I’m not going to address the latest dad blogging controversy, mostly because it’s a debate over trolling, and I am just so, so tired of talking about how mean we can all be to each other online. I’m tired of even thinking about how mean we can be to each other here, because, seriously, there’s enough horrible crap in the world to be depressed by that the question of WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG in an inclusive, communicative space like the Internet just seems stupid. Really, really stupid. Also: dumb. We should just all be getting along. We should just all be endeavoring to be gracious toward one another. We should all be trying to be nice. Which, yes, is very probably a girly thing to say, but whatever. GENDER STEREOTYPING ALERT.
There is, of course, that whole other controversy, about the gender stereotyping, which I am also not going to dig into here, because my inner academic, the one who spent the better part of a decade studying the place of women in public life, just gets really agitated if she thinks about the arc of that particular conversation, and I don’t like to agitate her, if I can avoid it. Bad things happen when she gets agitated. She kind of turns into this great, raging storm of discursive aggression. PHILOSOPHER-SMASH.
Anyway. In lieu of digging into those things, I am going to revisit/tweak/repurpose something that I wrote a little while back, for Babble, when we were building our dad section, and talking a lot about the whys and wherefores of dad blogging. Dad blogging matters, I kept saying. In different ways than mom blogging matters, but still. It matters. I still think this, but sometimes, when I get frustrated with the discourse on dad blogging, I have to stop and reflect on why it matters. Which is what I’m doing here.
When I started blogging, way back in the horse-and-buggy era of the Internet, I had no idea that there was such a thing as a “mommy blog.” I barely understood the concept of the blog itself: I’d stumbled upon some online accounts of parenting, stories that seemed equal parts memoir and meta-commentary, and they were awesome, and I wanted to be part of whatever it was that they were part of. I wanted to tell my story, in the same way that the authors of those accounts were telling their stories. I didn’t think of these as ‘daddy’ stories or ‘mommy’ stories. I certainly didn’t think of my own as a ‘mommy’ story. It was just a story, told by me, a woman who happened to be a brand new mom.
The blogs that I read back then – and still do, for the most part – weren’t just about motherhood, or parenthood. I read Dooce because she spoke to my experience of depression. I read Sweet Juniper because Dutch and Wood – as I knew them then – were smart and literate and posted beautiful photographs that made me long for the west coast. I read Ask Moxie for her amazing parenting advice, sure, but also for her Lost recaps. I read the Blogfathers – remember them? – because they made me laugh. I read Laid Off Dad for the same reason. I was drawn to them all because they were parents, but I didn’t keep reading them for that reason. I stuck around and kept reading every word that they wrote because they were, and still are, wonderful writers. Their parenthood was just a bonus.
In the years since, a whole culture – a whole industry – has developed around the phenomenon of the parent blogger. Sorry, the mommy blogger. There is no ‘phenomenon’ of parent blogging, qua parent blogging. Sure, those of us who write about parenthood online are, strictly speaking, all parent bloggers, but inasmuch as there’s a parent-related blogger phenomenon, it’s a mommy blogger phenomenon. Mommy bloggers have the page views. Mommy bloggers get the attention. Mommy bloggers have the conferences. Mommy bloggers get their space in the New York Times and on daytime television and have movies made about them. Mommy bloggers have a queen.
Mommy bloggers are a ‘thing’ in a way that dad bloggers – nobody ever calls them ‘daddy bloggers,’ which is another topic for another time – simply are not. But what does that mean for dads who blog? Are they just a minor part of the vast mom blogging community? Or are they their own specialized community? But if they are their own community, couldn’t we also consider them a ‘thing,’ in some sense? But can dad blogging be a ‘thing’ in the way that mom blogging is a ‘thing’ if dad bloggers don’t have the events, the media coverage, the royalty, and the whole industry that moms have? Does it even matter? Why are we even talking about this?
I would argue that it does matter, for two reasons. The first reason is this: Dad blogging matters as a phenomenon in and of itself because it points to a shift in how we understand fatherhood, and, arguably, in how men practice fatherhood. Dad bloggers narrate their experience of fatherhood, and in so doing they legitimize, and even celebrate, the public practice of fatherhood. That this is a public act is important: Dad bloggers are saying to the world, loudly and clearly, that fatherhood is something to be proud of. This is something worth talking about. This is something to praise and evaluate and celebrate and share and discuss, out loud and in public. This is something that changes both the discourse and the practice of fatherhood: When so many men are talking publicly about changing the diapers, does it not make it more likely that men changing diapers becomes more of a cultural norm? Fatherhood as lived and narrated by the dad bloggers is engaged fatherhood, is activist fatherhood, and the more they push this cultural narrative upon us, the more likely it is to take hold in our imagination as the ways things should be.
On the other hand – and here is reason number two why talking about dad blogging as a phenomenon unto itself matters – if we can say that dad blogging points to a shift (radical, revolutionary?) in how fatherhood is understood and practiced, inasmuch as it makes fatherhood public, can we not also say that it points to something more conservative, something that represents less of a movement forward than it does a staying-the-same? Men have always been the spokespeople for the family. Men, indeed, have always been the spokespeople for parenthood. The family has long been a subject of fascination for philosophers, lawmakers, artists, and poets, but with very few exceptions, these commentators on the family have always been men. The stories of the family have long been told, for the most part, by male storytellers; if one was to imagine a library filled with all the works of literature or philosophy or law or science on the family, one would see shelves upon shelves of books written by male authors. (A quick glance at a virtual shelf in the relevant sections of Amazon will demonstrate to you that things have not much changed; sure, moms have written a lot of memoirs in the 21st century, but who are the authors of the parenting manuals, the heavy texts that we all buy when we’re 6 months pregnant and starting to panic? Sears, Karp, Ferber, et al. All men.) I’m not saying that women need to replace men as storytellers of the family – moms don’t need to be the only spokespeople for parenting and family, and indeed, moms/women shouldn’t be the only spokespeople for parenting and the family, lest they trap themselves in that role – but it is something to keep in mind when we talk about the revolutionary potential of the 21st century dad that the father has has always been the figurehead of the family. For, like, forever. Until relatively recently, there was no ‘bumbling dad’ or ‘absent dad’ stereotypes; the the marginal figure in the family was ‘Mother,’ who was relegated to the private spaces of the household while ‘Father’ represented the family in name and form and voice. Moms have only just – just – come into their own as authors of the stories of the family and spokespeople for the family and experts on the family; dads have held that space comfortably for a very long time.
It remains, however, that there is something different – powerfully, meaningfully different – about the discourse that’s promoted by today’s dad storytellers — by dad bloggers. Theirs is a narrative that insists upon an understanding of parenthood that reaches beyond the conventions and tropes that have surrounded parenting and the family for so long, the classic storyline that has Dad in the easy chair and Mother baking pies, and that even disrupts and subverts that storyline, placing themselves – Dad – in the kitchen, on the playground, in the soccer carpool, at the playdate, or in front of the computer, blogging. They’re taking the work that mom bloggers have been doing in pushing forward the idea that these stories, our stories, about parenting and the family, matter, not just to us, but to everybody, and they push that work further, by saying – by insisting – that they’re part of that work, too, and that they’re proud.
That’s kind of awesome, and I, for one, think that we – we mothers-as-storytellers, who have fought so hard for the legitimacy of what we do, and everyone else – should celebrate it.