Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blogging and Feminism

How good does a female athlete have to be 
before we just call her an athlete?
— Anonymous

There are two kinds of people in the world: bloggers and mommy bloggers.

I've been thinking about this post for some time, not necessarily in terms of blogging, but in terms of feminism and the role it plays now that we are a decade into the 21st Century. I'm getting ready to send my daughter off into the world. She is bright and shiny and full of expectations about college life and beyond. Throughout her childhood, I've been reluctant to saddle her with baggage from times gone by.

On the other hand, I'm a little dismayed at the number of women I've met (many just a shade younger than I) who think that feminists are man-hating, humorless old windbags who have no relevance in today's world. Today's Chicago Woman editor Cassandra Gaddo wrote a great post called Dropping the F-Bomb: Why is Feminism a Dirty Word, that speaks to many of the controversies surrounding feminism and invites us to reopen the conversation.

And we do need to reopen it, because even if feminism is dead (although I hope not), sexism isn't. In fact, it's alive and well in the venerable New York Times, where just this week writer Jennifer Mendelsohn penned an article insultingly titled Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand. Not surprisingly, it's gathered a lot of buzz in the blogosphere.

Here's the thing: I don't mind being called a Mommy Blogger (although in this house, I'm Mama, so I guess that would make me a Mama Blogger). After all, I'm a mom and I blog. On this blog, sometimes I write about being a mom, sometimes I don't. I am a proud contributor to the Chicago Moms Blog, where I write regularly about my experiences as a mom.

I guess it's the language that gets to me, because I'm picky about words. Words are powerful — they carry weight and meaning and subtext that is both subtle and profound. "Mommy Blogger", like "Soccer Mom" before it, carries a wide range of connotations, as illustrated a full year ago by the social media guide Mashable, which posted a list of 10 Misconceptions About Mommy Bloggers.

Most style guidelines advise using gender-neutral language whenever possible: server vs. waitress or waiter; manager or executive, not businessman; actor, not actress. In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "actor" was originally used for both sexes (1581); we didn't see "actress" introduced until 1666, 85 years later. The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) puts it this way in the LSA Guidelines for Nonsexist Usage:

"Sexist practices are those that contribute to demeaning or ignoring women (or men) or to stereotyping either sex; sexism is often not a mater of intention but of effect."

I am arguably a member of the very first post-feminist generation. Women were pretty much done burning their bras by the time I got my first one. (Thank God, or gravity would have taken a bigger toll on me than it already has.) I didn't really follow the doings of Gloria Steinem and Betty Freidan back then, though I have certainly come to appreciate them.

My hero (some might say shero) was my mom, a quiet, reluctant feminist who fought sexism throughout her life and career, even in the female-centric world of primary education. After years of substituting in our school district and many wonderful recommendations, she did not get a job that she and most people in the community expected her to get. When a colleague asked the superintendent why my mom didn't get an offer, he said: "You know her husband. He's a bank president. She doesn't need this job." My mom forged ahead and got a job in higher education.

Sometimes sexism is blatant; sometimes is hard to discern, but it definitely still exists. I worry that our young women won't even recognize it until it has stymied them in some way. As part of that first post-feminist generation of young women, I believe we were sold a bill of goods. We were told we were equal. We were told not only that we could have it all, but that we should have it all. We were still being told how to live our lives.

Most of the women (and many of the men) I know have learned the hard way that it's not possible to have it all, and it's certainly not possible to have it all at once. According to the International Labour Organization, "the redistribution of financial responsibilities within the family has not ben matched by a redistribution of work responsibilities in the home. It is still women who do a disproportionate share of the work around the home. Women are working harder than ever, and many are now working a 'second shift'."

Like Cassandra Gaddo, I strongly believe that we need a new discussion in this country — not just about feminism and its role, but one that examines our core values about work, family, money and priorities. I hope it will be an interesting discussion — a kind, thoughtful one, not the screaming and yelling that today's media uses to mask the real issues.

Back to blogging for a moment. There are a lot of bloggers out there. The most recent statistics I could find, from way back in early 2009, claimed that Technorati had indexed more than 130 million blogs since 2002. Bloggers come in all stripes and colors: there are mommy bloggers and daddy bloggers, business bloggers and entertainment bloggers, rude bloggers and earnest bloggers, successful bloggers and defunct bloggers. This fascinating, evolving and almost indefinable world of the blogosphere is really nothing but bits and bytes, tiny pieces of data zipping around the Interwebs. It is at once profound and deeply personal; and ironically, in light of the backlash against Mommy Bloggers, perhaps the most democratic, egalitarian form of communication in history.

So, while I really don't mind if you call me a Mommy Blogger, why not just call me a Blogger? And while I definitely believe in equality, I don't believe that all bloggers are equal, so how about if you call me a Damn Fine Blogger? In fact, I would prefer simply Writer — Damn Fine Writer, if you insist.

Thanks for stopping. If you want to see me present the other side of the coin, where I argue that males and females are completely different, be sure to catch my latest Chicago Moms Blog post. And I love to read your comments — just click here.

"All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are sides, and it is necessary for one side to beat another side."
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, 1929

Photo credit: Whistler's Mommy-Blogger by Mike Licht, via Creative Commons License


DarryleP said...

As both a feminist....and (technically) a mommy blogger....I say: you're a damn fine writer.

Kathy in CT said...

We are part of such an interesting/odd generation of women--I've noticed it, too. Not just the evolution of "feminist" into a dirty word, but the difference in how women 15 years older than us see feminism (they made it for us!)and women 15-20 years younger see it (they think it isn't necessary)is astonishing. And here we sit between them. I worry about my college students--young women who, as you pointed out too, probably won't "get it" until the business world has already "gotten" them in some way. Title IX did such an incredible job of leveling the field in education that those young women have no idea what we mean when we talk about sexism. Yet.
Thanks for the food for thought...

Susan Bearman said...

Darryle — Thanks, and right back at you. Your piece on this was part of the inspiration.

Kathy — We are such a between generation, in so many ways. Gives a whole new perspective to the word "Tweens", doesn't it?

kate hopper said...

Excellent post, Susan. I'll link to it from Mother Words. Happy to know you're writing this wonderful blog.


Rebecca Rodskog said...

Dear Damn Fine Writer,

Thanks for your message through She Writes Mother Writer Group which led me to read the NYT article in question and your blog! I am a former SV Moms Contributor (NY) but had to quit b/c I didn't have time to dedicate to my own blog and, frankly, was struggling with the tag of being a "mommy blogger." I love to write about all things and was feeling constricted under that umbrella to only write about my mom experiences in the city.

But to your points - so many of them resonate - I was upset w/the article because of the tone of the first half - really demeaning in so many ways, especially coming from a women who blogs herself. I felt by the end of the article she was finally listing the many reasons why women (moms) want and need to blog, and how amazing it is that we have this venue in which to express ourselves. The first half seemed to say that it was bad to want to actually learn how to make money from blogging.

In any event, as a fellow Feminist, Mommy, Businesswomen and Writer (funny -there is no "female" version of Writer - gender neutral!!) I am so happy to see your post and know that your voice is out there. I will subscribe now....

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a recent discussion among friends. What is the opposite of a misogynist?


Debby Carroll said...

Well, you are a damn fine writer. You stated the issues beautifully. Here's what I sent the NYT:
Is the NY Times Really Threatened by the Mother Bloggers?

The article In Sunday's paper (March 12) began with a misogynistic, misleading headline (Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand) and went down from there. The tone of the article is condescending and smacks of envy. As they say on SNL, “Really, NYT?

Is the august New York Times so threatened by the success of this trend in online publishing that they would actually print this so obviously subjective article which sounds like it was written by one of the mean girls in high school?

How was it relevant that the organizer of the event wasn’t wearing shoes? In one of the bibles of public speaking, presenters are told to imagine the audience naked in order to feel less nervous. Great public speakers find a way to relate to the audience and make them feel comfortable, too. Perhaps Ms. Romero knew that in her audience were many women who came to the conference alone and were perhaps feeling some trepidation. Perhaps she is the quintessential professional who knew that if she kicked off her shoes, her audience would immediately be put at ease and not feel so alone in a room full of strangers.

And, perhaps your article could have given her kudos for knowing so well how to reach her audience, instead of portraying her as a country bumpkin who just fell off a truck.

It seems absurd that the paper of record would be threatened by this tiny online niche, but how else does one explain the mean-spirited tone? The headline implies that mothers are so busy blogging that they are neglecting their children. Nowhere in the article is there a fact to back this up, nor is it mentioned again. I get it that headlines are supposed to grab readers but did you really intend to do that with a headline that is insulting and has nothing to do with the story?

The article does, in fact, present some of the facts about the reasons and results of blogging, but the headline and opening lead are insulting and don’t match the remainder of the article.

Perhaps it is because these enterprising bloggers have succeeded where newspapers are failing. When newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and ad revenue, bloggers are giving audiences what they want and are gathering the eyeballs and the wallets that go with them.

Susan Bearman said...

Kate — Thanks for the link & kind words. I'm going to check out Mother Words now.

Rebecca — While the SV Moms Group misses you, I'm glad we were able to connect through SheWrites. I'm still trying to figure out how to make my way around that fascinating group of writers.

Marcy — read a quote somewhere about feminism being the opposite of misogyny, but I can't find it now. I'll post it here if I run across it again.

Debby — Thanks for sharing your letter. Seems the article has hit a nerve. I'm reading lots of other great responses and particularly like this Open Letter from PunditMom.

Erica Jamieson said...

I would just think being a "Mommybloger" would, I don't know, get old one day! My kids are sixteen and twelve and frankly I'm a little tired of talking about them! Oh bad mommy that I am! I like the title damn fine writer. It leaves subject matter so wide open! Actually, when I read the NYT article I couldn't get past the fact that someone out there was promoting their child's birthday party, sponsors and giveaways included! Was their an open keg? Charging five dollars to get in? A cover band???

I wonder if a better discussion might be the whole sale marketing of our children for a sponsor on the internet??? Another day. Another blog.

Mariah said...

I'm a mom, I blog, although I don't just ramble about my kids, I actually have a brain and thoughts that don't just revolve around my kids.

Great post!

Susan Bearman said...

Erica — thanks for your comment and more food for thought. I've taken on kid birthday parties twice on the Chicago Moms Blog: Best Birthday Ever and Birthday Parties Run Amok.

Mariah — a mom and a blogger with a brain AND thoughts? Surely you jest. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

Unknown said...

Very good!

I am a babyboomer that graduated in the late 60s and I was furious that we did not get amendment. But what aggravated me the most was that except for a few everyone else thought somehow we'd won! I wasn't quite the flaming feminist because I did not believe that we could do it all - but I had hope that it would open the door for those of us who wanted to make it as women and career people.

The bad thing for me now is I went back to school when my kids were all in school and added one "ism" to another.

I wish governments, and people in general would look at what we are simply as workers.

Anonymous said...

- It's not just "feminist" that's become a trigger word - - so has "liberal." And, Susan, from the viewpoint of a liberal feminist, you are, indeed, a damn fine writer!

-Marcie Goldbloom

Susan Bearman said...

Ciss — thanks as always for your perspective. My mom went back to get her master when we were little. It took her six years. It's a brave soul who tackles that kind of challenge w/kids in the house. I tip my hat to you.

Marcie — So true about "liberal". Everything has become so divisive. I usually feel like I'm either preaching to the choir or spitting into the wind. And thanks for that "damn fine writer" comment. Much appreciated (and no I wasn't fishing … much ;-)

SSheilah said...

Thanks for an excellent, thought-provoking post. I graduated from high school the year Title IX passed -- no sports for me, a girl, although my brothers played basketball and could have been on the track team. Now, all these years later, my niece takes her access to high school team sports for granted and is surprised and insulted when she discovers that boys' football comes first in the minds (and actions) of school administrators and coaches. Things have changed, but not enough, and we leave her generation in ignorance of history at their peril.

Natalie at Mommy on Fire said...

Well alrighty then... I'd say you hit a home run on this one. Preach it, sister. I love it and you are one damn good writer!

Kim Moldofsky said...

I will call you a damn fine blogger whose long, well-written posts deserve a print format (or maybe I need to read on a Kindle).

Also, from the blogging angle, I implore you install a "tweet this" button, so your posts can be easily linked over on Twitter. It will help more people realize what a damn fine writer/blogger you are.