My blog has been a little quiet this week – not because I have nothing to say, but because I’ve been busy
watching Charlie Sheen interviews working on articles for a few other sites. It’s been quite a week over at ShePosts. I usually don’t do as much writing there, because as editor if I’m doing too much writing, I get distracted from the big-picture stuff. But this week was just so jam-packed full of blogging news: Bloggers at the Independent Spirit Awards! Covert Multi-level Marketing Schemes! Bloggers Turned Away at the Toy Fair! If you are not a blogger, this probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to you. But if you are, you should definitely subscribe to ShePosts. We have a stellar writing team (not that I am biased or anything) and it’s a great resource for anyone interested in figuring out the ins and outs of the blogging world.
Earlier this week, I wrote two stories for ShePosts that I think exemplify some of the unique aspects of the blogging life. One was about my friend Cecily, who had her daughter booted out of preschool for something she said on her blog. It was one of those stories I think most bloggers fear – the real-life repercussions of venting about things online. While maybe not as dramatic, I have certainly had people confront me over things I have written, and I think Cecily’s story is a cautionary tale of how far-reaching those effects can be.
The comments to this story, though, are just as noteworthy as the story itself. At the end of the article, I asked some broader questions to get people talking about boundaries online. The article ended with this paragraph:
The serious question that emerges from these situations, though, is that of personal disclosure on blogs. How much is too much, and what is off-limits? It’s something that each blogger must grapple with at some level. And while not every blogger may have the readership of Cecily Kellogg, there is always the chance that a rant about a mother-in-law or a neighbor may be discovered by the offending party. How do you determine what you blog about? Do you have boundaries in place, or certain people you choose not to blog about? Have you ever felt like you wanted to rant about a situation, but couldn’t for fear that someone would read it? Have you ever had personal consequences for something you wrote about online?
I thought I was inviting a discussion. But instead of people speaking from their own experience, a firestorm happened in the comment section, with people either defending Cecily’s choices or berating her. It’s the very behavior that makes this blogging thing so dicey. People feel complete freedom to judge others behind the anonymity of the computer screen. And judge they did – calling into question details of her life that she has shared over the past several years. So in the same week that Cecily had her daughter kicked out of preschool, she also got to read about 150 comments that picked apart her life and choices. The majority of them were supportive . . . but we all know how cutting the critical minority can be.
The other article I was working on involved a blogger (Schmutzie) who discovered some of her work had been plagiarized. She asked them to take it down, they didn’t she asked again, they did, and then she wrote about on her blog. And the author who posted her work went on to berate her in the comments section. calling her names and threatening to sue her.
I try to remain objective when writing at ShePosts. I really do. But I could not stop myself from ending the thing with:
“ShePosts attempts to remain objective in reporting such stories, so we will refrain from pointing out that Allan Janssen may, in fact, be the internet’s biggest tool.”
Journalistic integrity be damned. This guy was a jerk.
Anyone who has spent much time in the online space is aware of how nasty people can be, and last week there were many poignant reminders. In addition to the two I wrote about, there was a really big New York Times article on Heather Armstrong of Dooce, and the comments section became a bash-fest of Heather and of mommy bloggers in general. We’re so self-centered, we’re using our children as pawns, we are neglecting our families . . . on and on. The sentiment is often that it would be preferable for us to go out and get a “real job”. Despite the fact that for many of us, blogging has became the perfect part-time job that allows us to work from home, set our own schedules, and feel like we are fueling our creativity in the midst of diaper changes and cheerio spills.
This element of criticism that is so often levied at bloggers can be daunting. When you decide to write about your life online, everyone feels permission to hand-slap, judge, berate, finger-wag, name-call, analyze, and otherwise speak into your choices, your parenting, and your character. There are a lot of armchair psychologist out there who would love to tell you exactly how wrong you are. And they are almost always telling you from an anonymous comment.
I feel like I am walking in this tension. There are so many stories that I choose not to tell. Sometimes it is tempting to recount a misunderstanding with a teacher, an annoying interchange with a family member, or my hurt in a soured friendship – especially with the dangling carrot of comments that might empathize or support me.
This is also true as someone who writes about adoption. I have benefitted so much from reading the blogs of other adoptive parents. Hearing how other parents are dealing with similar behaviors is extremely helpful, and makes me feel so much less alienated. But at the same time, I am hesitant to fully disclose a lot of the ways Kembe has struggled over the past year. I know it could be helpful to other moms . . . but I don’t know if it is honoring to him. It’s hard because I see criticism levied at adoptive parents for presenting it as easy, but I’ve also seen criticism for people oversharing about their kids’ issues.
It’s hard to figure out what boundaries to hold. Some people decide to avoid talking about anything personal on their blogs . . . but it is often the “personal” that makes for the most compelling stories. I think it is the vulnerability of some mommy bloggers that have made this community what it is today. I love that women are being honest about the complex experience of motherhood. When I am sitting in a room full of other bloggers, I feel very proud to be a part of this new movement.
At the same time, blogging is so new that we have no one who has gone before us. We have no adult children of bloggers to tell us what it feels like to have their childhood recorded online. We have no jaded grandmothers who can tell us how blogging affected their relationship with their children. All of us are going in blind, so to speak, and we will all make mistakes along the way.
Yesterday, Catherine Connors wrote a manifesto of sorts on the backlash bloggers get:
This is an old story. Bloggers, of the quote/unquote mommy variety or otherwise, are a new species in the wild of public discourse, but the history of women, and especially mothers, being discouraged from speaking out and telling their own stories is a long one. Feminine virtue in ancient Rome – pudicitia – was actually defined, in part, by the quality of being able to keep one’s mouth shut and remain passively and modestly behind the veil of the private sphere (as opposed to male virtue, of course – the word virtue is even derived from the Latin word for male, or vir – which was defined by its public character.) Family life has, for much of human history, not been a matter for public discussion, unless that discussion was conducted by men (cf. everyone from the authors of the books of the Old Testament to Xenophon to Augustine to Rousseau to Bill Cosby) and because ‘family life’ was ‘women’s life,’ women were, for the most part, not part of public discussion. Because family life – the real, messy, lived experience of family life – was not seen as appropriate fodder for public discussion. Because women were not seen as credible or competent storytellers or commentators. Because women were supposed to shut up.
It’s a stupid story because the explosion and popularity of so-called mommy blogs – of all kinds, the traditional and the contemporary, the professional and the amateur, the funny and the tragic, the literary and the visual and the performed and the journaled and the scrapbooked and every kind in between – demonstrates that there is, in fact, a deep cultural thirst for stories about life behind the veil of the private sphere. It demonstrates that, perhaps, the veil itself is something that we want to tear down and trample for good; that we want to share our stories freely and openly and use those stories as the basis for connection and community-building and empowerment and changing the world for the better. That we want to hear each others’ voices. That we want to raise our own voices.
(Go read the whole thing here.) It is this very idea of collecting and telling our stories that inspires me to continue being a voice about motherhood, and about adoptive motherhood, in spite of the threat of criticism from the trolls of the internet. Maybe my kids will read this one day and be mortified – but maybe they will read it and better understand their mom, and appreciate it as a loving account of their childhood. That is my hope.