I have no problems being called a “mommy blogger.” I’m a mom. I blog. The shoe fits. But often I find people quickly apologizing when they label me as so. It’s almost as if the very title drips of condescension. Mothers writing about their lives has somehow become regarded as a genre full of gratuitous anecdotes, yoga pants and wine. As if that weren’t insulting enough – a recent slew of articles claims that not only is the genre frivolous – it’s unethical.
I’ve been unable to shake how annoyed I am with one article in particular. Last month’s article in The Atlantic, “The Ethical Implications of Parents Writing About Their Kids” was touted for it’s frank criticism of the world of “parental overshare.” Well, I think It’s actually a very offensive piece of writing – filled with stereotypes, generalizations, and completely outmoded ways of thinking. It also reeks of a gender bias that I am frankly shocked came from the mind of a woman.
The article’s author, Phoebe Maltz Bovy, asserts that it’s not “ethical” to put our children’s names and stories out there. As mothers, we can only share our stories in person.
Parental overshare, as I define it, does not refer to parents discussing their kids with friends and family. Private or anonymous communication doesn’t count, even if in this day and age, everything could theoretically reach a mass audience. Nor does fiction. Two criteria must be present: First, the children need to be identifiable. That does not necessarily mean full names. The author’s full name is plenty, even if the children have a different (i.e. their father’s) last name. Next, there needs to be ambition to reach a mass audience.
What she has just described is the definition of a parenting blog; it’s public, it’s not anonymous, it speaks of parenting and children, and it has the potential to reach a mass audience. So let’s just be clear. In this woman’s mind, all parenting blogs fall under the category of “parental overshare.”
The inspiration for her article about “parental overshare” is the now infamous blog post that went viral after the tragedy in Newtown. The blog post was titled “Thinking the Unthinkable,” by it’s author, Lisa Long. Two days after its original publication date, the post appeared on under the title “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”
Whatever ingredients that need to be present for a post to go viral were there. The nation was focused on the tragedy of Newtown and what the press labeled as the “mentally ill” son behind it all. The post struck a nerve. It went from a fairly harmless post on an obscure blog that had less than 50 entries, to something that hundreds of thousands of people read in a matter of days. There is no way Lisa Long could have predicted that kind of catapult to infamy. No way.
Maltz Bovy states, “Long’s essay was only the most outlandish version of a popular genre: parental overshare.” The essay makes it clear that in her mind, parental blogging equals parental overshare. “(Parental overshare) ranges from family secrets to lighthearted anecdotes.” So basically, the blog itself is doomed to this criticism – no matter what it contains.
Readers are meant to celebrate confessional parenting-writing for its courage, perhaps also because it is a rare creative (sometimes lucrative) outlet for women who identify primarily as mothers. Yet these parents’ “courage” involves telling stories not theirs to tell.
There are so many things that bother me about these statements. A “rare” creative outlet? I hate to break it to this author, but shooting a baby out of your vagina doesn’t make you any less “creative” than the next person. Is she seriously unaware that there are hundreds of thousands of mothers who are also authors, artists, poets, designers – need I go on? Bovy may think the world of parental blogging is a frivolous waste of time, but there are many, many people who don’t. And there are many accomplished, creative people behind it.
This is where my issue with her obvious gender-bias comes into play. Parental blogging isn’t only done by women. There are tons of fathers who blog, too. Yet, you wouldn’t know it in this criticism, because according to her statement it’s an outlet for “women who identify primarily as mothers.” What does that statement even mean? There are women with children who identify primarily as mothers, and those who don’t? Of course the ones that don’t are the ones who have important jobs outside the home and don’t have time for this silly parental overshare mom-blogging world. And of course the ones that do are the ones writing these stories that in her mind have no business existing in the ether.
Parental blogging is a field dominated by women. Clearly, even in the mind of a very educated woman – that makes it gratuitous in and of itself. Mothers who share stories that many may be uncomfortable with, are accused of being “well-intentioned” but unethical. As if there exists someone out there that cares about Lisa Long’s child more than she does. Forget that her story may help women and men in similar situations – she’s clearly not apt to make a decision about the stories she wants to share. Don’t even get me started about how condescending the term “well-intentioned” is. What does Long know – she’s just a “soccer mom.” And you should hear some of the things she says about her ex-husband!
The most offensive part of Maltz Bovy’s essay is that our experiences as mothers that fill the pages of our blogs are stories that “aren’t ours to tell.” Well, thanks for setting the women’s movement back 50 years with one swift, judgemental statement.
The stories I write about motherhood and raising children do belong to me. I’m a mother, I’m an artist, I’m a writer, and I am a professional. Whatever I go through that I deem worthy to put on the Internet – is based solely on my judgement as a thinking adult who is prepared to deal with any possible repercussions of my actions. This isn’t 1950. I don’t need to suffer in silence, feign perfection, and keep my problems to myself. Thank you, women’s movement – for giving me a voice and the power to know when the hell I can use it. My experiences as a mother are no less real and document-worthy than Maltz Bovy’s experiences in academia and bargain hunting that she pens about on her own blogs.
As for the possible repercussions to our children – yes the Internet is a vast and scary place. But as an adult and a mother, I’ll decide what’s best for my child, what’s safest for my child, and what stories I’ll share with my community. I’m certainly not saying that I agree with the many varying levels of transparency that exist out there. But I won’t pretend to know what’s best for someone else’s child and family. There are almost 4,000 entries on Maltz Bovy’s personal blog alone. Does she honestly expect anyone to believe if she had children she wouldn’t write about them?
I’m not buying it.