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.