LGBTQ

Cyberhood Is Powerful: Moms Increasingly Taking Up Blogging

The maternal impulse turns political when you mix moms, feminism and the blogosphere.

"As a mother of three, there are very few things that are entirely mine," wrote Jill Smokler of Washington, D.C., in a recent post to her blog Scary Mommy.

"My bed is inevitably invaded by all of the kids sometime throughout the night. My favorite foods are devoured by mouths other than mine and my cosmetics are used for dress up these days as often as on my own face. My car is filled with car seats and stale Cheerios and my purse is so stuffed with junk for the kids that I can't even carry my own sunglass case. But this blog? It's mine. All mine. And that's what I love about it."

In the past, a mother feeling overwhelmed might have picked up the phone to call her best friend. Today, she also sits down at her computer and posts to her blog.

In the last few years, there has been a boom in "mommyblogs" such as Scary Mommy. Many of these chronicle the personal details of their writer's family lives, such as ex-Mormon stay-at-home-in-Salt-Lake-City mom Heather B. Armstrong, whose popular Dooce blog includes her sharing her struggle with postpartum depression.

Not all the mommybloggers might self-define as feminists—although certainly there is a feminist impulse behind the avowed goal of many of them to change cultural perceptions of motherhood—but one might argue that what they're doing is a virtual version of feminist consciousness-raising: They're being exceedingly open about their experiences of mothering, and sharing those experiences in an (online) community with other mothers.

A strong subset of the mommyblogosphere is overtly feminist and proudly activist. And Chicago blogger Veronica Arreola notes that among women of color who blog, some are changing what counts as a motherhood issue to include working-class and lower-class issues, such as finding a full-time job, obtaining food stamps or changing immigration law. Arreola focuses her personal blog—Viva La Feminista—on feminism, motherhood and her Latina identity, and also contributes to the group political blog Momocrats.

Many mommybloggers are concerned with subjects that immediately affect their family and children, such as universal health care and paid maternity leave. That's what got Lisa Frack of Portland, Ore., involved in political mommyblogging. In 2003, three months pregnant with her first child, she learned that her full-time federal job didn't provide paid maternity leave.

She started writing for a popular local mom about political issues that affect mothers and soon founded a group called Activistas. Before long she was collecting signatures at a farmer's market and corralling 20 busy moms on a Wednesday afternoon to join her at a state Senate hearing an hour away.

Overtly political mommybloggers are often affiliated with motherhood organizations that have developed a strong online presence, including Mothers & More, the Mothers Movement Online, the National Association of Mothers' Centers and the network Frack's group was inspired by, MomsRising. These advocacy groups are often involved in trying to get pro-mom legislation passed and in encouraging direct action. Though the bill Frack worked on in Oregon didn't pass, there have been notable successes: With the help of motherhood activists, New Jersey passed the Family Leave Insurance bill, which provides up to six weeks of partial wage replacement.

Feminist members of the U.S. Congress are trying to push through mom-friendly legislation as well. For example, in June the House approved the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which provides four weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the bill, is optimistic that it may finally pass the Senate and become law, crediting feminist and motherhood organizations with helping build support for it.

The technology may be new, but the issues facing mothers aren't. In fact, the feminist movement has been working against pregnancy discrimination and for paid family leave, publicly funded child care and early childhood education for 40 years. Yet a little more than half of employed U.S. women don't have one paid sick day for themselves or to care for family members, which means they lose money anytime they have to skip work because of an ill child.

Many mothers may not start out intending to be political, but as they find their voices, their blogs evolve into forums for political commentary, says Joanne Bamberger, who blogs at Pundit Mom. "I think a lot of moms who don't identify as political activists or feminists are writing on sites increasingly about issues that are important to them." Then, as they get comfortable talking about their own mothering issues online, they are "finding their political selves."

For the full version of this article, pick up a copy of the Summer 2009 issue of Ms. on newsstands, or have a copy sent to your door by joining the Ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.

Kara Jesella is a freelance writer in New York City. She is currently co-writing a book on Sassy magazine for Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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