- Of Woman Born to Mommy Blogged:The Journey from the Personal as Political to the Personal as Commodity
“Mommy blogging is a radical act!” proclaimed Alice Bradley, a well-known and prolific blogger, at the 2005 BlogHer Conference. Her assertion reframed and elevated the genre of online writing that deals with mothering, colloquially referred to as “mommy blogs.” Blogging motherhood may feel radical because it allows for an up-to-the-minute, authentic, and less isolated take on motherhood, one that veers from the highly edited and airbrushed version found in other media, such as magazines or television. Bradley articulates the difference here:
We readers and authors of parenting blogs are looking for a representation of authentic experience that we’re not getting elsewhere. We sure as hell aren’t getting it from the parenting magazines … [A] parenting magazine will never help you feel less alone, less stupid, less ridiculous. This is the service I think parenting blogs provide—we share our lopsided, slightly hysterical, often exaggerated but more or less authentic experiences. If one blogger writes about, say, her bad behavior at the doctor’s office, then maybe at some point, some freaked-out new mother is going to read that and feel a little better—less stupid, less ridiculous—about her own breakdown at the pediatrician’s.(quoted in Camahort 2006)
As Bradley suggests, the “service” of the blogs is to present an “authentic” version of motherhood that deviates from the older accounts found in broadcast media (such as parenting magazines), wherein mothering is made out to be both instinctual and fulfilling. The blogs provide a space for women, mothers, and caregivers—no matter how “freaked out” or “hysterical”—to provide and receive emotional validation. Bradley’s use [End Page 247] of the terms “authentic experience” and “radical” nods to the second wave feminist tradition of consciousness raising but, as I detail in this paper, falls short of it. As Catherine Rottenberg notes, when 1970s feminists discussed personal experiences it was always “accompanied by some form of critique of male domination and/or structural discrimination” (2013, 14). We find no similar pattern within the mommy blog genre despite their rhetoric that digital media radically reframes their experiences as mothers. For Bradley and other bloggers in this genre, to “feel less stupid” or “less alone” is the goal; they rarely connect their feelings or experiences to gendered structures of power. For all the bandwidth given to the personal, little attention is given to the political.
This article investigates the claim that blogging “authentic experience” is a political act. Mining personal experience was the first step in transforming society for second wave feminists. Today, when personal experience meets up with digital technology, it is mined instead for two intertwined forms of value production: emotional and economic. Emotional value comes from the “crowdsourcing” of validation, as Bradley’s quote makes plain. Economic value comes from the way online platforms turn such digital expressions of care into content, which the proprietors of social media platforms leverage for profits via data accumulation, advertising, and website traffic. Today, authentic experience has been absorbed into our modern-day digital mode of production. Experience becomes a commodity produced endlessly, in this case, by mothers.
To map the shift from the personal-for-politics to the personal-for-production, I compare personal writings on motherhood from two sources separated by approximately forty years: Adrienne Rich’s 1976 book Of Woman Born (reprinted in 1986) and selections from mommy blogs, which explore all aspects of motherhood and have a global readership in the millions. Despite being separated generationally from Rich, mommy bloggers discuss their experiences in startlingly similar terms. The blogs are a rich and vast archive of experiences of motherhood, yet the feminist project of situating women’s experiences within a larger social context as a way to effect change, as so adroitly done by Rich, has disappeared. The intimate experiences of contemporary motherhood become a commodity through two interrelated structures: the architecture of social media platforms, which garner value from the free labor of users, and the cultural diffusion of “narratives of resilience,” which refer to public articulations of personal triumph over...