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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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit