Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlog (a book review)

by DaniGirl on August 20, 2009 · 9 comments

in Books, How I love the Interwebs, Mothering without a licence

About a million years ago, I used to do book reviews here on the blog. I think it’s been more than a year since I’ve put one up. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s been at least six months since I’ve read anything other than a photography book (but man, I’ve read a lot of those!) or a trashy detective novel from my mother’s endless stash.

Also a million years ago, I was a co-presenter with an amazing panel of writers and bloggers at the Association for Research on Mothering’s (ARM) Motherlode conference. Have you heard of ARM? This is how they self-describe:

The Association for Research on Mothering, at York University, Toronto, houses the Association for Research on Mothering, the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, Demeter Press, and Mother Outlaws. The Association’s mandate is to promote feminist maternal scholarship by building and sustaining a community of researchers interested in the topic of mothering-motherhood.

These bits of ancient history intersected in a recent e-mail I received from ARM. Earlier this year, they released a book called Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlog. I received a review copy a week or so back, and I couldn’t wait to dive into it.

The book is a series of essays, ranging in tone from scholarly papers to personal narrative, all centred around the experience of “mommy” blogs. The essays also range in perspective from the blogger to the reader of blogs to, in the introduction, the relatively uninitiated.

I have to tell you, I didn’t read every word. Some of the essays appealed to me more than others. Of course, I devoured every word of the contributions from my friends and Motherlode co-presenters, Ann Douglas and Jen Lawrence.

In “Web 2.0, Meet the Mommy Bloggers” Ann Douglas, esteemed parenting writer and a long-time friend and mentor, writes about the darker side of the “mamasphere” — how the influx of marketers and marketing, as well as human nature’s baser instincts, make mothers compete against each other for a slice of the pie. The pie is not just financial recompense, though. She notes,

…social networking sites are able to attract hundreds of thousands of members who are willing to accept popularity — or even the promise of popularity — in lieu of cash payment for the content they provide to these sites. […] This can, in turn, create an atmosphere of competition rather than cooperation between mothers.

Jen Lawrence, a blogger I credit as one of my first favourites and a blogger I’ve tried to emulate over the years, submitted a reworked version of her Motherlode presentation. In “Blog for Rent: How Marketing is Changing Our Mothering Conversations” she discusses how the advent of the monetization movement circa 2006 completely altered the dynamic between bloggers and readers, and among bloggers themselves. She includes one of my favourite analogies of all time, with respect to marketing and bloggers. She says,

I think that blogging can be an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to building community, even if there are blog ads running down the sidebar. […] But I don’t want blogging to become just another guerilla marketing technique. I don’t want to be invited to a friend’s home, only to discover I was really invited to a Tupperware party.

I didn’t just love the essays in this book that happened to be written by my friends, though. I was completely sucked in by Melissa Camara Wilkins’ “Beyond Cute: A Mom, a Blog, and a Question of Content.” Her essay examines why she blogs, and the satisfaction she derives from being a part of the online mothering community. She perfectly surmizes one of the reasons I so love mommyblogs as a whole: “I’m not narcissistically writing about myself; I am recording my personal narrative and contributing to a collective, descriptive understanding of contemporary motherhood.”

Also on a personal note, I was drawn in by May Friedman’s essay, “Schadenfreude for Mittelschmerz: Or, Why I Read Infertility Blogs.” Since I cut my teeth reading those same infertility blogs, I found Friedman’s perspective (as a “quite fertile” reader of infertility blogs) rather intriguing. And I read with a sort of openmouthed wonder Jennifer Gilbert’s “I Kid You Not: How the Internet Talked Me Out of Traditional Mommyhood.” She explains, in witty detail, how reading mommyblogs convinced her that “mothering was a thankless, Sisyphean exercise that involved prying jellybeans and loose change out of a child’s nose from sunup to sundown” (*snicker*) and simply not the life she wanted to live.

When I first started reading this book, I cringed at how dated some of the references felt. I don’t know a lot about the publishing industry, but it must be hard to get out a book that’s cutting edge when references to things that happened less than two years ago seem like ancient history. Then again, there have been a lot of pixels posted about the nature of mommyblogging again this summer, so like every other fad in motherhood, whatever is old is new again… the cycle is just a lot faster now!

If you’re at all interested in how mommyblogs are shaping our mothering conversations, I highly recommend this book — or at least, big chunks of it. And the nice thing about such varied styles and perspectives is the fact that the chunks that appeal to you are likely not the same ones that appealed to me. Like the mamasphere itself, it offers an intriguing range of voices and opinions, some contradictory and some conciliatory, some vexing and some inspiring, some educated and some entertaining. In this case, as in the mamasphere, the whole is as intriguing as the sum of the parts.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Target Info Labs August 20, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlogy (a book review)

2 SocialMediaMarketing August 20, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlogy (a book review)

3 katie allison granju August 20, 2009 at 1:27 pm

RT @DaniGirl: Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlogy ->

4 Dan Friedman August 20, 2009 at 3:17 pm

Yay, someone reviewed @maysieoh’s book:

5 Brie August 21, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Thanks for this review. It has been awhile since i have read anything remotely scholarly but this one sounds interesting. I will have to track it down.

6 Annie @ PhD in Parenting August 31, 2009 at 8:58 pm

I’m so glad you read and reviewed this. I have been thinking of getting it (and every other book put out by that institute at York University)!

7 Jody September 1, 2009 at 11:45 am

As someone who was blogging heavily back in 2006, but who feels 100% removed from the current debates (except that I keep wanting to say, but we’ve already HAD these conversations!), I think I would be fascinated not just by the book, but by the sense of “ancient history,” too.

Blogs are going to be great fodder for historians someday. Assuming we can find any of the source material in the sea of content generated between now and then.

8 Melissa Camara Wilkins September 2, 2009 at 12:09 am

I’ve found it interesting to see which aspects of the conversation about mommy blogging are more timeless, and which more grounded in a specific moment–and I think this book has great examples of both.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I must have some jellybeans to pry from somebody’s nose. 🙂

9 Emma W February 5, 2010 at 3:56 pm

@mpricemitchell @Danigirl read it

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