are not. Moms especially are not. I hate that. I hate that a lot.

I hate that a lot not only because it pressures us to not be silly (which is, self-evidently, not a good thing, inasmuch as silliness, as everyone from Bugs Bunny to Ashton Kutcher to every single individual in attendance at SXSW knows, silliness greases the wheels of everything from creativity to community-building to connection-making to cash-and-carrot-finding), it pressures us to not color outside the lines in any meaningful way when we go out into the world and declare ourselves. If we are moms, we must comport ourselves according to established stereotypes, so that the world will know how to receive us and read us and understand us. If we are to be public – if we are to take mothers’ lives, womens’ lives, out into the public square so that we can be accepted as part of that public – we must behave well, so that we will be taken seriously, so that our presence there can be justified. If we become too silly – or too sexy, or too subversive – we will just prove what many men (and some women) have always known: we do not belong there. We are too unpredictable to be public. Our place is behind the veil, where our complexities will not cause confusion. We should know our place. We should expect to be made fun of – to be belittled, to be scorned – if we do not.

Fuck that. We need to insist that our presence in the public sphere is good – is necessary – regardless of how we act, regardless of whether we, as women (not just as moms, because we are not only moms, we are not even primarily moms), comport ourselves in ways that are serious or silly or sexy or salty or in any manner subversive of what the public (which includes us; we mustn’t forget that; we are too often party to this) expects of us. We need to insist that, to proclaim that, and to demand that that truth be accepted by – embraced by – the public, by all our publics, by everyone, by us. And we need to start by not denying any part of who we collectively are, not only as moms, but as women – not the coupon-clippers, not the margarita-slurpers, not the yummy mummies or the cougars or the power-suit-wearers or the table-dancers or the tattooed hipsters or the home-schoolers or the scenesters or the lactivists or the nursing-bra-throwers or the philosophers or the shoe-lovers or any combination of these – and by demanding that all these parts of who we collectively are be taken seriously. Not necessarily or exclusively taken as serious – it is the unseriousness of so many of these parts that provides so much of the color and movement of our collective whole – but taken seriously. There’s a difference. That difference matters. We need to demand that it – and we – be recognized.

We can start by telling the New York Times to go f*ck itself, and by doing so with wit and intelligence and humor and maybe a bra-toss or two. And then toasting ourselves with a margarita.

Sippy cup optional.


UPDATE: The writer of the New York Times article has written a post in which she expresses her sadness that the piece was taken as dismissive of mom-bloggers. It was, she says, meant to be “light” in tone, a description of a “cultural trend,” and that the details she’d cited – the mimosas (not margaritas, as I’ve written above) in sippy cups, among other things – were, she thought, charming. Which is fine and all, and I respect that she stood up and explained herself, but still, as I said in a comment at her post:

Here’s my problem: the idea that mom-blogging is just a cultural trend, that it is something that warrants a light “trend” piece. We’d never see a light “trend” piece on how men are making careers out of blogging, on how geeky guys who love tech are turning their hobbies into business. Never. Nor would we ever see the antics of men at SXSW or BlogWorld being characterized as cute or charming. These things can only be characterized as such with reference to moms/women because that is how the culture views moms/women, and there’s a real problem there.

That, and the whole dismissal of the Tanner project, of course. Still pissed about that.

That said – this was true when I originally wrote this, and is still true now – my primary frustration is with the New York Times for continuing to push these kinds of ‘light trend’/Style section pieces about moms and mom-bloggers, and with other mainstream media that do the same, rather with the writer of this piece. So. Just wanted to clarify that.

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    gorillabuns March 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    What I want to know is what do guys get their panties all up in a wad about? not receiving their daily blow job?

    Women on the other hand aren’t supposed to talk about not wanting to give that blow job because well, it’s so ‘unlady like.” and hell, if we have to add that we need to get drunk before performing such duty well, we are just plain going to hell.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I congratulate you for finding a way to bring blow jobs into the equation ;)

    Tina C. March 16, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    if it’s any consulation, i don’t read the NYT on line or off regularly at all, but i do read mommy blogs regularly, like every day.

    Heidi Hutner March 16, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    I love this piece. Yes, I think the NY Times was dismissive. I love that you say you are not a mother “primarily”. Your voice is sassy and irreverent! You’re doing the right thing here.

    You might like my blog, too…

    I’m talking about cancer, mothering, environmentalism.

    sarah March 16, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I love your response, and I agree that the NYT article was dismissive and condescending and misogynistic–at the hands of another woman, another blogger, another mother.

    And the “in response to” by the author sounded more like back pedaling than a true recognition of how her words cut some people out here in the blogosphere. The tone of the original article was not “light”, it was mocking and condescending. That’s not recognized by the author and that bothers me.
    .-= sarah´s last blog ..Sick Day =-.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I agree. And, as I said, her response about it being ‘light’ was itself problematic – it’s the very fact that our work is treated as ‘light’ and ‘cute’ and ‘charming’ that is the problem.

    You’d never see anyone cooing about charming Darren Rowse/Problogger is while he’s at conferences, or speculating about who’s looking after his kids.

    Boston Mamas March 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Well done Catherine. And I really like that you managed to work Bugs Bunny into your post. Silly yes, but total bonus points in my book. :-)
    .-= Boston Mamas´s last blog ..Aquarium To Go =-.

    Kyran March 16, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Well, I didn’t think I had it in me to read one more post about this topic. What, after all, could possibly be added that hasn’t already been said. But you took one of the two things that needled at me (sippy cups, paper hats, etc) and clarified it beautifully.

    It’s been a long time since I had a straight job, but when I first went to went in an office in Toronto in the late eighties, the women had to be ten times the men their men colleagues were. You couldn’t be feminine and succeed. I don’t know how it is in the corporate world now; it made for a very grey atmosphere then.

    I love your “silly” manifesto. And you’re right. As I said on Mom101′s post, we don’t usually hear about the shenanigans at other industry events. I’m sure the guys are all business, all the time.

    Bravo, my dear. xo

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 9:11 am

    “silly manifesto” YES.

    I hereby dub this the Silly Manifesto.

    (And, hell, the shenanigans at SXSW Interactive? It was ALL shenanigans. And BlogWorld is in Vegas. SHENANIGANS CENTRAL. But we never hear about those shenanigans. Because it’s the MENS.)

    Katy March 16, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    You said this so damn well. I’ve been proud to be a mom who blogs this week.
    .-= Katy´s last blog ..One of Those Days =-.

    MsDarkstar March 16, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    I have a friend who is a SAHM and I have told her over and over that a)I could not do the job she does and b) that her job is much more difficult than any job I’ve ever had.

    I’m disappointed in the article and I’m disappointed that they missed the opportunity to do something HELPFUL in regards to Tanner.
    .-= MsDarkstar´s last blog ..Overhaulin/Spring Cleaning =-.

    Colleen March 16, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    You make me proud to be a mommy blogger! Well done.
    .-= Colleen´s last blog ..My Little Gymnast =-.

    Cristie March 16, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Perfection. Period.

    Tasha March 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    OK, I love the update EVEN MORE.
    .-= Tasha´s last blog ..Pesto Tortellini with Chicken and Veggies =-.

    Beth March 16, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Her response bothered me because tone is everything and the way she handled things and the words she chose didn’t convey a “fun time.” She relied on stereotypes. Moms drive minivans . . . Moms sneak veggies in their kids’ food . . . Moms write blogs. This isn’t a trend like veggie sneaking for heaven’s sake. I’ve been blogging since 2002 (not in my current location).

    I found her response more disappointing because she doesn’t seem to understand that she relied on stereotypes and stereotypes are what we all try to fight.

    You’ve done a beautiful job with this post. I love it!
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Twelve Years Old =-.

    Jozet at Halushki March 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    People really don’t like to hear about moms doing things other than folding laundry or watching soaps. One Mom is Every Mom and Every Mom is My Mom and next thing you know, I’m picturing My Mom doing a strip tease pole dance and ARRRRRRGGGGGGH!

    That’s why people want to keep Mommy in a corner.

    Because if Many Moms are saying that they aren’t quite entirely happy being in a corner, than maybe My Mom wasn’t either. Intellectually, I know it has nothing to do with unconditional love, but who knows nowadays?

    You Moms. With your Thoughts. And your Complaints. And your Anger. And your Silliness. And your (*gasp!*) Sex. Please to remain the Angel In The House and not make my mind explode.
    .-= Jozet at Halushki´s last blog ..10 Important Life Lessons I Need To Teach My Kids =-.

    Rachel March 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    I read your entry, then the author’s entry, then the article, then the comments on this entry. And I tried my hardest to see what everybody else was seeing in the article, but nothing in there really made me jump on whatever bandwagon you ladies are all on. The author’s tone was light, and if you read it right it was on the demeaning “aww how cute” side, but I could also read it as a piece on the growth of “mommy-bloggers” and their growing impact on advertising. I also read a few nods to the women who have used their blogs as business opportunities and ventures (like having a big-name car company loan you a car for a cross-country roadtrip*), rather than solely for the community aspect (not that there’s anything wrong with it).

    Not sure what the point of this post is. I don’t have kids (yet) nor a blog although I do read quite a few blogs of varying subjects and authors. I just feel like everyone should quit ganging up on the “big bad NY Times” and everybody who tries to demean or dismiss women.

    *For what it’s worth, I think you should write a piece on the car and the roadtrip and the cause (or there’s a blog post that details everything, I don’t have time to check your archives) and send it to the NY Times. Because yes that is a cause that should be acknowledged and the NY Times could be a powerful force to help that cause be promoted.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Yeah, well, I’m already getting shit for “harping” on the road trip, so. Still sorting out what to do about that.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 11:13 am

    “The author’s tone was light, and if you read it right it was on the demeaning “aww how cute” side”

    This is entirely the problem. The NYT keeps publishing pieces on women blogging that do exactly this, and they keep putting them in the Style section, and by doing so keep implying that women working online is a charming thing that earns us all a pat on the head. You will never, ever see an article about male bloggers that points out what they wear or what they drink or how they party or who’s looking after their kids, and you will never see ‘men blogging’ singled out as a trend. Because, duh. It’s not – any more than is WOMEN blogging.

    Rachel March 17, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I don’t read the NY Times at all so I don’t want to comment on how many pieces they publish about that, as far as I knew it was just the one. They should put one in the Business section, because although I see how it is, in a way, a “cultural trend” (in the same way I view iPhones, and the Internet, and skinny jeans as cultural trends because they are trends of our culture, right?) blogging itself is also a fairly new concept that keeps growing and growing and it seems to me that people (perhaps newspapers who are seeing their business and revenues falling?) are still figuring out what to do with it. That’s my (somewhat uneducated) theory, feel free to take it with a grain of salt, and maybe a margarita to go with that salt? The world could use some more tequila.

    P.S. In my last comment I absolutely DID NOT mean to give you any type of shit whatsoever for the Tanner comment. I think that the article-writer should have touched more on the subject as well as how bloggers are using their platform to help spread awareness of things such as dying children who have uncurable diseases that some of us have never heard of. I am so so sorry if anything I said about Tanner came off in a negative light.

    Ginger March 17, 2010 at 3:38 am

    Catherine, I just want to chime in to say how much I enjoy your discourse, always, and today especially.
    .-= Ginger´s last blog ..Tempus fugit =-.

    Amanda March 17, 2010 at 8:53 am

    I love this…I’m not a mom blogger but I support all of them 100% and think that article was junk in the NY Times!
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..My vegetarian adventure =-.

    Lisa March 17, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Did you link to the wrong Times article?

    Because the one I read was nothing like what you describe. You invented the snide undertone because it certainly was not there. The entire thrust of the article was how legitimate and big business mommy blogging has become.

    The title – which the writer does not create – could, possibly be interpreted as a slight, if you are looking for one. Or it could be interpreted as “blogging = something equally important like doing the taxes or making dinner or whatever other reason you’d give your kid to not bother you now.”

    Seriously, stop looking to take offense and stop whipping others into an angry froth. We don’t need more angry mobs on the internet.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 11:01 am

    The entire thrust of the article was that this is a cute ‘trend’ – look what the mommies are doing! – and it’s only the latest in more than a few such articles the NYT has run since 2006 (which, that’s a long trend, no?) The only references to the bigger ‘business’ of blogging were dismissive and coupled with a implied raised eyebrow about the ethics of reviews and giveaways.

    As I’ve said more than a few times, the whole problem is this: women/moms blog, and make money off of blogging, and outlets like the Times publish light trend pieces about it, pieces that draw attention to mimosas in sippy cups and make comparisons to slumber parties. Coverage of male bloggers pays no attention to the parties they go to or what they wear while blogging or who’s taking care of their kids while they do business – because these things are rightly seen as IRRELEVANT.

    We just want to arrive at a place where what we do is not seen a trend, or as something “charming” (the words of the writer of the piece, in her follow-up post), or something notable for its gendered quality. I don’t know why that is so hard for some to grasp, or why it’s seen as silly or trouble-making to demand that.

    Lisa March 17, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Oh, and by the way, this post as long as the other self-righteously angry posts taking offense at nothing are exactly the kind of thing that people use to make fun of mommy bloggers. You have all set back your cause.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Right, because articulating disagreement is SO second-wave feminist.

    I’ll just go back to baking cupcakes then.

    Cathy March 17, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Wonderful post Catherine! It is really too bad that the haters can’t ariculate themselves a bit better! Do you even have children Lisa? Write a Blog? Attempt to work from home and juggle it all? It is NOT a lifestyle “trend!” Seriously! I find it quite insulting that you would consider Catherine’s response to the article on HER blog a way of angering others! That happened when the article was written, long before this response was written!
    .-= Cathy´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – Cliffs of Moher – Ireland =-.

    LD March 17, 2010 at 10:41 am

    First of all – well written and well said.
    My perspective.
    I was at an event in NY, and it wasn’t a blogging event per se, but it was an event where 2 writers turned bloggers were speaking, so a lot of bloggers showed up. I knew no one, wasn’t there to meet/network/socialize. I was there to see an author.
    But, I started talking to people and the topic of blogging came up. And it was weird to me because these women defined themselves as “socialite bloggers” (who knew?) and asked if I had a blog. It never even occurred to me that I wasn’t hip enough for them.
    I was all “well, it’s a mommy blog, but I’ve been changing it a bit … and it’s pretty small. Oh, and I’m from Toronto.” (cuz I ramble when I’m nervous.)
    And they were so condescending.
    I mean, I was totally into what they were talking about. And interested. And then I got completely brushed off.
    It was so weird – and a little disconcerting. And then I started reading what they had to say on Twitter (about me, the event, the blogger in question, etc)and I read their blogs. And the thing is, you’ve put more content in one post than all of them combined.
    And, the thing is, a lot of the mommy blogs I read are about so much than being a mom. But, why shake the identity of being a mom?
    If the Times doesn’t get it, then so what?
    (well, except the Tanner part.)
    .-= LD´s last blog ..Irish =-.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Oddly, no-one at SXSW treated me with condescension for being a mom-blogger, with perhaps that one exception of the person who advised me to not say I was a mom-blogger. Women can be their own worst enemies.

    Selena March 17, 2010 at 11:12 am

    This article has induced an uproar (justifiably so), which really does speak to far biggger, deep rooted issues…

    jwgmom March 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Having nothing to do with this post, which was magnificant, but how do I lose that damn “I’m moving my blog” page that you posted months ago? It loads every time I go to your site before the right one does. The kids’ haiar has grown 6 inches since then and the kid probably has too.

    Her Bad Mother March 17, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    oh, dude, I have no idea. are you coming directly to or following a link to the old url?

    Juli Ryan March 18, 2010 at 7:03 am

    “And we need to start by not denying any part of who we collectively are, not only as moms, but as women…and by demanding that all these parts of who we collectively are be taken seriously.”

    I may not agree with you on some issues, ever go to conferences, or even want the same things out of blogging that you do. But as a mother and a blogger, the NYT article still makes my head explode. I am happy to join you in protesting its publication. Thanks for this post.
    .-= Juli Ryan´s last blog ..I’m overwhelmed. =-.

    Supa Dupa Fresh March 18, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Hmmm… this is a tough one for me, because I admire you tremendously, I think you’re brilliant and bright and often right on the point.

    (And I’m a mom and a blogger, as well as someone who deals with serious issues on their blog as well as the usual silliness).

    But I don’t really understand how anyone (and you’re not alone) can think the NYT is obligated to acknowledge the importance of moms blogging, or any other media channel at all. I mean, don’t we all publish our own blogs because we can post whatever we want, whenever we want? And aren’t we, as online media, part of a major force working to destroy the mainstream and print media? Why should we expect their respect?

    If they want to do a series of light pieces, that’s their prerogative.

    Second, they did point out a number of negative impressions of mommy bloggers, but those ideas are reinforced and MAJORLY publicized by mommy bloggers themselves. At BlogHer I groaned every time I heard another alcohol-related blog title or Twitter handle. There were DOZENS. It’s embarrassing. Yes, you’re allowed to have fun, and define professionalism for yourselves, but don’t act surprised when people listen. All the things people have complained about as the author’s “opinions” were actually observations of real behavior and yes, brands.

    I wouldn’t have expected the Times to provide a link to your Disney/dystrophy project. That is blogger etiquette and they are not a blog. The Times DID provide the full name of the disease, and honestly, between sporadic reading of your blog and tweets, it wasn’t quite clear to me how Tanner, Disney, Ford, Tiarathon, and dystrophy fit together nor did I know the full name of Tanner’s disease.

    If you want the Times to be more bloggy, I might want your blog to be more Times-y. I mean, I’m pretty smart, but a sidebar that summarizes an ongoing important project would be helpful.

    Full respect for what you do in all ways — but I think this is a framing issue. You do what you do excellently, and the Times does what they do, and perhaps the twain are not yet meeting. Perhaps they never should.

    I adore you for what you do, and I think the Times is still relevant, even if they aren’t kowtowing to us and our power appropriately. May they never do so. There’s room for your voice and their authority (and they get to have a voice too, and you get to have some authority, too).

    Long live constructive, vivid, personal dialog between opposites, and friends.


    .-= Supa Dupa Fresh´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday: (I have no idea) =-.

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