3.19.2009

On motherhood and identity and generalizations and the crazy jeckyl and hyde-ness of it all


You are all too smart.

I mean, literally. Too smart.

I write some little rant (again) about how I hate a term like mommyblogger and you lead it to a conversation about motherhood and identity and fear and community, all with so much insight and self-reflection that I am staying awake at night just trying to make some sense of it all.

Now I'm tired.

[photo: city threads]

I am fascinated that so many women who I love and respect and connect with have so many entirely different ways of defining themselves. That's just so cool.

You see yourselves as life bloggers or beat bloggers or diarists or humourists (she's Canadian), as parental pundits or batshit crazy bloggers or cranky wine-swilling bloggers who aren't moms at all but kinda like what some of us have to say once in a while. Not that we can expect the world at large to categorize us in these niche little ways. (Especially "batshit crazy bloggers" - sorry Mrs. Chicky.) But still, it's fun to talk about.

I'm also fascinated by this pervasive fear that so many of us have of being "just" moms. Or more specifically, being labeled "just moms." Because none of us are any single thing in life. None of us. It's also why I think it's interesting that so many comments centered around the perception that marketers think moms are one-dimensional.

Quite the hot button.

Maybe it speaks to some deep-rooted fear, latent or not-so-latent we have of giving up pieces of ourselves when we became parents?

In defense of marketers, I don't think this perception is wholly accurate. Of course there are faulty advertising executions that portray moms in painfully shallow and stereotypical ways. That's generally a failure of imagination and creativity, not necessarily a failure of understanding. If you polled the average laundry detergent account copywriter, he wouldn't say "I believe in my heart that all moms are idiots." The tough thing is, if you're selling laundry detergent, you've got to talk to moms about laundry detergent. Not about how multidimensional we are or how we might have double post-graduate degrees or Michelle Obama on speed dial. Gee it would be nice though right?

(And before we lynch all marketers, let me say I think brands have come a long way in how they talk to women.)

But I'm starting to understand that there's something profoundly personal about that same generalization when it goes right to your inbox and addresses you by name. There's something uncomfortable about an email (or a panel discussion at a conference) that deems you a mommyblogger, if that's not something you want to be called.

It's like having your art misunderstood. Even if your art equals writing haikus for your boobs, riffing on subway posters, or ranting about toys that talk to you in the middle of the night.

Okay on second thought, not art - soul. It's like having your soul misunderstood.

Our blogs are personal. We lay it all out there. We want to know that someone's listening, that someone gets us.

It's totally a woman thing.

And I fully support it.

Here, I have to share that several men (oh, you men) contacted me through the back channels or twittered stealthily in disagreement that no, actually we should be fine with the term mommyblogger. They each--by either coincidence or some odd male genetic imperative--expressed the same reaction to my post which was basically: You can't accept the perks of "mommyblogging" while rejecting the label.

Um, yeah. We can.

And we will.

And you will like it.

Communities have the right to self-define. It's the reason we don't go around talking about those Orientals anymore.

There are close to 80 eloquent commenters--from moms--on this week's post and counting, about why they don't like the term mommyblogger. It almost doesn't matter why they don't. Just that they don't.

It's hard accepting a general label of any kind when we don't feel general inside. And some of us personalize that.

(Women feel things. We just do.)

The fact is, moms who blog are complex beings. We want to be recognized for our complexity and we want to be seen as we see ourselves.

Just yesterday, the lovely guy I'm freelancing for said, "It's so funny about you - at home you manage this whole household. I know you're a mom and everything but you'd almost never know it here; you're so focused on work."

It was great. Because, well - yeah. That's what we do. We compartmentalize, and we multitask and we juggle like fucking crazy. We use the mom thing when it suits us and push it gently aside for a moment when it doesn't. Deal with it, America.

To be clear, I don't want to confuse rejecting the "mommyblogger" moniker with rejecting our roles as mommies to our children. Like so many of you said so eloquently, mommy is a term my three year-old calls me and I adore it. It's funny and sweet and earnest and in a lot of ways, ironic. (How can I be someone's mommy? I hate cooking! I have sex toys!) But mommy--and any derivative thereof-- is not what I want to be called by a peer and equal in a venue where I hope to be taken seriously.

I also don't want our expressed fear of being thought of as "just a mom" to indicate that we're not proud of our mom-ness, our motherhood, our mothering, or the community of fellow mothers that we adore.

These are, in fact, the things I think we're proud of most.


41 Comments:

Anonymous Alexis said...

Right on! Liz, it's uncanny how you express my thoughts in such clearer language than I would ever be able to use. Ah! I feel understood and justified, and it is lovely!

3/19/09, 10:47 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Absolutely spot on and brilliant.

Yes, I am Julie, who happens to be mom, wife, writer, editor, social media climber (lol), political something or other, and so on.

I wear my labels, they don't wear me.

So, to recap: I am a beat blogger who writes about my labels. My children may call me mommy, but nobody else (you hear that OB/GYN?) (marketer who wrote to me Dear Mommy...) may.

So glad you picked up this issue.

We need to blend this together as a manifesto. :-D

And my word verification is gerha---that sounds like a feminist battle cry: ger-HA! LMAO

3/19/09, 11:21 PM  
Blogger Amy@UWM said...

If you have to generalize us, I prefer "Moms who blog." We're moms. We blog. 'Nuf said.

3/19/09, 11:30 PM  
Blogger Backpacking Dad said...

Labels like mommyblogger, Mommy Borg Collective, Motrin Mom, etc...they are valid for one purpose: collectively defining a group based on negatives (not moral negatives, just logical ones): mommybloggers are not tech bloggers; the Mommy Borg Collective is defined by its collective response to something it dislikes; Motrin Moms are identifiable as a group who spoke out against an ad campaign.

After those negative definitions though, the labels are useless at best, at least invalid, and at worst deliberately insulting. To use them to positively identify a group (Mommybloggers are bloggers who all resemble each other in Y way; the members of the Mommy Borg Collective all like similar things; Motrin Moms all have the same reactions to things) is to extend one dimension of definition to others, and you're bound to, in that error, mistake the members of the now-artificial group you've invented.

Maybe there really is some positive (logically) characteristic of mommy-bloggers. But I haven't seen it. So far it just seems to mean (Not-Man & Not-Childless) which ends up capturing too many (women who have kids but who write about politics, for instance) or too few (women with no kids who like to write about kids or things kids and parents are interested in; dads who write about family). For marketers, especially, to use it for outreach purposes is to make category mistake.

3/20/09, 2:54 AM  
Blogger Mr Lady said...

I saw, on twitter, neilochka disparaging those of us who commented on that last post. My collar popped. My ears got red. I was mad. And then I realized that he made a fantastic point.

Though I don't think of myself as a mommy blogger, I think that 85% of my readership does. That kind of makes me a mom blogger, right?

I don't have the issue of being pigeon holed by marketers because the only marketers who have EVER contacted me were Crocs, and they let me post naked pictures of myself. Which was as close to burning a bra as I'll ever get.

My issue, if I really think hard, is not that I've given up myself to be a mother, it's that I wasn't anything BEFORE I was a mother. I was 22, you know? I struggle now with 3 children, two very grown, to find myself after I gave up the hopes of Me for 11 years and then I get called a momMEEEblogger? It upsets me.

Which is hypocritical because no one's called ME a mommyblogger (yet), but I'm still projecting my own insecurities about it all over the internet.

I? Am ashamed.

Maybe I am really a diarist, as I fancy myself to be, but that diary sure does have a lot of parenting stuff in it. Coming from where I came from, where my parents wanted anything in the world more than to be parents, maybe I should embrace it a little more.

But I'd still really like to rename it.

That made no sense, so I'll shut up now and maybe try again tomorrow.

3/20/09, 4:00 AM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

You hit the nail on the head when you said it was a "peer" thing---among my kids, they can see me as "mommy" all they want. But among my peers (especially when I stop by my husband's office), I want to be seen as more than a "mommy".

3/20/09, 7:12 AM  
Anonymous drleah@singlemommyhood.com said...

My "babies" are grown-up. Occasionally, "Mommy" slips out, particularly if one of them is very upset. In that brief moment, I realize that "Mommy" is the most special part of what continues to be a multi-faceted, happy, and productive life.

3/20/09, 8:32 AM  
Blogger AlyGatr said...

Motherhood and identity...BINGO! None of us are "just a mommy" any more than someone is "just a lawyer" or "just a blonde". It makes us comfortable to be able to put labels on things and yes, they might describe some aspect of us, but it doesn't mean that any of them have to define us.

3/20/09, 9:31 AM  
Blogger A Mom in Jacksonville, FL said...

How cool that they changed the conference title! Way to go!

I loved your closing, and agree completely! Though my daughter is my pride and joy, I don't want MY only label in life to revolve around her. And as you said, it's about peers. When my daughter says "Mommy," it is music to my ears. When others describe me as "mommy," it feels awkward and odd.

Thanks for your posts this week, they were super!

3/20/09, 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Amelia Cepeda said...

My family calls me by a nickname that no one at work (or any other segment of my life) would even think to call me. I think of the term "Mommy/Mami" in the same way. My son gets to call me Mommy because, well, I'm actually HIS mommy. My husband, who's Dominican, gets to call me Mami because, well, he's my husband (and Dominican - ha ha). For anyone else to use those terms of endearment is just as inappropriate as calling me "sweetheart" or "darling." And just so you know Mom101, I read your blog more for political and social commentary that sometimes revolves around parenting than I do for the "mom" aspects of it. :)

3/20/09, 9:45 AM  
Blogger NES said...

But the question is, then, what *should* we call ourselves? I agree with all of these points (including dislike of the phrase 'mommyblogger'), but as another group with the right to self-define, perhaps we would do well with a name, under which we could build positive connotations. Where do we go from here?

3/20/09, 9:48 AM  
Blogger Dana's Brain said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I have been thinking about that post as well over the past few days. It is such a complex thing to explain. Of course I LOVE being a Mom, I think it's one of the best things that has ever happened to me. But when I dropped my first born at daycare when he was 3 months old to head back to work? I didn't shed a tear. I needed to be back in a world where I was known for making shit happen. Not just cleaning shit up. That's my thing though. (Not meant to make a judgment on SAHM's who I have HUGE respect for, because I could never do it!)

So yeah, it's complicated. And it doesn't really surprise me that some men can't understand. The expectations - especially today - are so much different for us.

Love the line about "How can I be a Mom? I have sex toys." So true!

3/20/09, 9:57 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I'm a writer. It's taken me a while to be able to say that without blushing or qualifying it, but now that I can? I say it loud, and often, and nobody will take it away.

Oh, and? I'm also a mom. I say that loud, too. But I don't need one to justify the other.

3/20/09, 9:57 AM  
Blogger catnip said...

You said this exactly right. Only my kid calls me mommy!

I don't blame the marketers for this mess, I blame those who have made 'mommyblogger' a derogatory term. I think most of us are well aware of how it's used in some circles.

3/20/09, 9:59 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

@NES Good question. I still default to parenting blogger because that is the main topic of my blog - parenting.

Like I said in the first post, I'd prefer if the terminology described what we write about instead of who's doing the writing.

If marketers want to call us moms, that's great. But please - just not mommies.

@catnip Yes there are people who spin the category negatively but I the name "mommy" itself leads you there pretty easily..

3/20/09, 10:08 AM  
Blogger Always Home and Uncool said...

As one of those men (though I prefer to the term "gender-challenged human") who contacted you by e-mail (because "back channels" is such a pejorative term for a commonly accepted form of modern communication), you should have been impressed by our interest in the topic. Aren't you aware that our normal genetic imperative is to only think about sex?

Cheers ...

3/20/09, 10:12 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Personally I think of "back channels" as being sort of sneaky and sexy. Like meeting up in a dark alley. Or under the bleachers during the football game.

I am pleased to see that members of the parenting blog community care about this, whatever their gender. It was just interesting that 100% of them (short of Backpacking Dad who hung around in comments) disagreed.

3/20/09, 10:15 AM  
Blogger Lara said...

"How can I be someone's mommy? I hate cooking! I have sex toys!"

Perhaps THE.BEST.THING I've read on ANY blog this month yet! I so needed a gratifying laugh/head-nod today. Thanks, Liz.

3/20/09, 11:28 AM  
Blogger RuthWells said...

Sing it, sister!

I hate the implicit limitations of the term "mommyblogger." I am a baking blogger, an activist blogger, a pop culture blogger, a gardening blogger, and a parenting blogger. I am NOT a mommyblogger.

3/20/09, 11:43 AM  
OpenID thepurplecanoe said...

This is exactly what I meant the other day...you just said it a whole lot better:

"Our blogs are personal. We lay it all out there. We want to know that someone's listening, that someone gets us.

It's totally a woman thing."

I'm not going to be so inclined to hook into the evangelical republican homeschooling mom circle either, but when push comes to shove I'm going to stand up and applaud a right wingin' mom because I respect the fact that she's a dynamic human being putting herself out there via a blog and telling it like it is.

I feel fairly certain that woman authors were having a similar problem not too long ago. We're not the first group of women to have to deal with being flattened into two-dimensionality and we certainly won't be the last.

3/20/09, 1:09 PM  
Blogger Elaine A. said...

I just read both of your posts and although the term has never gotten under my skin per say, I do like your point about how it describes the blogger (or only ONE aspect of them) and not the content.

Yes, I talk about my kids on my blog but I also talk about many other topics. So yeah, I definitely see where you are coming from.

Looking forward to hearing about your experience and think it's SO cool that they changed the panel name!

3/20/09, 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

This is going to sound awful, so I want to preface it by saying that I don't mean for that to happen.

But what is this fear of being identified as "just" a mom?

I just, maybe it's because I'm still pregnant, but I don't understand? I've never heard of this, despite asking, outside of the web, so...um...can someone explain it to me? I was always under the impression that while you postponed aspects of your lifestyle when you had children, you were not forced to lose them, and therefore you were still who you were before...just now you wiped two butts. Or three. Or four or whatever.

Again, I don't mean this to sound awful, I know it does, and I'm not trying to be judgemental, I'm just curious because...okay, I don't know why I'm curious, I just am.

3/20/09, 3:28 PM  
Anonymous RookieMom Heather said...

Amen, sister. My husband tells me there are two kinds of people in the world... those who have kids and those who don't realize there are two kinds of people.

I rail against being "just a mom" because I know what I used to think about the mamas before I was one... and I don't want to be that.

Vicious cycle.

3/20/09, 4:40 PM  
Blogger Terresa said...

you make some excellent points. i blog about similar mommy-ish issues...

http://thechocolatechipwaffle.blogspot.com/

cheers! ;)

3/20/09, 4:45 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

@sarah excellent question and no offense taken at all.

It's an odd thing to be known as "x's mommy" before you're known as the world-class architect or award-winning chef or brilliant author that you were before. I think that while we tell ourselves that we are still our original selves after having kids, that identity isn't often recognized by others.

You'll let us know after you have a kid how you're feeling about these things. You have an amazing opportunity to write about it now...then see if it changes.

3/20/09, 4:57 PM  
Anonymous selfmademom said...

Agree! Now I'm wondering if we all should run out and buy new blog urls that without the word "mom" in it. Because I'm thinking that's part of the problem when these marketers read our blogs. Has "mom" in the url! Must be a "mom" blogger!

3/20/09, 5:15 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Sarah, I think that's a good question, especially from someone about to become a mom.

Despite my very best intentions and personally large personality, once I became a mom, that role began to slowly but surely overshadow and take over my life.

When my oldest hit about three, her friends started calling me "Patience's Mom" and that's the moment that I really understood that during that time I was 100% absorbed in raising my precious and long-anticipated daughter, I had somehow lost a lot of myself. I even wrote a blog post about that, and delved deeper in a post about "I lost my first person" in which I confessed even I had begun referring to myself as third-person mom.

What seems to be "fear" about being identified as "just" a mom is actually a lot of women who are past baby number one or past baby stages who are reclaiming their individual identity. It requires some assertiveness, occasional aggressiveness, and frequently triggers defensiveness. It's really a moment in time between being Mom and woman who is also a mom. Once kids get past the young and super needy stage, you get this space, and you realize you missed it, that Just Being You as much as you love being Mom, and you get a little protective of that space and your identity.

I doubt all women feel it, or feel it the same way, but more than a few do.

And---speaking only for myself---after becoming a mom you are never still who you were before.

Largely because it is so very much more than just wiping butts.

3/20/09, 8:53 PM  
Blogger the new girl said...

This is a great post.

I do think that there is a (societal?) tendency to view women of small children as 'just moms.' I don't think we view ourselves that way but I do think it's there.

The (personal/lifestyle) changes that happen when you give birth and are dedicating such a huge chunk of yourself/life to raising your children are fundamentally noticeable and I think that people make assumptions.

It's an interesting point that once your kids become less needy, the juxtaposition of identities happens. I can so see that being the case. I distinctly remember the occasion when I could again have an uninterrupted phone conversation with my old friend who was a mother of three (finally old-enough) children.

I also like your point about not having to like it and being able to self-define.

Awesome.

3/20/09, 9:47 PM  
Anonymous May of Cribsheet said...

Sorry, Liz, but I don't read Mom101 for the parenting tips :)

I think we are all bloggers who happen to be moms.

3/20/09, 10:31 PM  
Blogger Chara said...

How amazing that you just put into words all the things that have been on my mind this week.

3/20/09, 10:55 PM  
Blogger Name Displayed said...

Love the blog!

Feel free to stop by mine, though it's slightly new and probably boring.

3/21/09, 9:11 AM  
Blogger nonlineargirl said...

The compartmentalization thing is rattling around in my head. Many of my best days at work are ones where I don't have to think about parenting or do anything that would remind people that I am a parent. Often those are my worst evenings at home, where the contrast with the day's work's successes are starkest.

It isn't so much that I don't want to be "just" a mommy (blogger or no) but that there is part of me that really needs to be recognized for my good work. Mothering doesn't provide many opportunities for that, even when you know you've done a "good job".

3/21/09, 11:38 AM  
Anonymous mothergoosemouse said...

The compliment you got at work? That's why I loved my old job so much. Feeling competent and accomplished at something other than motherhood.

Parenting accomplishments are great, no doubt, but they're fleeting and generally unappreciated. Being lauded for them feels somewhat false to me. Conversely, parenting "failures" usually aren't really failures at all, but we're conditioned to perceive them as such.

At work, the lines were so much clearer. I miss that simplicity.

3/21/09, 11:49 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

We seem to be psychically linked lately, because I was also thinking about this same issue.

I didn't comment on the last post mostly because I didn't have an answer for myself. I've grabbed the title of mommyblogger and displayed it loud and proud. I'm a mommyblogger, dammit - deal with it.

But you're right, it does feel limiting in some ways, and others have used it in derogatory terms also. It doesn't fully encompass all that we do.

(Now I wonder if tech bloggers ever complain that there's more to them than just tech?)

Of course, my blog has the word "mommy" right there in the title, and I sometimes find myself not sure what to do with it.

So yeah. This was a long way of saying I'm still torn.

3/21/09, 3:44 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

The comment you got at work is exactly the reason why I have such a hard time being labeled a "mommy blogger". Why can't I be all the things I used to be before having kids AND be a mom? Why do they have to be kept separate? That's the impression I get from some of these PR firms anyway. All that other stuff I accomplished before kids? Irrelevant now that I've pushed humans from my lady parts. *sigh*

Yes, I am a mother but I am not your mother, Mr. or Ms. PR person, so stop addressing me as "Mommy".

And for the record, I think I may try to push Guy Kawasaki for a "Bat Shit Crazy Bloggers" section of Alltop. It could happen. I mean, a decade ago did anyone think mothers would take over the internet through blogs?

3/21/09, 9:54 PM  
Blogger Gray Matter said...

The term "mommy blogger" is exactly what finger quotes were invented for. And rolling of the eyes. And the term "whatever."

I don't mind it, probably because it's short hand, probably because I'm not a super popular blogger, and probably because it's sandwiched between other descriptors like, freelance writer and slave.

But, I totally take your point and I think the clarification between what one writes about vs. who they are is an important one.

Ironically I dedicate only about 30% of my posts to anything about motherhood.

whatever.

3/22/09, 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Lucie @ Unconventional Origins said...

You've got me smiling and cheering over here! Especially this part:
"Um, yeah. We can.
And we will.
And you will like it.
Communities have the right to self-define."

3/22/09, 10:23 PM  
Anonymous Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

Thanks for answering the question so nicely =) I guess we'll see how it turns out with me, but once you explained it the whole thing made alot more sense.

3/23/09, 12:02 PM  
Blogger Lisa Jo Rudy said...

I blog about autism, and have to say the term I dislike most of all in the autism world is "mommy warrior." These are the moms for whom the world disappears - leaving only autism, motherhood, and THEM. The bad guys. The job of mommy warrior is to kill, crush and destroy THEM - and any opposition to mommy warrior's parenting agenda.

Truth is, this makes me nuts.

EVERY mom has an element of warrior. It's just not worn as a badge of honor. It comes out in the little things... It's like "the power of small."

Being there when your kid needs you. Trying 15 different ways to teach the times tables. Not taking "no for an answer."

No need for a badge or a trophy. Just a lot of small stuff that adds up to a powerful impact.

Lisa

3/24/09, 7:09 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

How exactly do you do that thing you do...the summing up...so eloquently. I would pay to see you in a debate, on nearly anything - you'd wipe the slate clean. I would...ever considered going on tour?

3/24/09, 9:52 PM  
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3/29/09, 6:49 AM  

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