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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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.