The Rise Of Moms, And The Rise Of Dads, And How The Twain Shall Meet

May 24, 2012

I’m not going to address the latest dad blogging controversy (You guys! You have a controversy! You’ve arrived! AGAIN!), 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.

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    { 16 comments }

    Beta Dad May 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    It’s interesting to see parent blogging placed in a historical context like this! Would you say that women being underrepresented in the parenting conversation until recently is at least in part simply a function of women not being included in any conversations? At least in terms of what’s been published and archived? I’m not disputing your analysis, but I just wonder if women were excluded from writing about parenting any more than they were excluded from writing about everything else.

    Re: “nobody ever calls them daddy bloggers”–I was on TV yesterday with a big sign under my mug that said “Daddy Blogger.”

    Her Bad Mother May 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    Absolutely, the exclusion of moms from public discourse about the family had much to with the exclusion of women from the public discourse more broadly. What makes their exclusion from the discourse of the family particularly notable, however, is that the sphere of the family is the sphere of their very lives and work, which until recently were discursively defined and narrated by men. Women were not only not part of public discussions about public life, they were not part of the discussions about how they lived *their* lives. Commentary about the family in public life was driven by men – it was, in fact, men who led discussions on whether women should breastfeed, or swaddle their babies.

    And, wow that you were referred to as a Daddy Blogger. Need to think on the semiotics of that. ( /joking /but only sort of )

    father muskrat May 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    This makes me fired up for my 4th BlogHer in a few months.

    Also, Andy the Beta Dad embraces the “daddy blogger” moniker with grace and dignity.

    Always Home and Uncool May 24, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    People call us “daddy bloggers” all the time. The difference is we tend not to get apoplectic about it because many of us look at it as a term of affection/endearment/mastering of the parenting medium, not a diminutive. After all, who’s your daddy?

    Her Bad Mother May 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    “People call us “daddy bloggers” all the time. The difference is we tend not to get apoplectic about it because many of us look at it as a term of affection/endearment/mastering of the parenting medium, not a diminutive.”

    I love this. Then, I’m someone who embraces the term ‘mommy blogger’, so maybe I’m biased, but still. It’s a great sentiment, and one that we’d all do well to consider.

    DadCAMP May 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    “equal parts memoir and meta-commentary”

    I miss blogs like that.

    (no disclosure needed for this comment because my memories of missing old school blogs are my own and not sponsored or facilitated by any product I have been given to mention this memory)

    Her Bad Mother May 24, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    There are still blogs like that. Fewer and farther between, but still.

    I do miss the days when they dominated, though.

    Backpacking Dad May 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I don’t know what my life would be like right now if I hadn’t found dad blogging. It’s worthwhile.

    Bitch'in Suburbia May 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    What a fantastic, though-provoking article — really makes me think about that old expression, “you’ve come a long way, baby.” That’s a collective baby – x-chromonal and y-chromonal people equally, as we speak to the world about the shared experiences of parenting. Just the ideat that parenting (such a new millennium term) is shared nowadays is awesome in and of itself. By the way, the last parenting blog entry that made me laugh out loud was written by a man. Go guys, go!!

    The Mommy Psychologist May 25, 2012 at 2:33 am

    There’s a daddy war going on too? I had no idea! I thought there was only a mommy war. Where have I been?

    neal May 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    What you say about men trying to *once again* take over the conversation from women is an interesting one, especially in the sense that they are kind of doing a wimpy job of it. It puts the woman’s conversation in a real power position, to be able to look down and pat the the daddy blogger on the head and say, “that’s adorable.” I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’m a new blogger, but really feeling uplifted by exploring the way fathers have started to participate in the phenomenon.

    One of the really great things about what a daddy blogger can do, I think, is express his efforts at trying to become something, efforts at trying to be better, both in terms of being a dad and being a human, without becoming authoritative or *patriarchal*. And that’s where the role of men in the blogger universe may offer a different, healthier voice than the one men have so long wielded against the rest of the population: the voice of struggle and compassion and empathy (and even failure) trumping the more traditional voice of power and absolutism and single-minded know-it-all-ness.

    This is a cool article. I’ma have to think about it a little more before I write anymore.

    Thanks!

    Reader May 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    As a long-time humble reader (and very rare commenter), what I’ve noticed about parenting blogs is that they’ve increasingly shifted from “narrative” to “self-promotion”. I don’t mean that negatively, although I know that it will sound that way. I just mean that the blogs used to tell stories, mostly (at least I recall them). Now you get a few stories, as a kind of feature amidst a broader display of promoting the blog and the blogger in various ways. Knowing that, it influences the way I read everything else that’s being said. At least that’s my take on the evolution of this genre anyway.

    Marian May 27, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I scrolled down to the bottom of the page, before reading everything, to see whether it would say, “This post sponsored by ….”

    I just have to accept that when a blog hits it big I am to read it as I watch TV: I am never surprised by commercials, I accept them as a part of the program.

    It’s a bit of an adjustment, though.

    jco May 28, 2012 at 10:48 am

    great stuff as always. i didn’t know BOO about “mommy bloggers” or “daddy bloggers” before i wrote my book. (btw… i agree w/ the others — daddy blogger is an oft-used term) and the only reason why i wrote my book in the first place was “to become a writer,” whatever the hell that meant. and the only reason the topic of my book was my children was because i was following the advice of writing what you know. and, after having the triplets, i was suddenly garnering non-stop attention whenever i rolled the tumultuous trio about, so i figured by writing what i knew, i’d also be covering a topic (multiples of a higher order) that seemed to be of innate interest to folks.

    SO, a friend of mine was like “you should start a dad blog to promote your book.”

    “what’s a dad blog?”

    “it’s like a mom blog only written by a dad.”

    “what’s a mom blog?”

    point? i totally fell into this parenting blogging bit on accident. i knew, quite literally, ZERO about it. so, i must say, the politics of it all is not only surprising to me, but totally unappealing if not disappointing. probably because i didn’t start my blog to forward any movement. or to prove any point. or to hate on any company for engaging in (admittedly dated) gender-based stereotyping intended to be humorous.

    i started my blog because i love to write. so while i’m proud to be a part of the dad blogging community (as in, really proud — those guys are great guys and so many of them have now become close friends of mine, including three or four who’ve commented here), i don’t consider it my mandate to further the institution of fatherhood. i totally understand why some DO consider it their mandate, but that’s not my cup of tea.

    i don’t necessarily want people to see me first and foremost as a parent every bit the equal of his wife. i happen to believe that’s the case, but that’s not what i’m hoping people see when they look at me.

    i’m hoping they’ll see ME. because if they do, then they’ll also see the bit about the emotionally available, totally engaged parent. but they’ll also see a bunch of other things, too. because, while being a parent is my most important job, there’s so much more to me than just that.

    Amy May 29, 2012 at 9:26 am

    From the dad blogs that I follow, I can say that I love the perspective you get from them. They have an unrepentant humor about parenthood and their views on everyday events keep me laughing.

    Good writing is good writing, no matter where it comes from. So keep on writing guys! I love it!

    Panama June 3, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    “In general, dads have always gotten the short shrift when it comes to parenting, but in recent times, it’s been different,” said Jeffrey Sass, who is a single parent of a daughter and two sons, ages 17 to 21, and blogs at Dad-O-Matic . Advertisers have focused on mommy bloggers “because everyone believes the mother makes many of the buying decisions in the home, but in product categories like consumer electronics, it makes sense to go after dads,” he said.

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