Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"All this has happened before and will happen again"*: Backlash, personal blogging and keeping women in their place, Part 1

So both the blogosphere and old media have been a bit preoccupied lately with the "phenomenon" rather cringeworthily labelled "The Rise of the Mummybloggers". Aside from sounding vaguely like a C-grade zombie movie, this phrase has all sorts of problematic notions embedded in it, and here's the thing:

None of them, not one of them, is new.

I am an historian by education, and, watching this conversation unfold, I was struck by how very familiar it all sounded. It may not come as a big surprise to anyone (or maybe it will, I don't know), but the deploying of loaded language to shame, silence and reduce the impact of female voices is a common and continuously repeated trick throughout much of recorded history. When women speak in ways that are uncomfortable, or just unfamiliar or unfathomable, to those in positions of inherent or explicit authority, they are shut down. Or, at least, that's what is attempted, although usually without complete success, because not everyone will be silenced, no matter what tactics are deployed. As the Indigo Girls put it, "You can't keep a spirit down that wants to get up again..."

Lots of people have written directly responsive blog posts on this topic, making fun of the debate (often hilariously), unpicking specific complaints about personal blogging and its growth, and defending the right to write. I thought I'd do something a little bit different here; I'm going to look at some of the language that's been used to describe and attack "mummyblogging", and some of the criticisms levelled at it, and compare it to the tactics, language and criticisms levelled at other "women who speak and are not silenced" over time. I also want to look at the nexus between language belittling maternal voices and the kinds of imagery at play in the new-again reproductive rights debates currently raging in the US, of which only whispers have yet reached the Australian political landscape.

What's the point of all this, you might say? After all, no one is actually *preventing* women who are mothers from blogging, or speaking, right? People can have negative opinions without it infringing on the right to speech, yes?

Yes - but I think there is a real value in understanding the ubiquity of a particular kind of criticism that is levelled at women who speak and are heard, and, worse yet, are perceived as having some influence or power. It's a dragging down because of femaleness, a devaluing because of maternity (or its absence, it works both ways), a tapping into a set of unspoken but powerful cultural assumptions about the worth and value of women's words. It hurts debate and its hurts women, because its fangs bite deep into the cultural bedrock we're all brought up on, knowing or not.

This is going to be an essay, in 4 parts. It's been researched, and it will be - quel horreur - footnoted. It's not everyone's cup of tea, I will not blame any of you who tag it TOO LONG DID NOT READ right out of the box. But if you have the patience to stick with me, I hope that these comparisons might really highlight how not-new this kind of denigration really is, and, in doing so, help to shake this dust off our feet.

Because, after all, if personal blogging by women is being catcalled so predictably, there must be something frightening in it after all, some sly potential, some underground power, in these words we write about food and books and play and children and the world and ourselves and our hearts and our bodies and places and tragedies and laughter and souls.

Part 2: Calling out mummybloggers: The maternity card will be posted on Saturday.

(*title quote from Battlestar Galatica: Razor. Cos I am all about the pop culture while interrogating tropes of cultural silencing, yo.)


  1. Looking forward to this! I've been refusing to be a "mummy blogger" for ages :) i'm a blogger, who is, among other things, a mummy.

  2. I'm going to be reading along. It worries me the devaluation of women through the use of the word "Mummy".