Why blog?

20121115-101952 PM.jpg

‘I love you blogs and tea’ by jenniferramos at Etsy

So this Liz Jones article in the Daily Mail is still bothering me. I know, I know, it shouldn’t. It’s the Daily Mail, mysogynistic, racist, homophobic rag for the aspirational lower classes. But after reading the article I then started reading the comments section. Big mistake. The Daily Mail comments section is like a black hole for all hope and optimism. If Liz Jones is a Dementor then the Daily Mail website is Azkaban. The commenters competing over who can vituperate the loudest. Their targets: mothers, Mumsnetters and bloggers. Now these three things happen to be major parts of my identity at the moment, so to see them systematically abused by people who have very little knowledge of any of them is a teeny bit soul destroying.

Now, most of you will know that my love Mumsnet is both strong and enduring. I can and have posted at length about the good that comes out of that website. I will not hear a bad word said against it. That’s not to say there are no bad words to say, I know all its faults. But like an errant family member, or a football team in a slump, I acknowledge and accept its faults but continue to love and support it anyway.

It’s easier to shake off the criticism levied against me as a mother. I have pushed a human being out of a hole in my body the size of egg cup. I have sucked snot out of the nose of stuffed up baby. I have paused during breastfeeding to vomit from the pain of a migraine, then resumed breastfeeding. I have in turn been vomited on and my first instinct is always to check my child is ok. I am bringing up two delightful children to become productive and charming members of society who will eventually be funding the pensions of the ignorant Daily Mail reading twats who loathe children so much. If you haven’t done at least one of those things then I am afraid you can fuck off and keep your women-hating thoughts to yourself.

But, and this is the crux of this post (yes, three paragraphs and we are not even at the crux yet – if the Internet is shortening people’s attention spans it’s not because of me), blogging is a harder hobby to defend. It is by nature an attention-seeking activity, and often rather ego centric. While undoubtably there are blogs out their with obvious objectives, trying to change the world, highlight discrimination and poor treatments, there is a rather large section of blogs which mainly detail people’s own lives and opinions, with the inherent assumption that other people should want to read about this. This set me thinking about why people blog, is it a pointless hobby? Do the benefits outweighs the negatives? And personally, should I continue to blog, labouring under the assumption that I am interesting enough that people will want to listen to what I have to say. I posted some questions on the Mumsnet Blog Network (where else?) and people have answered or blogged about it, so I should really answer them myself too. Here goes:

Why do you blog?
Well, it started out as a way to show off stuff I had made, but then I found I quite enjoyed the writing, and got complimented on it, which made me want to do it some more.
What do you get from it?
Well, attention and compliments, which I love. An outlet for creativity; I really enjoy the creation of my posts, thinking them through and trying to come to a resolution. I have also made lovely friends through my blog.
Is it trivial and is that ok sometimes?
Yes and yes. Look, people are always complaining that the news is so depressing. All these trivial parts of the blogosphere are are the bits that remind us that the world is still going on as usual. And things that seem trivial to other people may not be trivial to the people involved. This is especially true when it comes to having children. The crises I had over what to feed my children, how to get them to take a bottle, and have I damaged my baby by watching Sex and The City while breastfeeding, all seem trite now, but at the time they were huge, and they mattered. Just like it mattered when I was 14 and trying to decipher what it meant when Chris Davies borrowed my pen in English. One woman’s triviality is another women’s tragedy. But you know what blogs give us, they allow us insight into what other people are thinking; all those ephemeral thoughts and overblown worries that we have, other people have too. So yes, triviality is ok. Especially if it’s funny like this one.
Why should people be interested in what you write?
Well because I often have some well articulated thoughts among the diatribe. I think about the topic I am writing about and try to find new angles. I make stuff and often it’s nice, I like to give people ideas (that I have usually stolen from someone else). I’m occasionally funny, plus I also think I am mostly quite positive on my blog, which is funny as I am a pessimist in real life. But there is nothing like rereading what you’ve written to bore the pants of you, which means that it is probably boring other people. I want people to come back to my blog, and I know they won’t if it is full of whining, because I don’t want to read other people’s whining myself. That isn’t to say that all blogs must be positive, some aren’t for good reasons, but their mission is about sharing and empathising, and mine mission isn’t nearly so noble.
Do you care if they are not?
I’d be lying if I said no, but that’s less because I take it as a personal slight on my writing or me, but more a slight on what I am writing about. I’m not great when people don’t share my views and values, so I take that more personally than a lack of interest in me.
If you blog just for you why do it publically?
I don’t blog for me, or not in the way people usually mean. I get a lot from blogging, so I do it for me in that respect, but I wouldn’t get nearly as much from it if it was private.
What value do you think you are adding to the world by blogging?
Occasionally entertaining, and interesting to read. My blog is pretty ‘real’ compared to many craft blogs, so while I probably don’t inspire awe and aspiration, I might inspire a sense of “I could do that” which I much prefer. I think I am also making people more aware of feminist issues. And at least one person has said that they started blogging because of me, I really should ask her why.
Do you feel defensive about blogging?
I did, and still do a little. But writing this has helped me to see what I get out of blogging, plus I know other people like it because they tell me, so I am adding some value too. But there is still the niggly feeling that it is all a bit pointless and ego centric. That doesn’t make me want to stop, but it is making me stop and think about the value I am adding with each post. There is enough room out there on the Internet for everyone, so I’m wasting nothing but my own time. And as for the people belittling blogs for their mundanity and triviality from Twitter, chat forums, or the Daily Mail website, glass houses people, glass houses.

Advertisements

Live to blog, blog to live

20121111-130138.jpg
Yesterday I spent the day at Mumsnet Blogfest. I expect today there will loads of posts from various bloggers about the panels, and the cakes, and meeting lots of other bloggers, and I’m sure I’ll get some mileage out of it for a while. But today my overwhelming feeling is that of defensiveness about this blogging life I lead.

Liz Jones, journalist of the Daily Mail, and long time Mumsnet and mum hater was on the panel talking about public vs private lives. Jones has infamously spilled her guts on everything, including her marriage breakup and keeping a condom full of sperm which she planned to inseminate herself with.

Geraldine Bedell, who chaired the panel, asked Miss Jones if she ever regretted anything she had written “Yeah, all of it” she said, without a trace of humour. She described having a nervous breakdown every time she presses send on one of her articles, and how there have been times when she has engineers situations or made decisions that have resulted in chaos because she knew she would get good copy out of it. A journalist owes it to the public to put it all out there, she argued.

Predictably, Liz Jones has today written an article criticising Mumsnet bloggers for writing about parenthood and cakes, and how we are wasting our freedom of speech on topics such as knitting and chocolate. What is more, people on my beloved Mumsnet itself are also deriding bloggers and agreeing with Jones, conveniently ignoring that blogging, like Mumsnet, is just another forum for expression and socialising, built primarily around our role as mothers.

The Internet has been a democratising force for women. Before it became mainstream, the main female voices to be heard were the select few in politics and the media, and even then those voices were chosen and carefully controlled by the patriarchal constructs of government and mass media. Now anyone, even a mum feeling stuck at home with kids, can put their message out there for all to see, and can find other like minded people, regardless of geography. This is both a good and bad thing as it has been a democratising force for all, meaning that even those with views outside the social norms, views that the majority find repugnant, can find a space online to reinforce those views and create their own social norms.

Freedom of speech means we can talk about what the hell we like. Liz Jones doesn’t get to choose what we write about, and quite frankly I’d rather read about someone having their eyeball pulled out with a pencil than any of her self obsessed drivel about her horses and how everyone hates her. Liz derided Mumsnet bloggers for not doing more. Clearly she missed out on the bit about doing research at journalism school, as she didn’t have to look too far on Mumsnet to find the We Believe You campaign, the Better Miscarriage Care Campaign, or Mumsnet Woolly Hugs. All these campaigns have been massively supported by Mumsnet Bloggers.

The term ‘mummybloggers’ is a phrase used by the mainstream media to deride women having their say. Yes, some people blog about their children and family life, in doing so they share experiences with other women, and provide relief to people stuck in the often lonely world of parenting, where you are afraid to speak the truth about how you feel about this often sacred role. But for a many of us, being a mum is incidental to what we write about, but inevitably spills onto the page, so huge a part of our lives is being a parent.

It’s easy to attack Liz Jones for taking her stance on Mumsnet and mums when she is child free herself. Comments on the article accuse her of being jealous and not understanding because she doesn’t have kids. These may seem like low blows, but she is the one who brings that chip on her shoulder to the table. She is the one who talks about the ‘queasy feeling in her empty womb’, she is the one who came to Mumsnet Blogfest and then proceeded to criticise us all of the triviality of what we do. She is the one with a powerful platform, a voice with which she could do so much, yet she chooses to use it look down on people who are different from her, and to bleat on about her own self inflicted misery. If she thinks bloggers aren’t using their voices for good then she is not looking very far, and probably needs to concentrate on her own back yard first.

I think we as bloggers can learn a very powerful lesson from Liz Jones. No, not that we should be blogging about more than good housekeeping, nor that we should keep quiet about the realities of motherhood. I think we should look to Liz as a sign of what we can become if we share too much of our lives on our blogs. Liz Jones has alienated her neighbours, and systematically written nearly every person out of her life, driven them away by her insistence on sharing every detail and every thought she has. She appeared yesterday to be a sad shell of a woman, by her own admission a nastier, unemotional person, who relishes the disasters in her life as opportunities for good copy. We should consider that when we blog about our children and our husbands, and ourselves. While it is good to share, it’s also good to edit, so you don’t end up writing your friends and family out of your life.

The Kindness of Strangers

Mumsnet Logo

In the last month I have received via Mumsnet*: an offer of a free holiday home for a week, some dried lavender, Estée Lauder Night Repair serum (that was a MN giveaway). Some ebooks and resources to improve my writing, some yarn to make so more blanket squares, and volunteers to try out a pattern I designed. That is just in the last month. From complete strangers.

When the above Mumsnetter recently offered my family the chance to stay in her house abroad she said “Not sure what I will tell my husband, probably that you are from university” because who would believe that people who have never met in real life could feel the need to do such a thing? It is testament to the generosity of Mumsnetters over the years (and the things that I have done in return) that my own husband didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him that a person from Mumsnet who I knew only by user name had made such an offer.

But my love for Mumsnet is not just cupboard love. It’s about more than the material things I have received. It is about the advice and support I have received in spades.

When I have been up at 3 in the morning crying because breastfeeding was going so badly, Mumsnetters have been there. When I had a home birth, not only did Mumnetters give me loads of advice in making the decision in the lead up, they were there cheering me on and doing virtual knitting in support while I posted between contractions.

I’ve cyber stalked Mumnetters and found them at my workplace, at my knitting group, and conversely I have converted my friends to the Cult of Mumsnet. Some people are very coy about their affiliation with the site in real life, partly to preserve their anonymity, and possibly partly because of the bad press it often gets.

Some of the criticisms are deserved. Mumsnet has gone through periods of turmoil where certain groups of posters have ruled the virtual playground. But these criticisms are true for many online forums, and as with every forum it has evolved, and grown.

A lot of the bad press it gets stems from bitterness and jealously. Liz Jones takes a crack or two at it on occasion, but her dazzling wit and astute observations (sorry, it’s hard to convey sarcasm in the written word) continues to be outpaced by the shrewd and scintillating posters who chose to put their brains and words to good use on Mumsnet rather than waste it on the misogynistic heap of shite that is the Daily Mail.

During the last general election, the media hailed it as the Mumsnet election, and politicians and politicos flocked to the site to woo the votes of its posters. It was mostly media hype, but a nod to the rise to prominence of the female story in the slightly more egalitarian world of the Internet (unless you count the Guardian Forums). But in the same way that the media and government used Mumsnet as a symbol of all women, so too is Mumsnet used as a way to beat all women down. When journalists and comedians mock Mumsnet, what they are really mocking is women’s freedom of speech. Ho ho ho, let’s laugh at the women who think their lives are meaningful and who think they have something important to say. God forbid that mums engage in anything but tending to their children and husbands. It shows complete ignorance and, at the very least, lack of proper research. For you don’t have to look very far on Mumsnet to find women (some men, but it is mostly women) making a real difference in the world, whether it is advising another mum how she can continue to breastfeed her baby, making blankets for the recently bereaved, or taking part in numerous campaigns to bust rape myths, improve miscarriage care, and improve reproductive choices in third world countries.

On a personal note, I truly believe Mumsnet has made me a better parent, you know, apart from all the time I’ve spent neglecting them. If it wasn’t for Mumsnet I wouldn’t have stuck with breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have done Baby Led Weaning with my children, I wouldn’t have worn my second child in a sling for so many months. That’s not to say that those choices themselves make me a better parent, but knowing about these choices, finding that there is more out there than Gina Ford and naughty steps, has given me the confidence to make the right choices for me and my children. And that’s not to say that all Mumsnetters are the sling wearing, lentil-weaving type; far from it. There are many Mumsnetters who would rather poke themselves in the eye with a blunt pencil than wap their baps out to feed their children, or who would rather spend an evening at a Peter Andre autobiography book launch than even to discuss parenting online. There are even people on Mumsnet who don’t have children. And that’s the thing about Mumsnetters, they are so diverse that it is impossible to even try and levy any sort of criticism against them as a community.

Mumsnet Crochet Blanket

If this post sounds familiar, it’s because I have written a paean to Mumsnet before, when I started contributing to the Mumsnet Woolly Hugs Blankets (if you are bored by my writing yet another sycophantic blog post, then tough, it’s my blog!) Once again I find myself with another couple of balls of yarn, donated by yet another stranger, to make squares for a blanket of someone I don’t know. But I don’t need to know her. I just know she has lost a child and needs support. God forbid it should ever happen to me, but I know that Mumsnet would be the place I would turn to in my time of need.

*Warning: do not confuse Mumsnet with Netmums. It’s like confusing Father Jack from “Father Ted” with the Pope. You know, if the Pope said “hun” a lot and used smileys.