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On Motherhood and Voice and Privilege

Hello! I have been writing the draft of my dissertation (from 0-20,000 words by Wednesday FTW! Like NaNo only with added hypertension and weeping!) but I am glad I came out of this self-imposed hibernation today to check into my Google Reader, and a suggestion from Danielle and to check out this great post on mommyblogging and privilege.

I am a passionate reader and I am drawn to people who strike a cord with me because they are good writers, and/or because I find them personally delightful or compelling. This is not class-driven (I read with interest blogs written by single moms who struggle to make ends meet from month to month, as well as people like Dooce whose life and scope and sartorial choices will never intersect with mine). But the issues are still manifold.

I do get all Feminist-Ragey on all kinds of issues concerning motherhood though (never more so than since I started the interviews for my research on Postnatal Depression) and issues of privilege feature highly on the list.

Danielle writes: For a long time, I've felt as though the mommybloggers receiving the most accolades, the most attention and the most opportunity are also a part of the largest minority where mothers/parenting are concerned. It doesn't devalue their talent to say that they speak from a place of privilege, but it does make me wonder where are the opportunities for EVERYONE ELSE?

I think where opportunity comes into it, is directly related to advertising and consumerism. You will get Free Stuff or Opportunity if advertisers can use you as a jingly-belled bait to attract the consumerist power of other (most likely white, middle-class or above moms since they will probably have the greatest amount of disposable income). So opportunities are going to be available most freely there, with a minority of slots for other bloggers who are able to have a wide-appeal to the same audience. (I may be speaking out of my ass of course, but this is just what I have observed of the wider-blogging world from my livejournal nook; Livejournal seems a different kettle of fish altogether - more insular, more connected, and caters to those who like me see blogging primarily as an enjoyable hobby and a way to connect with the lives of others so a lot of what I'm writing will not apply because as I see it LJ doesn't really give ANYONE career advancement or fame).

Years ago Alice Bradley said "Mommyblogging IS a radical act" and while I think it was certainly true of the time when she was saying it, I am no longer certain it holds water. For starters mommyblogging has gone mainstream (it's probably the most visible and vocal aspect of blogging) and as Trauma Queen writes, the most visible of the mommyblogs are being represented by a minority of women (largely married, educated, white, middle-class*, heterosexual). While I don't think those characteristics are anything to be ashamed of (after all, all but one of those characteristics apply to me) or that it makes their writing or their voice any less real, entertaining or valid, I think it also shouldn't reduce our interest in the other side of that. How can we draw out the voices of mothers living vastly different lives? How can we invite them into consciousness (and blogging might not be the answer, because if you are working 3 minimum-wage jobs to make ends meet you might not find yourself with time/opportunity to be on the internet).

The danger of privilege (as I see it) is not that it exists (arguably, someone will ALWAYS be in a position of privilege) but that it blinds us to the lives of others. It is easy to do. Part of the seductive power of privilege is that if you have it, your choices, your right to be, your beliefs are simply not questioned. You are allowed to dwell, and act, and think usually without being asked to justify your position in the world, because to a large extent the world caters to others exactly like you. (Harriet Godlhor Lerner writes about how a measure of minority is how many prefixes you need to attach to yourself/something you do - e.g. "A workshop on motherhood" vs. "A workshop on black lesbian women's experiences of motherhood").

The comments on Trauma Queen's post are a good illustration of this. There are several people going "Well why did you choose to have children if you were poor and had to raise them in a crack house hotel? Why didn't you just exercise responsibility and not breed?" I don't think a white middle-class mom is going to be asked the same questions, particularly not if she is married. No one would be questioning her right to want to be a mother.

At least in my world of having been Reared by Socialists, good mothering should have nothing to do with ability to buy or accumulate Stuff. Similarly, privilege should not be about guilt. (To me, occupying positions of privilege is a bit like inheriting money. You are not a bad person for having been given this gift, nor are you being asked to give it back). But I think you are being given a choice about what you do with it and how you spend it (such as whether you choose to share, and what you do with it or invest in) and you are on the most basic level being asked not to be a berk devoid of empathy or sensitivity. I think you should be asked to remember that you have not been given this gift because you are More Special Than or Worthier Than or Better Than, so much as Luckier Than.

For me, for my idealistic heart the dream it all comes down to is always this - the widening of scope. That the stage is big enough for all of us. That we are all deserving of interest and acknowledgement. That all our stories become part of the telling and the remembering. Because you are not my ennemy, or my competitor. Because somewhere deeper than bone, we are sisters, you and I.

*The world being complex, being middle class is not always a gift. For starters, it can make it more difficult to seek and receive help. However, on the whole, I think it's fair to say that those who are middle-class will be given more opportunities and freedom of choice.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 21st, 2010 04:07 pm (UTC)
Interesting Post
(I must say that I’ve never read anything else that you’ve written except this post.) You address the primarily economic aspect of mommyblogging privilege, i.e. corporate investment in affluential mommybloggers but I see that the opportunity given to mommybloggers with privilege is merely a perpetuation of that privilege; it is PART of their privilege and helps to define their privilege.

Two of the defining social and economic aspects of privilege are opportunity and choice. The fact that the privileged mothers are given more social recognition, media opportunities, speaking engagements, etc. and mothers that are already externally (i.e. outside of the blogosphere) marginalized are given less of those opportunities is simply a reflection of the elitism that exits in society at large. This is nothing unique to mommyblogging, it is endemic in our society and this microcosm is merely reflecting that reality. Society (in this instance in the form of media/advertising) invests power and influence in those with privilege and that is how classism is perpetuated and protected. (I do not intend to sound patronizing here; I am simply making a different analysis that you did.)

Also, I entirely disagree with your analysis that being middle class can make it more difficult to seek and receive help – (do you mean help for mental health issues?) The implication here (since you acknowledge that this is not true as far as economics are concerned) being that mental health issues have less social stigma among those with less economic or class privilege than it does among more affluential people. I am not certain that this is true – why would it be more socially acceptable among lower economic/social classes to seek and receive help for mental health issues?

This seems to me to be an issue of intersectionality – i.e. middle class people with mental health issues can be marginalized by their middle class peers, perhaps this “feels” like a disadvantage of middle class privilege but it is not, it is a disadvantage of mental health issues. Those people who have low socio-economic status AND mental health issues are some of the most marginalized members of modern society. Perhaps you can explain your comment further if you have the time and the inclination.
Mar. 21st, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Interesting Post
Argh, the computer ate this long reply I wrote, and I only have part 2 saved, so I'll just have to go back to this tomorrow.

But in brief, thank you for your response, it has given me much to reflect upon and try to put into words better than I did in my post.

Re: mental health issues and middle class and seeking and receiving help - I'll give some examples from my practice to try and explain better what I meant. One of the women I was interviewing about her experience of postnatal depression talked about some of the reasons why she never sought help which included 1) her belief that as a middle class person she should uphold the image of being able to cope and 2) the Health Visitors belief that because she was middle class and didn't face the challenges of poverty, violence, or unsafe housing that there were no real worries about how she was getting on with the business of motherhood.

Another example is a white, middle-class family in which one of the teen children is exhibiting all kinds of worrying and increasingly dangerous/unmanageable behaviour. They have been in therapy for years, the situation hasn't gotten better (in fact, it's becoming more dangerous for the siblings) but the Social Services are content to let the family remain in the land of the talking cure. (I suspect that if they weren't white, middle-class and articulate than the Social Services would have found themselves intervening a lot sooner - and intervention in this case, actually being what the family wants).

Similarly, things like sexual abuse or Domestic Violence can be a lot easier to hide behind a smokescreen of affluence and charm. Unless given specific reason, services will not routinely be as attuned to looking for causes of concern (which is natural, because services are stretched and most of the time things are fine, except in those cases where middle class is a barrier to asking for help (such as my depressed lady) and services generate less possibilities for contact and engagement, because class has obscured the issues of concern.

This isn't meant to be an invitation to cry about the lot of the middle classes, so much as an example of the way in which middle class can worsen outcomes for people sometimes.

I don't think it's that mental illness is necessarily much less acceptable to the middle class (or more socially acceptable amoung lower econimic class), but that with a lack of obvious social problems can increase people's personal sense of worthlessness and failure in mental illness because they don't have an easily-pointable-to reason to feel as they do. (On the other hand, if you live in awful conditions/horrible housing and you feel low, that's probably an example of sanity, right there).

Those people who have low socio-economic status AND mental health issues are some of the most marginalized members of modern society

Absolutely. On the other hand, there are lots of services (such as Childrens Centres where I work in) which are specifically aimed at increasing opportunity and improving outcomes for the hard to reach. (I'm not claiming that the service is adequate to the need mind you, simply that there may be more opportunities to ask for/access help when you have people coming around with the goal of offering it to you).

Anyway. I am tired and dissertation-frazzled, and while I have enjoyed termendously thinking abour your reply I have no idea how much sense mine makes.

Edited at 2010-03-22 02:22 am (UTC)
Mar. 21st, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
Also, might I add that the danger of privilege is not in the blindspots that result, it is in the inequality of power and in the propensity of mankind to abuse that power. Privilege and oppression are mechanisms of power. In this instance, the only way that the scope can widen (as you put it) is for those women with power to divest of their power. The marginalized mommybloggers cannot gain power and influence in the blogosphere without in-vesting themselves in the mechanisms against which they seek to escape.
Mar. 21st, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Privilege
I think there are multiple ways of thinking of power though. I'd say not all power is oppressive, and that you can have power with as well as power over (especially in the blogosphere, which is relatively easily accessible).

I'm not sure how 'Power and Influence' in the Blogosphere are defined, because looking more closely at the definition might help with knowing how to go on.

Are power and influence in blogging defined by money earned, sponsorships, freebies, book deals? Or by a popular platform and a wide readership? (Sometimes the two can be the same, but not necessarily always; there are people who feel quite strongly they don't want to make money off their blog).

In the way that I see power sharing working for the above is a) Blogging communities (BlogHer for instance) seeking that their Official Staff members are as widely representative as possible of the different aspects of the blogging community. I know they already do some sponsoring of bloggers (e.g. there were a number of free scholarships for attendance of BlogHer 09) as well as things like "Blogs featured by the community" which draws attention and readers. I think all those mechanisms can be used to invite the less-heard voices into the MommyBlogging conversation (which by itself is an aspect of Blogging conversations).

b) Popular bloggers making a point of linking and highlighting and drawing attention to other bloggers who they feel have something worth saying/worth listening to. (To an extent people like Schmutzie and Maggie, Dammit already do this with some of the other blogs they moderate (Five Star Fridays and Violence Unsilenced, respectively).

That's what I mean by broadening scope and sharing power. These people are using up the popularity and regard they have built up to promote the voices of others, survivors of violence and good writers and both are very accessible and reliant on community participation. Those are the sorts of things that work very well (at least in my opinion) because more often than not they are about giving voice and recognition to the ordinary, rather than simply increasing the popularity of the Already-Popular, and I think there is a lot more scope for that sort of thing in the Blogosphere.

I'm tired, so I think I might not be understanding the last sentence fully, so please tell me a bit more (if you feel like it, obvi) what you mean by mechanisms against they seek to escape.

Edited at 2010-03-22 02:23 am (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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