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I’m Sierra. I live in the Boston area with my family.

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A Blog of One’s Own

by Sierra on March 16, 2010 · 36 comments

in news

Me, writing this post with a nursing babe on my lapMy corner of the blogosphere has been in an uproar over the New York Times article scathingly titled, “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.

I snapped off a retort on Strollerderby yesterday, but now that I’ve had a chance to think (and read) more about it, I have something more personal to say.

The issues with the article, for those playing along at home who maybe didn’t click through all those links, are that it suggests:

  1. Women who blog are neglecting or shortchanging their kids.
  2. It’s cute and funny that us wee little women think we’re doing something professional with our writing, when really it’s no more serious business than Tupperware parties.
  3. If by some chance we are making serious money, getting endorsement deals or accepting product sponsorships, we’re sleeping with the devil.

These are issues that have been on my mind a lot lately for personal reasons. I’m not exactly making a living blogging now, but I’m making more than “pin money”. I’m confident that by the time Serena hits kindergarten, I’ll be doing this as my full-time job.

I work my ass off. On top of being a full-time parent and running a morning preschool out of my house, I work about 25 hours a week blogging here, at Strollerderby, at Get Rich Slowly and other sites. I don’t even want to think about how many hours I spend using social media.

In addition to the visible work of writing, I’m constantly digging up new leads, writing and sending query letters, researching articles, conducting phone interviews, taking photographs, learning technical skills and networking. All told, I make about $10 an hour.

The fact that I love what I do to the ends of the earth doesn’t mean it isn’t work. Being able to work in the buff at 2 a.m., swear on the job and get paid to live out a childhood dream doesn’t make me unprofessional. It just makes me lucky.

Lucky and well-prepared. I have a master’s in writing. I’ve been a professional journalist since high school. I was a professional writer before I had a mommyblog, and I’ll be a professional writer when my kids are grown and I’m writing about menopause and bake sales at the senior center.

Of course, most women who write personal blogs about their lives as stay-at-home moms probably aren’t doing it professionally. For a lot of moms, a blog is a combination of high-tech scrapbooking and a social gathering, as the New York Times article suggests. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be mocked or belittled.

Whether we’re making money or not, all of us are making art. It’s possible that all these women writing, amateur or otherwise, are making some people just a little uncomfortable. Tupperware parties probably seem a little safer. The powers that be would rather see us consuming than creating. As Marguerite Duras wrote, “Men cannot bear a woman who writes.”

Because making art and sharing information is dangerous to the status quo. When Charlotte Perkins Gilman went mad with post-partum depression, her doctor prescribed a life of perfect motherhood in which she was charged never to touch pen or paper again. She happily ignored that advice, left her husband to raise their daughter on his own, and took to a life of travel, lecturing, writing and publishing an early feminist magazine. Her agenda did not include Tupperware parties, but I bet if she were alive today, she’d have a blog.

So would Virginia Woolf, who in A Room Of One’s Own makes the case that what women need to write is money and a room of their own to do it in. A blog creates a kind of virtual room for a woman, a space in which she can shout to the rafters, sob in frustration, curse a blue streak or share a little wisdom.

This is a lot more than a virtual version of girl’s night out. It’s a space where women can share our creativity, experiences and expertise in a wholly independent way.

In doing so we’re changing our lives. ChildWild began a year ago as my pebble in the wishing well: a wish for a larger voice, for a return to my profession, for a creative space to call my own. For the first time in my life, I’m claiming space and time to write every day. Beth Terry uses her blog to hold herself accountable in her efforts to give up plastic. Katy Wolk-Stanley shares the simple wisdom of her frugal life, Catherine Connors shares her heart.

Whether we’re helping each other make no-sew tutus or wearing those tutus to raise awareness about a fatal illness, women bloggers are changing the world, and the way that world is reflected in the written word.

When I saw Amy Goodman speak last week, she talked about the importance of a vibrant independent media, and the importance of a free, diverse online media.

I don’t think the role of professional journalists will be replaced by amateur bloggers. Yes, paper newspapers are going the way of the papyrus scroll, but they won’t take the entire profession of journalism with them. The world needs – and continues to create venues for – seasoned professionals whose entire job is to be the 4th estate and hold government and society accountable.

What the proliferation of independent bloggers does is loosen the stranglehold mainstream media has on information and opinions. Yes, there’s a lot of noise in the blogosphere, but there’s a lot of strong, interesting signals too. Maybe in time we’ll comprise a 5th estate holding the media’s big guns accountable.

For mamas blogging, we’re doing something more: we’re taking for ourselves a measure of the power enjoyed by male authorities. So many best selling parenting books are written by male doctors. Women writing about their own experiences offer a refreshing, powerful alternative to that “expert” advice.

Stronger and more experienced voices than mine have weighed in on this. You can (and should) read a great round-up of mommybloggers responding to the Times at Phd In Parenting.

By the way, the photo with this post is of me nursing my slightly sick, slightly disoriented toddler at 1:30 a.m. while I put the finishing touches on this essay. Which is exactly how I treat my kids while I’m “building my brand”. Put that in your patriarchy and smoke it, Mr. Mainstream Media.

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  • http://whiskeyinmysippycup.com/ Mr Lady

    That. Was. Brilliant.

    I am remiss to some much as comment on that article, but I couldn’t resist here. Bravo. Thanks to @mom101 for sending me over.

    [Reply]

  • http://mom-101.com/ Mom101

    This is simply spectacular. Besides all the fabulous points you make (and a Charlotte Perkins Gilman reference no less!) I'm so pleased to see a journalist standing up for bloggers. For some reason on my post, the majority of the dissenters with my POV were journalists who shared the perspective that we should just be happy that the MSM seeks to recognize us at all.

    So glad I found this.

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  • http://twitter.com/EmilyMcKhann Emily McKhann

    Sierra, I'm so glad to find you too (thanks Mom101 for the tweet). You have written so beautifully about the art form that is mom blogging and the validity and power of our voices, individually and collectively. I particularly love the Virginia Wolff reference. I am a new fan and look forward to reading your archives and visiting often.

    [Reply]

  • http://amandamagee.com amandamagee

    I have a mama crush on you. Thank you for this post.

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/eclectichw Bridget Reynolds

    thank you. from the bottom of my heart with teary eyes. i am new to the whole idea of mommyblogs, and seemed to have stubbled upon something magical and wonderful. i feel like i have an outlet for my experiences at home with my daughter besides my husband. it is so important that we have that voice, lest we go crazy. and i know that i have had some days that i have wanted to pull my hair out and scream, but reading the posts of the mommy bloggers i follow is a breath of fresh air and has a very calming effect. i know that i am not alone.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.thesnyder5.com/ Molly

    Simply outstanding. So well said.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.quentinfinch.com/ Ashley

    I've been following this conversation with interest because I work with a lot of bloggers, but I often feel as though I shouldn't chime in because I'm not a blogger per se. But your post moved me. I think I do have something public to say about this after all.

    [Reply]

  • http://ittybit.blogspot.com/ toyfoto

    I also felt the NYT's story's belittling of the goals of writers who are women was off topic in that piece. It's just an easy jab. The really great thing that comes from the article, though, is this conversation and others like it. Bravo.

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Say it, sister! Then drop me a link so I can read it. :)

    [Reply]

  • moominmolly

    As a photographer and a mom, my interest was piqued when three years ago, the Times wrote an article called “Baby on Board, and a Photography Business, Too “. Check it out! It's the same article, but with one major difference: it's not condescending.

    [Reply]

  • MommyMelee

    This is AMAZING. I'm so glad I found you via @mom101. Hell yeah, lady.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.themomoirproject.com/ Cori Howard

    I love this! I’ve been a journalist for 15 years and since becoming a mother, 9 years ago, have been writing more about what I am living as a mother that holding the 5th estate accountable for anything. Too hard to work in the mainstream media and be a good mom. For me.
    So now I blog too, and write books and articles…and teach moms how to write memoirs. I piece it together and somehow it works. And I’m grateful to be able to hold my children in my lap while writing my stories, grateful to be home when they are sick and need me, grateful to be making a living – however small – from writing on motherhood.
    I actually wrote an essay that was published in the anthology, Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood, about how I held my baby puking over a keyboard while conducting an interview with a criminal! Fun stuff. But better than pumping and crying in the bathroom.
    Thanks for cutting through all the crap in that NY Times article! Bravo…

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    The headline isn't exactly empowering either. But yeah.

    That's kind of reassuring. The Times is my favorite newspaper, and you
    know how pleased I'll be the day they run an essay of mine.

    [Reply]

  • moominmolly

    The headline is terrible, but not as bad as the belittling one you linked to. I couldn't finish reading the article because the headline kept bothering me.

    I'm fascinated that both articles were written by women, but perhaps I shouldn't be.

    [Reply]

  • johanna

    …hey, I recognize that sweater :)

    [Reply]

  • Seonaid

    You will be unsurprised to hear that you rock my world. *Such* an awesome response… I'm getting that room built, but I'm learning to write wherever I can in the meantime. Thanks for the great example!

    [Reply]

  • karen

    yaaaaay! I really loved the photo to go with it too. Write on, mama!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.wlbconsultants.com/ Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE.

    Thank you so much for this. I did the same thing with my little guy in the wee hours this morning as I finalized my own post on this topic.

    In the meantime I wanted to let you know something about Tupperware ladies. My mother was one. She opened up a large portion of New Zealand for Tupperware in the early 70s. And I grew up, literally, in the back of a large Tupperware warehouse. She was the their number one recruiter, cheerleader, business coach and motivational speaker. She earned more than my Dad ever did, and to be frank, it was the only time in my family's life when we had money.

    The reason I raise this? (And don't worry – I laugh as hard as the next person at Tupperware jokes). She gave it up. Because she felt overwhelmed, unsupported (not by my Dad, but the broader community) and marginalized.

    Even when we are good at selling Tupperware, they don't like us to fly. But she raised a daughter, who is in turn raising daughters, who are flying anyway.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.juliryan.com/ Juli Ryan

    Found your post via Mom101. LOVE how you compare mommy blogging to writing by Woolf and Gilman (with a quote from Dumas, no less). Yours is a very refreshing response to the snarky view of mommy blogging presented by the NY Times. Thank you.

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Thank you so much for sharing that story, and helping me see into my own blind spots and biases about women's work. Sheesh. This stuff is just endemic.

    Also, your mom sounds like an amazing woman!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.wlbconsultants.com/ Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE.

    I wish she knew just how amazing. And I wasn't criticizing you AT ALL! More reinforcing that even when we fit into the boxes they think it's OK for us to fit in, the broader world of work and sadly, other women, try to clip our wings. Enough with the flying analogy! Hope your little one is doing better.

    [Reply]

  • http://badgermama.blogspot.com/ Liz Henry

    You sum it up so neatly and with such a good head of steam. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  • melanieruth78

    I'm bummed that so many people saw it as a dig at mommy bloggers. I didn't read it that way. While I hate the term mommy blogger, and even worse hate the word blog, I don't think there's anything wrong with making a living at it whilst being a homemaker at the same time. JMO.

    [Reply]

  • Anneke

    I have just started to read your blog. This post is excellent. Your writing reaches many. I check your blog out daily. I'm up in Canada. I just happened upon it by linking form another blog that I follow, which I read becasue of a link of ANOTHER blog I follow etc. I think this community is wonderul, amazing, and significant. Thank you for writing.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.tinytwistcreative.com/ erin@tinytwistcreative

    I just started blogging a little over a month ago, and adore it. The article made me laugh. They did make it sound like a bunch of airheads taking over the blogging industry, which is sad, because I feel that most moms I know are truly authentic & seeking to make life the best they can possibly can for their kids. I wake up at 4:30 every morning when my husband heads to work, read my favorite blogs and write mine during that time. All that to say is thanks… I love your post, and your blog.

    [Reply]

  • http://fastforwardacademy.com/index-page-irs-enrolled-agent-exam-course.htm Ricca

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. My sister is a blogger and she has two young kids and I find it so amazing that she's able to manage everything. The picture you had with your kid, just reminds me of her since I've seen quite a few pictures of her looking just like that.

    [Reply]

  • schugarmama

    “Whether we’re making money or not, all of us are making art.” This is my favorite line. Well said, lady. Great article

    [Reply]

  • Pingback: Moms Who Blog in the News — ChildWild

  • Anon

    Unfortunately, most of the mommybloggers aren't quite in Virginia Woolf's calibre. Sorry, but it's ridiculous to even make the comparison. It's great that women are finding a space online to connect with one another, given how disconnected our lives are otherwise. But the seriousness and earnestness of it all is a little silly, and perhaps telling of how conflicted a lot of mommybloggers are about what they're doing. Otherwise they wouldn't care so much.

    At the end of the day, this strikes me as mostly a lot of dissatisfied, white, middle-class women whining about the choices they've been fortunate enough to have in their lives.

    And before you jump down my throat, I'm a mom with a blog myself. Which I also get done (along with freelance writing and other legit work) during nap times and late nights. It's just, once I'm done changing the poopy diapers, I don't really feel like investing any more time into it by blogging about it. There are just so many other interesting things going on in the world (and in my brain).

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Virginia Woolf was a dissatisfied, white, middle-class woman whining about the choices she was fortunate enough to have.

    Something else I have in common with her is a willingness to attach my name to what I write, even when I'm saying something my audience probably doesn't want to hear.

    [Reply]

  • Anon II

    I'm going to stand up for anonymous here.

    First of all, I too am commenting anonymously. I made a good faith effort to log in, spent a couple of minutes trying to post that way, and bailed when it didn't work. I'm a casual blogger and have an OpenID account, but I don't choose my browser and operating system to optimize my blog posting experience and I don't take it seriously enough to change my viewing habits to meet the conventions of the blogging world.

    Which leads into my next point: Most bloggers, of any stripe, are blogging the way our friends are tweeting or posting to Facebook. We post what we had for breakfast this morning, because it's the only thing we can think of at 7:30 in the morning while we eat our cornflakes. “Mm, cornflakes!” “Cornflakes again this morning.” “Am beginning to get tired of cornflakes.” We don't set aside time for blogging, so our blogs focus on whatever happened in the hour leading up to being able to find time to log in. “Kids are finally in bed, so I have a chance to log in now.” “Kids went to bed easily tonight. I wonder what I'll blog about.” “Youngest fussy. Sorry for short post.” Of course there's no literary merit. It's not about the literary merit. It's about feeling a little less alone in the wilderness.

    The issue is conflating “mommyblogging” with “breakfast blogging”. Comparing a breakfast blog to journalism doesn't do either one any good. Obviously the NYT article belittles the journalists by lumping them in with the diaperbloggers (if I may use that term to mean mommybloggers of no literary merit). But insisting that diaperbloggers be considered alongside Virginia Woolf just invites scorn and condescension of the “aren't you cute” variety.

    [Reply]

  • http://childwild.com Sierra

    Virginia Woolf's case, in A Room of One's Own, is that women historically have failed to make great literature because they lack necessary resources to do so: privacy, time and space to think and write, many hours in which to write total crap, money to support themselves while doing so.

    Sure, most bloggers are making neither memorable literature nor substantial money. In some sense that's entirely beside the point. Woolf wasn't saying that every woman would write well given the opportunity, but that widespread opportunities to write would lead to a few women becoming great. Most middle-class men who've put pen to paper throughout history have sucked too, but a few have grown up to be Hemingway or Nabokov.

    My point is not that your average mom with a blog is writing anything should be shelved alongside Woolf's work in the Western Canon, but that we're embodying the cultural change Woolf wanted to see happen – breaking down the barriers that stop housewives from becoming writers.

    When I first read the NYT article, I wasn't personally offended by it. I just shrugged it off because it was so obviously not about me and what I do as a professional writer. Then I re-read it after seeing a lot of other prominent, professional bloggers and journalists get upset and realized that in fact it was about me – it was just assuming that no mom with a blog could be doing anything other than exhaustedly recording the minutiae of her day.

    Which, now that I think about it, was sort of Virginia Woolf's stock in trade. Have you read Mrs. Dalloway?

    (aside: can you e-mail me privately and let me know what failed for you when you tried to log in and leave a comment? If it's something I can fix, I certainly will)

    [Reply]

  • http://www.mamabirddiaries.com the mama bird diaries

    Very well said. Beautifully written.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.mamabirddiaries.com the mama bird diaries

    Very well said. Beautifully written.

    [Reply]

  • BlakeKirkpatrick

    In cases where there are allegations or proof of abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional), supervised child custody issues visitation may be ordered. Supervised visitation requires that a monitor be present during the entire visit. Sometimes a relative or friend of the non-custodial parent qualifies as a monitor.
    Other times a neutral, professional monitor must be hired.

    [Reply]

  • http://redhatsocietystore.com Swimsweetie50

    Keep doing what you love and it will all pay off. It is inspirational to find someone that is pursuing a dream rather than a dream to be rich. It is so important to follow your passions.

    [Reply]

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