a tale of two mommy sites

When confronted, in the doctor's office waiting room, with the choice of reading Good Housekeeping or The New Yorker. Let me confess--I'll go with GH each and every time. I will skim over the table of contents and target the stories on make-overs (all the better with a dramatic weight-loss component, thank you very much) and fitness/diet tips (all the better if they produce miraculous results with little-to-no effort, thank you very much). Mostly I will flick through and look at pictures of home decor and brownie recipes... Much in the same way as our monthly subscription to Bon Appetit is much more about getting my fix of mouthwatering food-pic-porn than any really practical advice over blanching and preserving my home-grown crop of Meyer Lemons.

I don't subscribe to any conventional "women's magazines" (unless you count, Brain, Child--which is far from conventional in terms of this genre) but this does not stop me from leering over all the glossies that tempt me as I wait in line at the grocery store, or grabbing any issues that grace a friend or relative's coffee table, and becoming enchantingly antisocial as I devour every issue available. In my saddest moments, I call this "maintaining cultural literacy" (the same argument for using t.v. as babysitter--you should try it!) Fact is, I am disturbingly fascinated with Julia Robert's life with twins and penchant for knitting. Oh, and a copy of US or People or National Enquirer in your bathroom? Please feel free to start drinks without me, I'll catch you much, much later on...

And there's me, veteran of the gender studies seminar, and one-time professor of women's studies. In my classes such magazines are excellent and easily available fodder for discussing the social construction of gender, and "the ideology of body-image." My students and I go to town on comparing the messages of Shape, and Self, and Woman's World, as opposed to GQ, and Men's Health, or even Wall Street Journal. And while I do not indulge (too much) in simplistic preaching of ALL MEDIA BAD; we are oppressed by MEDIA; MEDIA made me bulimic, I do sit back and smugly enjoy when female freshmen, who had not given it a moment's thought before, ask themselves "why the fuck DO commercials for fabric softner contain talking teddy bears??? And why does inclusion of teddy bears tell us subliminally that this ad is not for the men-folk?"

Such is my mighty intellectual power to teach and mentor... (Lock up your daughters!!!)

So (as she maneuvers a whiplash transition) am I getting to a point here?? Well, all the above cultural-whorishness taken into account, one of the most significant attributes of the mommy-blogging phenonenom is that finally there is a place where you can hear (cliche alert) "the real voices of women..." In fact, when Sweetney was questioning the fate of feminism a few weeks back, I used mommy blogging as an example where the times they are achangin'.

Yes, we talk about diets, and celebrities, and domestic purgatory/bliss, and our kids, and getting them to eat/speak/think right, but the terms in which we talk about these things--they are so wildly different from the glossy "true-life" stories we are presented with via conventional media: If you pick up a copy of this week's Good Housekeeping you'll find that Christie Brinkley at 52, "gives a straight talk about being and older mom and how she's facing up to a family crisis..."

And while we might empathize with some of the shit our uptown gal has had to deal with over the years (Billy Joel and Chuck Norris infommercials notwithstanding) we all know how that article will play out. "I've been through a rough and tumultuous time, but now I am coming through to the other side by seeing the joy in life, and treasuring the gift of my children.."
We turn to these mags when we want our Motherhood Censored (devoid of all swear words, spitting anger, snorting laughter, and ambivalence....)

Swear words do not mommy-blog realism make, don't get me wrong. But stories about nocturnal boob-leakage, really juggling a career and parenting, or how we feel about our bodies once they have become baby-making devices, well we can find them now via these blogs. And we can engage other writers by shouting support or relating our own experiences. And that is why for me blogging is both a supreme form of procrastination (coz, we're just shooting the shit, right?) and also a powerful form of expression, communication, and dare I say it--feminism.

I for one like the idea that the mommy-blogosphere is one place where, in years to come, people will turn to see what women were up to at the turn of the 21st century, and not the manicured profiles of women in mainstream magazines. (and boy I hope those guys read my zit post!!!).

It's very interesting to me that in the space of just a week, two largescale websites devoted to us mommy-types have taken the mutha' blogosphere by storm. The most widely touted in the circles I have seen is ClubMom, which is providing some of the most talented bloggers out there (amalah, sweetney, kirsten--to name but a few) with the venue (and cash money) they need to blog for us on a much more regular basis. And we thank them.

The other that is surfacing along with a general raising of fists, "about-blooooody-time" sentiment, MomsRising.org, a site that is overtly more about generating mother-activism and a shared sense of outrage and goal-setting over the fact that (though some may deny it) mothers and primary caregivers in general need to fight-FOR-THEIR-rights to PARENT in an equitable environment.

What's also interesting about these two new ventures is how much they contrast at a glimpse. ClubMom's interface has all the hallmarks of a well-manicured women's magazine, with its typical headlines alerting us to diet and fitness tips, recipes, hobbies and crafts. We've got tasteful and relatively unobrusive ads for minivans and weight-watchers snacks, and Meredith Vieira graces us with a soft-focus smile, reassuring us that she brings to this venture all the professionalism and down-to-earth "you know it, girlfriend" of The View ("finally I get away from that b'yatch, Star..."). Now don't get me wrong, I like a recipe for low-fat-fries-with-all-the-taste as much as the next lassy--but I also like my representations of motherhood deeply flawed, messy, and argumentative, and on first look, ClubMom looks a little too groomed and level-headed for my more raucous taste in bloggery.

But then how did I get to ClubMom? How did any of us? It's via that chick who is gracing the bottom left corner--our own Amalah, who the producers of ClubMom were savvy enough to enlist as part of the whole By Moms, For Moms principle... And yes, Amy can't curse here (because I am sure that Swiffer might have something to say about that) but she can nonetheless bring her own inimitable voice to this thing in her Best of Mom Blogs daily entry. And today, that gal is fighting the good fight with her "I am a mommy blogger, hear me roar" post.

In a nation where the job of caring for children is grossly undervalued, for both moms and minimum-wage daycare providers, I guess we shouldn't be surprised that non-parents (and I've stumbled across a daddyblogger or two who regularly use the word with the same sexist venom as a four-letter word) assume that women who write about their children are not doing anything worthwhile. That we've let our identity completely vanish beneath the motherhood label. That we have nothing to say that could possible interest anyone besides other mothers. Because we only write about our children and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE.

Amy's sardonic flipping off of the whole mommyblogger-bashing thing going on out there, well it helps us all flip off those who denegrate mothers, and it creates a swell of righteous indignation--a political swell, the basis of action. And that's exactly where MomsRising starts from--channelling indigination over the subordination of women, especially mothers, and putting that groundswell to good use. A site that is much more old-school in its articulation of that battlecry, MomsRising is explicitly about promoting activism (although careful to make this about "parents' and "childrens' rights") Invoking all the rhetoric of the women's movement, complete with Rosie-the-Riveter design theme, and pithy M.O.T.H.E.R. acronym for citing the core principles of the Mother Manifesto, the site is commercial-free, save the fundraising touting of t-shirts, and uses the vastly powerful model of online organizing used by MoveOn.org (and one of the site's authors is also MoveOn's cofounder).

In addition to the organizing tools, the site also provides a forum for sharing stories.--not of political reawakening, but of anecdotes detailing the good, the bad, and the ugly (and I don't seen any "no swearing" rules, which means I might be able to submit a line or two myself!). The lead story right now should be read by any of us who have "pumped in style" in the workplace, I tell you. (Or, eh, those who have a breast- pump fetish. And who doesn't?)

The fact that (relatively) unfiltered story-telling by mothers is a centerpiece for both these sites, well it makes the procrastinator in me rub her keyboard in sweaty glee, and it makes the feminist and english lit. professor in me feel all puffed up and proud. Under the polished veneer of ClubMom (and it is that polished veneer, after all, that gets in the advertisers, and gets our gals paid) are the voices we can come to count on to represent some of those messier and sometimes anger-inducing aspects of motherhood.

Because we all know that when her time comes, sweetney isn't going to be feeding us links to coupons of personalized "your child here" photo-mugs vendors, don't we?

(unless it's subversive personalized photo-mugs, of course...)


Suzanne said...

(Delurking) Terrific post! I stopped by The Mom Club site awhile ago and had the same reaction you did: an online version of a woman's magazine. Then I received an e-mail from the organizers of MomsRising: THIS is more my speed.

(Love your blog, btw!)

Sandra said...

Spectacular post. I have so much to say in reply but I'd really just be restating everything you said and fill up your whole comments section.

You are so right!

Mocha said...

Damn you. Damn. Damn. Damn.

I wanted to jump over here and say ONE THING and here I've spent the past 15 minutes reading this whole post and AMENing and fist-pumping the entire time.

Fantastic entry - I'd send my daughter to your class ANY day. She's been raised on that diet of "Why the hell __________?" so you'd love her.

So come on over and see the shirt I posted for ya.

Damn you. You're making want to go over and check out Club Mom when they rejected me...

Anonymous said...

So much to work through here. I agree with your point about the authenticity of mommyblogs vs. the generic, utterly predictable narrative template that the mainstream mommy mags perpetuate. But I've been noticing the same sort of thing trickling down into a number of blogs lately, particularly among many of the A-list bloggers who have experienced a level of validation (read: simoleons) from the hallowed halls of traditional publishing. The venues that still seem to reflect any level of genuine maternal ambivalence/confusion are the so-called lower-level bloggers, i.e. the ones who aren't getting paid.

One of the things that most fascinated me and attracted me to mommyblogging was the utter democracy of the format. It allows women everywhere to circumvent the many layers of culling and gatekeeping that have historically rendered mute so many experiential accounts of motherhood, especially non-traditional and/or conflicted motherhood. One of my main academic areas of interest was women's autobiography, and the implications of blogging for that genre are just mindboggling. For the first time in modern history, large numbers of women can and do write their lives for audiences, bypassing most of the vagaries and pitfalls of the traditional canonicity criteria that have long ruthlessly determined whose experiences were important enough to be published and remembered.

So, I have a lot of questions about the advantages and disadvantages of recognition, validation, and money from mainstream venues such as ClubMom. Inevitably, I think this sort of attention is going to exert homogenizing, normalizing influences on the mommybloggers, even as they will be able to reach a broader audience. It's definitely a give-and-take situation.

Will have to look at this again. Splendid post, dear ginga.

debbie said...

well said, as usual! but, to be perfectly honest, the club mom site is so aesthetically unpleasant to me, i doubt i will be a regular visitor there, no matter who's writing. i'm shallow like that. heh. no, seriously, it drives my ADD crazy trying to navigate it!

Anonymous said...

the snuggles bear is meant to denote child friendly ... teddy bears and kids, they go together; ergo, if there's a teddy bear on some fucking fabric softener, it's for the kids too. simple logic!!

imagine a product having a lion ripping a zebra apart. message: keep the kinder away from animal santuaries unless the lions and zebras are stuffed or behind aesthetically pleasing plexi-glass and preferably sedated. see the linearity of this simple advert: kids snuggle; snuggle bear, snuggle soft; clothes are snuggly for the kids.

if they wanted to market it for girls, specifically, there would be a diamong ring on it or a photo of the mall. quit politicizing motherhood. you just have to be a mother ...(please italicize the "be")

it's all in my new book: _Shut Your Yap, Where's My Dinner, Go Out and Mow the Lawn Because I Worked All Day While You Were Home Watching TV_ (New World Press, 2006)

Anonymous said...

My apologies; the above "anonymous" response and offering of intelligent insight is from Chuck.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you updated this somehow so it repopped up on my bloglines. I read it yesterday but didn't get to comment.

I think people are catching on - the mom blog thing is the place to be - and hopefully, with folks like FM and Blogher asking for more $$ for advertising, people will realize how much of a force we are.

I think not everyone mothers the same and therefore we do need a variety of sites and places for them to seek support and comfort. However, since I've had my daughter and started blogging, I've gotten the activism bite when it comes to mothering issues - particularly as I'm having a bitch of a time with some crappy women's medical care.

I've decided I need to stand up for stuff - for myself, yes, but as a way to pave a clear path for my daughter.

Epic post.

gingajoy said...

"Chuck"--stop wasting time commenting on my blog and get on with the more important job of cooking my dinner. Oh, and make sure that martini is chilled when I get home...

Anonymous said...

honestly, i wish "mommy blogging" had been available to me when my kids were younger, because it would have been nice to have access to women actually capable of changing diapers AND thinking at the same time! women who take pride in their choices, whether it's to stay at home or re-enter the workforce. women who have ideas and strong voices and are not afraid to use them. where were you guys when i was raising my kids? (not that i'm bitter...).

i think those who express disdain for all things "mommyblogger" would do well to stand back, for clearly, this is a force to be reckoned with! i would say your analysis of the two "mommy" sites is spot on... i love the fact that both sites endeavor to broaden the reach of some very important voices. my question is this: why isn't someone paying you to share your thoughtful and eloquent opinions with the rest of the blogesphere?

zinalasvegas said...

Yes to all-- I want to say to WV for calling it on the "recognition" gig and to neva for calling it on the I wish mommy blogging were here when I was younger.

Most importantly to you for writing:

"I also like my representations of motherhood deeply flawed, messy, and argumentative"

I nned to see more of that and less of the groupthink auto-reponse.

Rock on, and keep bringing it on...

ninjapoodles said...

Good golly. So. Much. THINKING! Thanks for making me do it--it's been a brain-candy day for me. Brilliantly done.

Debbie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Debbie said...

jeebus, joy. write a damn book, already.

I, too, enjoy the messier aspects of the momblogs. clean and pretty ain't where it's at for moi, so I won't be visiting the (waaay too disney) ClubMoms. gach.

god dammit, but you can scratch with that pen. I just wish you would do it more.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What a terrific post. (Found you via my stats. YES! I check them! I ADMIT IT!)


Mom101 said...

Oh man! So much here! So much to comment on! I don't even know where to start...

but I will start with the ad stuff. I have the interesting perspective of being a cynical, feminist, media-savy mom--and at the same time an ad professional. The problem with working on fabric softener ads, is that when they have research that tells you 98.997% of fabric softeners are purchased by women, ya gotta talk to the women. What I try to do however is talk to people in truths about how the world is, not how it should be.

So I would much sooner write an ad about how laundry sucks ass big time but if you gotta do it you might as well make it all soft and pretty smelling....than an ad where it's like, "La la la! Hooray, it's laundry day! I love laundry! I love the cute little teddy bear that helps me do laundry! Chores are WHAT I LIVE FOR." Yeah, none of that.

I had a similar feeling about club mom. Glossy. Shiny. Sanitized for your protection. But if the content is there, I guess I can get over the feeling that it's yet another "moms like to knit and swiffer" webzine with a sharper editorial staff.

But I agree with Kristen here, that there's room for many voices. I think blogs, like other alt media these days gives us the ability to narrow down our "news" or info do the exact very thing with the exact very spin we want. I'm digging that. It allows me to read, say, GingaJoy, and not, say, Michelle Malkin.

I'm rambling now. I'll shut up.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! Honest and well said.

Her Bad Mother said...

Ah, god, so much provocation of thought on so little coffee.

This was brilliant. So I will only say this: ditto.

And: can I link it as part of the mommy-blog celebration? Because you've so wonderfully and carefully shone the spotlight on all that is so great and sometimes discomfiting about this ever-growing corner of the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Better late than never I hope, but I'm here to join the hallelujah chorus. I'm singing your praises for all of it.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I was applauding at your correlating post over at Blogher and had to come by to read this: I am so glad I did. You've really nailed the whole potential/radicalism of the mommyblogging genre.

Very well done!

toyfoto said...

Late to this entry, but I applaud wildly.

There is going to be so much primary source information out there for social scientists to study one day.

I must admit I have always loved the diaries of women. People who lived in the 19th century, whose water-stained diaries were unearthed and sometimes published.

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