Why do people hate mummy bloggers?

Writing about raising children and domestic life is no more trivial than any other blogging subject, argues Glosswitch.

I can’t say exactly why I became a mummy blogger. It’s probably some combination of the following reasons:

  • I secretly think my children are far more hilarious than anyone else’s
     
  • I secretly believe myself to be the voice of a sleep-deprived generation
     
  • I secretly spend hours and hours playing the same tedious games with LEGO, going out of my mind with boredom, and end up composing posts in my head anyhow, so I might as well write them down

Basically, the reason why I’m a mummy blogger is a secret (but it has nothing at all to do with a moment of petty jealousy when a friend revealed her mummy blog to our friendship group, months before her first baby was even born, and I, a mother of two, felt seriously out-mummed and decided “ha! I’ll show you all! Sod off, kids – Mummy’s got writing to do!”).

To the uninitiated, the mummy blogging “scene” must sound like hell on earth. A world in which narrow-minded, child-obsessed Polly Fillas offer up identikit versions of parenting humblebrag, desperately seeking to replace their long-lost careers by carefully amassing followers, freebies and mysteriously-named awards (“oh, I don’t care about the stats!”, “I’m just a mum, not a writer!”, “Who, me? You really want to nominate me for the 2013 Mummybloggy Prize? Well, if you insist …”). On the surface, that is EXACTLY what it is like. I know because I tick many of the classic boxes: compulsive oversharer, likes to tell the world about potty training, tantrums and childcare guilt, expresses her mumpreneurial side through the composition of “witty” reviews of all the cleaning products she’s managed to get for free. It’s got so bad I even have a Tots 100 ranking (although it’s nowhere near in the actual 100). I’ve never been nominated for a BiB Award or a MAD, though. If you’re starting to lose track of what I’m talking about, don’t worry. Believe me, it’s a good sign.

I’m conscious that even the phrase “mummy blogger” can send shivers down the spine. Mummy = a grown woman who isn’t even allowed to read rubbish porn without a withering pat on the head from the rest of society, blogger = an amateur writer with ideas above his/her station. Put the two together and what do you get? “A load of middle-class housewives moaning on about their pretend worries,” according to my dad. So kind of like The Feminine Mystique, but in real time. It’s no wonder I go to great lengths to keep my mummy blogger identity hidden from all the “normal” people I mix with (it may surprise you to learn that I am not known as Glosswitch in the office. And if anyone I work with is reading this right now, I’m not who you think I am. This is someone else, just some random middle-class women moaning on about her pretend worries, okay?).

In theory, writing a blog about being a mother should be no more contentious than, say, writing one about your family tree or your favourite flavour of crisps. Providing you’re not putting “my kids, [insert names], are really bloody useless and I hate them”, it shouldn’t matter. It’s hardly offensive material (as long as you discount certain posts about toddler poo). And yet some people have real issues with the very existence of a mummy blogs. How dare these ladies write about such trivial nonsense! Can’t the see how pointless and regressive it is? A recent piece in the Huffington Post even portrayed mummy blogging as “a step back for feminism” due to its focus on domesticity and childcare (although in an attempt to be fair to the bloggers, the author claims “they probably didn't set out to write a blog that depicts them as a crazy mother who is obsessed with canning baby food or the latest gizmo for their child's nursery”. Au contraire, that is precisely what we set out to do  – and you forgot to mention the cake baking). The author then worries about other mothers who see mummy blogs and suddenly decide they’re not good enough:

“Other mothers who read these blogs may feel as though they need to care about the things that mommy bloggers are talking about and if they don't, they are bad mothers. The truth is some women personally have no issue buying a dozen jars of pre-canned baby food but now feel shame about such things.”

Now look here: anyone who’s ever been on Mumsnet will find this hilarious. Mummy blogging communities are competitive, but more often than not it’s competitive slumminess, a race to the bottom. If you want to show off, tell people your child eats nothing but Monster Munch (it makes the other mothers think you’re funny, with the added bonus of making you feel smug about the fact that actually, you vary their diet potato waffles and spaghetti hoops on alternating days).

It is true that some mummy blogs do push an aggressively positive message about the far more nuanced experience of dealing with screaming kids on a daily basis. These are, however, mostly commercial blogs in disguise, either written by journalists pretending not to be working, or set up in some vague attempt to make money by reviewing anything from Fruit Shoots to family holidays (the cleaning products? That was once. I am ashamed, especially as it was months ago and the washing-up liquid’s still on the go). Unless you think all mothers are very, very stupid, they will be able to spot which blogs are merely thrusting advertising copy in their faces. And if you are offended about the sexist stereotypes being promoted, that’s fair enough – but why on earth start your attack with mummy blogging? We’re talking about the whole of the media here (and for the record, that thing about P&G being “proud sponsor of mums”? They never even asked us, I’ve signed nothing and thus far no one I’ve spoken to has been sent so much as a branded T-shirt).

What really bothers me about all this, though, is that while the average mummy blog should be no more irritating than any other blog on a trivial subject, I don’t think writing about domestic life necessarily is trivial. This is a second wave feminist point to make, and not particularly fashionable, but I think it’s still worth saying. Fifty years after the publication of Betty Friedan’s seminal work of incisive criticism and rampant homophobia, we still don’t think women’s lives are as “real” as men’s. Most domestic labour and most childcare is still done by women. It’s either lowly paid or not paid at all. It barely registers as a genuine thing of value. It’s just what happens in the background while the “proper” work gets done. It’s often the same people who tell us stay-at-home mums do “the most important job in the world” who explain away the pay gap by saying many women “don’t work” after having children. And as for those of us who do still have paid jobs? Our experience as mothers is seen as non-existent. We really are the Polly Fillas, deluding ourselves that we’re “juggling” when actually we’re just twatting around being pointlessly self-important (at least to those who write for Private Eye, ex-public schoolboys who, one presumes, have scraped many a shitty toddler pant in their time but just don’t like to talk about it).

Mummy blogging challenges all this, peacefully. A post about childcare says “I do this. This is part of my life. It takes most of my time. You can’t write it off because it happens behind closed doors, or because by and large it’s ‘just the women’”.  Moreover, far from reinforcing regressive ideals about motherhood, most blogs work hard at capturing the difficulty of being a thinking adult and having to focus all your thoughts on a gorgeous, self-centred little being who can’t talk to you and, if he or she could, might not say anything you’d like to hear. The different personalities which emerge through different mummy blogs put paid to the idea that all mothers are ultimately the same (for instance, some of them are really fucking irritating, but that’s not their mummy bloggy-ness, it’s just them). We like to think of mummies and babies as self-sufficient units, as though a mother’s love meets her every need; we don’t then have to worry about mothers as people. Let’s focus on those who still belong in the land of the living. But mothers are still there, too (if I were being fanciful, I’d suggest our antipathy towards mummy bloggers has something to do with a failure to detach from our own mothers and see them as real human beings. But I’d rather talk about toddler fights than disappear up my own arse).

And if I’m honest, I quite like writing and reading about tantrums, and poo, and whining, and school run disasters. It reframes mundane – and often quite lonely – experiences and gives them a certain validity. Or at the very least, when I’m being yelled at for giving someone the wrong Percy Pig sweet, or dealing with the devastation that follows not being allowed to have The Foucault Reader as a bedtime story (“You won’t like it”, “YES I WILL! DON’T WANT PEPPA PIG! WANT DIS BOOK!!”), I can think “well, I might get an amusing post out of that later”. It’s a small consolation but with parenting, experiences often become more worthwhile in the reinterpretation. So often you’re surrounded by noise but alone in your head. To write things down and to share is more than vanity and self-indulgence. It’s an act of creating all those extra bits – worth, presence, permanence – that no one yet ascribes to the day-to-day experience of being a mother. Anyhow, that’s my excuse for writing about that one time my youngest vomited on my eldest and made him vomit on the floor in turn (“vominoes”). Are you really going to judge me for it?

A shorter version of this piece originally appeared on glosswatch.com

Mummy blogging reframes the mundane. Photograph: Getty Images

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Photo: Getty
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Tim Shipman's Diary

The Sunday Times political editor on poker, pasta – and being called fat by Andrew Marr.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was having dinner with my wife at Padella (which serves the best pasta in London) when the phone rang. It was an irate David Davis. “You’re reporting that a friend of mine has said Philip May wants Theresa to quit. It’s not true. I don’t even know Philip May.” I calmly explained that I wasn’t accusing him and I had his friend on tape. “Who was it?” he asked me. I wasn’t saying. “Well, it’s not bloody helpful,” the Brexit Secretary said before hanging up.

The following day, I woke up to watch Philip Hammond explain to the BBC’s Andrew Marr why his cabinet colleagues had leaked me details of how the Chancellor had branded public-sector workers as “overpaid”. “I don’t know who [Tim Shipman’s] sources are,” he said, after inaccurately suggesting that I was being fed information as part of some Brexiteer conspiracy to discredit the cabinet’s leading Remainer.

On Monday, I did an interview with Eddie Mair in the back of a beer garden in Ireland, where I’m playing cricket. In reality, the leaks had much more to do with colleagues irritated at Hammond’s sometimes grating behaviour. Word reaches me that he regards it all as very unhelpful. It seems odd after 16 years in political journalism to have to say this, but we’re not here to be helpful. It might make sense if our politicians gave us less to write about. Over the past three years, they have delighted us enough.

Back for seconds

Voter fatigue is a recognised problem. No one talks about journalist fatigue. We all hope that Theresa May rejuvenates on her Swiss walk (perhaps regenerating into Jodie Whittaker). Thanks to the decision she took when she last went walking, I’m facing the obliteration of another summer holiday writing a second political tome covering the period since my Brexit book, All Out War, up to the general election. What looked at one stage like the boring second album is now a rip-roaring tale of hubris and nemesis. When I asked for title suggestions on Twitter, there were plenty of votes for “Mayhem” and “Mayday”. The most imaginative was: “The Snarling Duds of May”. Sadly, it’s too long for my publisher.

Catching the big fish

The new-found attention from writing books is a double-edged sword. To my delight, then embarrassment, Andrew Marr referred to me twice as “the doyen” of the print lobby. “We keep trying to stop him,” Marr’s editor, the redoubtable Rob Burley, confided at a rival magazine’s summer party. The following week, Marr said: “The biggest fish in the pool, if only physically, is Tim Shipman…” I got a text from a special adviser friend asking: “Are you paying him?” I pointed out that Britain’s best-known political interviewer had just called me a fat bastard live on national television.

New blood

I make my debut on BBC2’s Newsnight alongside Ash Sarkar of Novara Media, one of the new websites that cheerlead for Jeremy Corbyn. She is nerveless and fluent in her mid-twenties, when I was a tongue-tied naif. People who get the Corbyn phenomenon are rightly getting more airtime. Off the air, she tells me that she’s a “libertarian anarchist” and then asks me where I live. “Are you going to smash it up?” I ask nervously. She smiles. Ash’s main concern is to paint the town red in the Saturday-night sense. A Labour MP draws attention to her Twitter biog, which concludes: “Walks like a supermodel. Fucks like a champion. Luxury communism now!” Bravo. I think…

Brexit gamble

I was greatly cheered by the induction in the Poker Hall of Fame of the late Dave “Devil­fish” Ulliott, the player who did the most to create the TV and online poker boom in Britain. Westminster has a few useful card sharps – Paul Stephenson, formerly of Vote Leave, among them – but I don’t know any politicians who play. By contrast, the US presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were all accomplished poker players.

When I worked in the US, I interviewed a member of Barack Obama’s poker circle when he was a state senator in Chicago. The cautious, composed and occasionally bold player he described was the mirror image of the politician we came to know. His Republican rival in 2008, John McCain, preferred the chaotic gambling of the craps table and his erratic campaign reflected that. Too many of the current cabinet seem to be dice men. What we wouldn’t give for Devilfish running the Brexit negotiations.

Blundering through

Anyone who has ever dealt with McCain would have been saddened by the news that he is suffering from brain cancer, but his resilience almost makes you feel sorry for the tumour. McCain is undoubtedly the most media-friendly politician I have ever met. When I travelled on his plane in 2008, he took every question from the foreign press pack and made us feel welcome. Through him, I also met Steve Duprey, the former boss of the New Hampshire Republicans. He was fond of explaining Duprey’s first law: “In politics, before considering malevolence, always assume incompetence.” I have had much cause to remind myself of that over the past three years.

Paranoid android

If you are looking for a summer read, I recommend Jonathan Allen’s and Amie Parnes’s Shattered, a great insider account of Hillary Clinton’s disastrous 2016 presidential election effort. It shows how a flawed candidate with little ability to connect with the public presided over a paranoid regime of advisers engaged in Shakespearean bloodletting that led to them coming a cropper when fighting a charismatic populist. On second thoughts, you could always wait to read my second book this autumn. 

Tim Shipman is the political editor of the Sunday Times. “All Out War” is now available in paperback (William Collins)

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue