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.

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The politics of the kiss

From the classical period via the Kremlin to the Clintons: a brief history of political smooching.

Iowa and New Hampshire are behind us. Super Tuesday beckons. For fans of the competitive sport of baby-kissing, this is as good as it gets.

Meanwhile, closer to Britain, kissing’s in our very constitution. Jeremy Corbyn’s future, depending on his success, could involve taking a trip to the Palace to kiss hands as Prime Minister – and as a republican. Being sworn into the Privy Council in November, he even managed a peck on the royal paw, but reportedly stood fast and did not kneel.

Why is there so much snogging in politics? 

Ancient Romans and Persians established – dare we – a pecking order on meeting. This ritual would make it instantly clear if they were equals (full-on, mouthy kiss, the basium), separated by a slight gap (cheeky peck, an osculum), or vast unequals (foot-kissing accompanied by much grovelling). Even heads of state greeted people in this way.

And there was nothing more dramatic – and bizarre – than the socialist fraternal kiss. Kremlinologists would even measure its intensity, to see how close Communist leaders were. The rule was to do three alternate kisses on the cheek, aping the Ancien Régime’s Orthodox Easter greeting. When two leaders were especially chummy – like then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and GDR head Erich Honecker at the 30th anniversary of the GDR in East Berlin in 1979 – the world would witness a big, sloppy lip-plant. Paris Match splashed Régis Bossu’s iconic black-and-white image of the socialist snog across a double-page spread. Le Baiser, they called it.

Nikita Khrushchev, Joseph Stalin’s successor, locked lips with USSR chairman Klim Voroshilov when returning from a US visit in 1959. In July 1937, Stalin planted a decidedly non-frigid one on Ivan Spirin, a polar explorer and state hero.

But Brezhnev was the true practitioner. The joke in Russia went that he described a Warsaw Pact comrade “as a politician, rubbish...but a good kisser!”

Aside from the steamy Kremlin, social kissing on the mouth declined with the Black Death.

The courtly handkuss (kiss on the hand) generally went the same way with the fall of the German and Russian monarchies in 1917-18, though hung on longer in Austria. 

But French president Jacques Chirac made it his trademark, playing to the gallery with French élégance. An Associated Press story from 1967 chronicles the sad plight of European diplomats who had chanced it in Washington. One congressional wife jumped back, claiming she had been bitten; another said a stone was missing from her ring. “Chivalry has its drawbacks,” the story observed.

But back to the babies. We see kissing-as-canvassing in William Hogarth’s 1755 series The Humours of an Election

And in a close-fought 1784 Westminster by-election, we read of 24 women out canvassing with kisses – including the Duchesses of Rutland, Argyll, Ancaster, and (somewhat infamously) Devonshire. 

Kissing voters’ wives – now probably frowned upon by CCHQ – was customary fare for the 18th-century candidate. It’s only in the following century that we see the desexualisation of the electioneering kiss, moving to babies as innocuous. 

In 1836, Charles Dickens has his character Pickwick go to witness a post-Reform Act by-election in Eatanswill. “He has patted the babies on the head,” says the candidate’s election agent, trembling with anxiety. Roar of applause. “He has kissed one of ‘em!” Second roar. “He's kissing ‘em all!” The crowd’s shouts are deafening. And the candidate Slumkey coasts home to Parliament.

US presidents Richard Nixon, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison forswore baby kissing, grasping for a higher-minded political plane. Bernie Sanders, too. 

But how are the rest of today's politicians doing, kiss-wise?

Barack Obama: After two terms, a kisser to be reckoned with. With adults. Apparently he doesn’t relish kissing babies, and has been called fatally ill-at-ease holding one. Full points for his lucky save with a reticent Aung San Suu Kyi in 2014, ending with a perfectly creditable side-hug and ear-kiss.

Pity Michelle, photographed rolling her eyes as Barack went in for the selfie with, say, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in 2013. (For her part, Michelle fobbed off Silvio Berlusconi with a fully outstretched arm, taking no chances.)

David Cameron: Utterly denied by SamCam after his Tory conference speech in October 2015. Lord Grantham says in Downton he spent most of Eton avoiding the kisses of other boys; clearly, the Prime Minister didn’t get much practice while at school.

Angela Merkel: In her first meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy, out she came with a businesslike German handshake just as he ducked for the Gallic kiss. In a moment of British romantic awkwardness last May, during Cameron’s EU reform tour, we saw the Prime Minister lean in, short of closing the deal, as she pulled back and possibly searched for some new regulations to beat him away with.

Hillary Clinton: Is said to enjoy kissing babies. Is said not to enjoy kissing Bill, as in the 2008 Correspondents’ Dinner when she expertly ducked one from him.  And scored one from Obama instead. But maybe she ought to lay off the baby-kissing: a journal article in Political Psychology suggests voters are 15 per cent less likely to vote for women candidates when their adverts evoke female gender stereotypes.

Donald Trump: In August, his baby-kiss in Alabama went viral – the baby’s mother just a bit too keen, the baby’s confusion mingled with slight fear reflecting the views of many of us. “That baby is us,” wrote blogger Stassa Edwards.

It’s a long road from here to the US election in November. And Cameron can look forward to kissing up to Merkel and a hot summer of Italian, Dutch, and even French kisses too.

So this Valentine’s Day, spare a thought for the babies. And the bureaucrats.