(This research paper is the cumulative result of a semester spent researching sustainability culture in the United States–particularly in the realm of parenting. In the post below, you’ll find the introduction. Click here for the full paper.)
November 5, 2012. On the eve of Election Day, Rebecca Woolf sits down to her computer and types. “Faith, 2012.” It is a title foreshadowing a conversation she’ll have with thousands from the privacy of her empty living room. Or kitchen. Or bedroom.
After her four children are tucked in and dreaming, Rebecca writes about politics and parenting. In the morning, 41 people will leave comments. They will tell her she “changed their minds,” and offered the “best argument” they’d heard in favor of re-electing President Obama. A world-famous “mommy blogger,” Rebecca (better known as “Girl’s Gone Child” or GGC,) has written a book and made it into the The New York Times, Time Magazine, Huffington Post, and NPR. Boldly writing since 2003 when gave birth to her first child, Woolf has navigated the virtual blogosphere for nearly ten years. She is a celebrity—risen to fame for being relatable, yet out of the box. On November 5th, Rebecca writes about hope and voting. She draws out lines about women’s rights, gay marriage, and national pride—explaining her vote and knowingly contradicting herself along the way. As she types, she pastes hyperlinks to political agenda articles from national newspapers. She unearths the hyperlinked versions of herself buried deep in her 2008 blog archives. Rebecca traces the progress of the United States as she traces her own transformation as a woman and as a mother. Drawing comparisons to her roller coaster marriage and the daily uncertainty of childrearing, Woolf is one of 3,900,000 “Mommy Bloggers” in North America. She belongs to a cohort of 500 who have “considerable power and reach.” From her mini web series to the scrolling advertisements for her iPhone app, Twitter feed and Youtube channel framed in her blog’s sidebar, Rebecca is a lifestyle brand. Supporting her family of 6 through her blogging, she is living a new kind of American dream. Her blog’s web page is a crafted living space. Inviting an audience into her world, Rebecca furnishes the virtual as she would the real. In the block-lettered header of Girl’s Gone Child, twin sets of baby blue eyes and chubby fingers extend to readers. In her headlines and streaming feeds, Rebecca tells them: these children and this mother are real. Commenting on why she blogs, this Girl Gone Child describes her motivation as a desire to understand: “I draw parallels to everything so that I can rationalize decisions – so that I can relate to all the things I feel detached from. So that I can relate to this election. So that I can stand firmly behind the man I will be voting for.” Like her children, Rebecca Woolf is still growing. She is zooming in and out—the camera lens of her life panning from her wedding day to her children’s faces to the Presidential election playing out on the TV screen. Both child and adult, she strives to be complicated. “Who am I?” she asks. The answer, “A Mom,” encompasses everything.
To realize the impact Rebecca (and so many other blogging mothers,) has on communities of parents and citizens, we must understand the stage on which she plays and acts. In 2012, the state of motherhood is one rife with anxiety. As authors Hall and Bishop state in their text Mommy Angst: Motherhood in American Popular Culture; “ American mothers are anxious about nearly every aspect of their lives. Their careers, their families, their bodies, their children, their mothering abilities… Americans want a ‘mom’ definition of motherhood—a nurturing, accepting, easy definition. Mothers…are the reservoir of American expectations.” Through “Mommy Blogs,” mothers across the country are able to grapple (on their own terms) with increasingly complicated definitions of motherhood in the modern age. In forums and comment streams they define and edit the cultural “supermom.” In the archives of mommy bloggers, we find diatribes, social movements, and humorous moments frozen in time. In the winding paragraphs and photo-montage memories of mothers who tailor their blogs to fit personalized interests and experiences (ranging from farming to fashion, environmentalism, and child loss) we see a diverse movement. Though Mommy Bloggers represent a narrow demographic of women when it comes to race, income, and social status, their stories tell us about the nature of parenting in an information age. Their far-reaching support systems redefine communication in a confusing age of multitasking and divided attention.
The impact of mothers and women as writers, advice-givers, and innovative feminists in the Mommy Blog realm is not unprecedented. Putting Mommy Blogs into historical context, the late 19th century brought a wave of feminism that did not associate with anger, but identified with dynamic storytelling. In many ways, this emergent feminism was a precursor to the Mommy Blog movement of the new Millenium—an unearthed opportunity for mothers to write their histories in real time. In 19th century female-centered magazines and advice books, women authored their own histories. As was true in these advice books and magazines of the 19th century, Mommy Bloggers break the mold and rewrite womanhood. In the 1800s, the publication of magazines targeted toward women spiked dramatically as “[women] became key consumers of household goods in the 19th century and gradually expanded their roles into spheres outside the family.” Similarly transforming the conversation of American womanhood in the 21st century, Mommy Bloggers take advantage of technological advances to reach female audiences of millions. In both cases, public discussion about supposedly private life is normalized. Like the writers of the 19th century, our modern blogging mothers articulate what it means to be a mother and a woman in 2012. They mold themselves into agents of social change.
Analyzing Girl’s Gone Child and her blogging peers and followers, a slice of the “Momosphere” is revealed, questions are raised, and we learn how a new medium might be used to shape parenting practices in the US. This includes working together as a population of parents to reduce the carbon footprints that plague our children’s generation, and molding the minds and ethical understanding of children who will become future global citizens.
Climbing the multitasking rungs of social media and afterschool hierarchy, the “Momosphere” asks questions big and small: What substance lies behind filled calendars and the constant effort to “have it all?” What happens when the little girl whose parents told her she could do anything grows up and has a family of her own? Does she leave her powerful business career behind, or compromise a between-the-lines kind of feminism? What about all of the fear-addled headlines? The seeping toxins and destructive hurricanes and situations parents cannot control? What about the bullies and the ten million monthly newsletters designed to reveal “all you need to know” to be a “good” mother?
It’s easy to feel helpless in the slew. But these Moms can write. Transferring the power of the 1950s coffee clutch to the 13” lap top screen, blogging moms form networks. In turn, these networks have the scope to create dramatic change (if they choose.) Bridging entertainment and information in the same genius way Oprah did for television, Mommy bloggers reveal what matters to a powerful demographic of American women.
Blurring the lines of virtual and the real, the online activity of Mommy Bloggers is positioned to become a viable form of activism. The best blogging Moms balance the simple with the deep —juggling questions of backyard sandbox shenanigans with climate change and overconsumption. They also learn to conquer multiple mediums, brand themselves, and build communities. Rebecca Woolf is one such example. In a follow-up to her November 5th thoughts, Rebecca wrote a post called “Politics & Friends” –expressing the complexity of a motherhood citizenship as she said:
“We matter and I believe with all my heart, so do our choices. As voters and parents and human beings, we can choose to support one side without ripping into the other. We can celebrate our wins without booing those who voted against us, speak our minds without criticizing the minds of those who think differently, hold hands without rolling our eyes. And to quote Thomas Jefferson…I believe that not only is it possible to stay friends with those who share a difference of politics, opinion, religion and philosophy, it is our duty as citizens of the world and mentors to tomorrow’s leaders. Because if we can’t get along as adults how can we expect our children to?
She is not alone. Examining a selected sample of twenty Mommy blogs, representations of motherhood are diverse and sometimes seem disconnected. When it comes to issues in the environment (arguably the biggest ongoing challenges their children will have to face,) most mention climate change or global warming or fear. Few dare to dive in over their heads. These women have the means to shift culture. In a cacophony of voices shared over cups of coffee in quiet rooms, they form families. These writers might use their wit to shift market consumerism, direct others to well-informed sources of political information, raise a generation of conscientious citizens, and inspire more eco-centric efficacy. Exploring the recorded values and messages of Mommy blogs, we find a blueprint for future generations of citizens. Critiquing and applauding the work of these writers and mothers, readers might navigate their own ethics of parenting—approaching child rearing as a political act of the greatest consequence. Until now, the “Mommy Blogger” demographic has been trivialized and pushed aside. There has been little research on the impact these women are having in communities, politics, and consumer markets—forging a digital frontier of shared space and ideals. This exploratory paper seeks to dive into the archives of these notable women and analyze their footprints (on both ecological and social scales.)
Rebecca Woolf is a wonderful entry point for the “Mommy Blogging” conversation, but this paper adds to her symbolic presence by putting her in conversation with a woman who represents another side of the Mommy Blogging path and formula for “success.” This woman is Diane MacEachern, author of environmentally themed Big Green Purse blog and striking example of the “Eco Mommy Bloggers.” The method of my evaluation involves a survey of twenty blogs—the top ten most popular “general” Mommy Blogs, and the top ten “Eco” Mommy Blogs. Analyzing the most recent blog posts and comments in each of these online communities, common themes emerge. From “business” to “motherhood” to “hope,” “thrift,” and “agency,” the women of the complex “Momosphere” redefine an American vocabulary that is no longer common sense.
“General” Mommy blogs (those without one clear niche,) do not explicitly raise ecological citizens. However, their parenting styles reflect themes of Ecological Citizenship. These include storytelling, instilling care for future generations, and teaching their children to ask questions. As Rebecca Woolf (a representation of generalist Mommy Blogging) claims, mothers have the responsibility to be “mentors to tomorrow’s leaders.” In the other branch of Mommy Bloggers explored in this paper, “Eco Mommy Bloggers” write openly about creating ecologically minded citizens in their children. However, these activist mothers run the risk of assuming that their children will take action by default. As exemplary Eco Blogger Diane MacEachern stresses, “We need to protect our health and the health of our kids and grand kids, and laws and regulations can’t do it alone.”
Focusing on one representative blog in each category of general and “Eco” writing mothers, the Girls Gone Child and Diane MacEachern’s Big Green Purse sites become “dense facts.” Through the voices of both bloggers, (supplemented with the dialogue of eighteen other noted bloggers,) we read a national conversation that shows the state of the world in the early 21st century. Juxtaposing these diary-like entries, questions, and lengthy comments on citizenship, we re-assess the values of parenting in the United States. The “Momosphere” tells us what concerns and dreams we hold for future generations. Recognizing the expressed values of the “Momosphere,” this paper examines how we might make the leap to operative values in parenting—combining “best practices” of parenting from general and environmental spheres, leading by example, and energizing a population of future activists and feminists (freed from the modern stigma.)
(To read the full body of this exploratory essay, click here: Greening the Momosphere)