Before the Fat Caveat, I need to thank everyone who has commented here or at blogrhet. Thank you also to those have written posts on the topic (even by coincidence) and shared your links--I intend to create a list of these to share and reference. HBM and I have also enjoyed some spirited emails with a few folks. Debate has ensued. And it's been great. My head has been spinning, my brain ticking, ticking, ticking. And I'll confess to being a touch overwhelmed with it all, sorting through responses and figuring out what it all means (or trying to). (Does anyone else go to bed with a blogging blogging brain???) Once we get closer to this "what does it all mean?" question, we'll be sharing our views--views that have been shaped and informed by your contributions. A working example of what we intend to argue about these networks being knowledge-making communities.
But before we get there, I needed to write this post and more directly address one of the central critical issues several of you have raised.
When we ask "Who are we?" we also need to pay close attention to Who We Are Not. In other words, who does not get to be included in this "feel the love" community so many of us are describing. Exclusions that may not be deliberate, but are certainly there.
The staggering response to the Today Show's vilification of mothers who (gasp) have a drink while their children play was without doubt a community-strengthening moment. Bloggers--especially mommybloggers--wrote insightful (and I would argue, feminist) critiques of the piece, and argued that it participated in a larger culture where double standards for mothers are the norm. Over here I was rubbing my hands in glee as the community went into action in a way that so perfectly fit into the arguments we were forming for our research.
But check out this lone comment on the issue over at Izzy's place (from the Lovely Mrs Davis):
"I totally agree that the sub-text of the segment was that mothers are unable to think critically and that they need to be told how to parent. But I also think that there is more to this. There's a qualifier there that isn't being said out loud by anyone, yet seems to exist. I think when we (moms/bloggers) say that this is okay for moms to do, we only mean it's okay for "moms like us" to do — middle class (or higher), educated moms who are married, with seemingly stable lives. I don't think we would all respond so positively if the mom in the Today Show hot seat was a single/divorced mom who works nights and lives in a crappy apartment complex. Would we trust her judgment as well as we trust our own?"
That unspoken qualifier, that it's okay for "moms like us," reveals a great deal about the boundaries of this community and reminds me uncomfortably that we are in many ways a blogging elite. As I noted last week, mommyblogging is a largely white, privileged enterprise. In this way, it is directly reflective of a broader digital divide--both socially and globally. Though my experience is that the bloggers in these networks are largely liberal and embracing in their perspective (and we've certainly heard stories of exceptions to this) the fact of the matter is that we are largely straight white women with enough education and income to be at this "technological cutting edge."
This of course means that any democratizing or liberatory claims about "blogging" (whether in this context or in others) need to be seriously scrutinized. Who's getting freed here? (And, more to the point, at whose expense?)
If we're attaching this argument to women, and specifically mothers, what version of womanhood or motherhood is being redefined in this equation? I am sharply reminded that to refer to "motherhood" as some sort of universal that can be "transformed" has a leveling effect that can be deeply problematic. And over at blogrhet, Aurelia at Mama Scribes has applauded the project but cautions,
"I just wonder if this transformation of motherhood will systematically leave out groups of women who have been historically left out of these discussions. Also, if motherhood can indeed be transformed through blogging, how would it alter the realities of motherhood for mothers outside of the blogosphere and how long would it take, I wonder."
In the 1980s, "feminism" came under attack by women of color and lesbian feminists who were marginalized by "mainstream" white, heterosexual feminism. It became clear that recognition of "women's oppression" also required attention to historical and social specificities because, in the words of Michele Barrett, "how useful is it to collapse widow-burning in India with 'the coercion of privacy' in Western Europe, into a concept of such generality?.
As several of you have pointed out, the transformative and political claims of this panel might well repeat that act of leveling and therefore exclusion. Not good.
But does this mean that the panel should shift its focus and examine these other marginalized communities? I would say no (for now). Does it mean we have to be very explicit about the specific context for this analysis? Absolutely. Any claims for transformation need to be tempered. Always. Analyses such as these need to be considered as groundwork for other much-needed analyses of other marginalized communities, part of a broader conversation that must take place as we move into an increasingly wired social world.
And am I arguing that mothers and women--even white women--are marginalized or subordinated? Yes I am. As a feminist, my fundamental belief is that we have not achieved gender equality in society. I believe the digital divide takes place along lines of race, class and gender. (As I sit here in my largely white, male workspace at an academic computing center and take lunch orders for an upcoming meeting)
This is important work, and I think something very interesting is happening socially. It's our charge to articulate what that is, and ask ourselves hard questions about how "radical" such changes actually are, but at the same time not lose sight of what positives are emerging--in specific contexts--that can potentially make a change to that uneven field many of us are playing on right now.
Let me hand over to Mad, who has framed this change far more eloquently than I could hope to...
Mothers (gasp!!) have taken back their authority to mother from the experts; the parenting books are now being read simply as supplements, not gospels. Yes, blogging mothers have recreated much of the support network that has always been
a vital part of parenting. They have gained confidence in their roles as mothers and have crafted a sense of agency to think and act as women integrated in the various mantles they are forced to adopt (employee, mother, wife, intellectual, activist...). In short, they have created a whole new set of operating instructions for what it means to be a mother.
[Edited to Add: Mad has rightly emphasized in the comments that this quote is from a paragraph in her original post where she is using the term "mother" is a very situated and context-specific way, to refer to mothers who are experiencing a sense of transformation through blogging. In light of the overall topic of my post here, this is a point worth emphasizing!] (Thanks Mad)