Last week while I was away, Sweetney hosted (another) discussion of the term mommyblogger. Thanks to Elisa Camahort, I found it. The result, "Mommy+Blogging" is one of the best and most revealing discussions of stereotypes about moms-who-blog by moms and not-moms that I've enjoyed all year. Read it.
I've already weighed in on how I feel about the term mommyblogger for myself. And don't get me started about the other archetypes in the headline above. (Hey, I reserve the right to be all four of these characters. In the next hour.)
Instead, I want to address a larger question, one of self-determination. I wonder, would it be possible in 2006 for a bunch of bloggers to help each other turn the tides-o-soundbite-stereotypes? For me the question is how to do it--not why. Why is well documented and why is easy, given the ease with which new labels magically expand to shrink wrap and diminish great accomplishments, particularly those by women. My favorite case example is the term soccer mom, an interesting psychographic label for some American voters that was quickly abused and applied to virtually all women who vote. Never mind that women have been the voting majority in the U.S. since 1964, don't vote alike (duh) and many of us have never entered the ovarian olympics or demonstrated the voting pattern required to match the moniker.
These are the fingernails scraping my lexicon's chalkboard. Which leads me back to the question: How to stop the noise. The temptation is to respond in kind and play the sterotype game from the other angle. For example, I live in Silicon Valley. Give me a scene -- say, one Porsche Boxster, one cell phone, one single white male with an MBA and one side-part--and I'll give you 12 laugh-till-you-pee labels, depending upon my mood. A funny exercise. An easy exercise. And, ultimately, an empty exercise designed to inflame the problem.
The real answer is much less sexy and mucho harder. Particularly for a writer. I think the solution to counteracting labels that belittle women or that risk belittling any of us -- the elusive how -- is to give people the opportunity to define her or himself. In other words, shut up and ask first. Which requires listening. Label later, if you must, but only once you can do so with the full opinion of the label-ee.
That's what Sweetney appears to be doing. And by doing her own research, Sweetney has come up with some support for her own brilliant self definitions ("mutha blogga") and recruited new ones from her audience ("Awesometastic-kickassticblogger"). She's also given the mommybloggers (Jenn, Jenny and Meghan) a great forum in which to describe why they're embracing the term and working to take it back.
Not that it's easy. Read the dialogue closely and you'll see--this conversation ain't a group hug. This kind of hearty agreement-to-disagree is a beautiful and rare thing in online communities, particularly about emotionally charged identity issues. The blogosphere isn't exactly known for its civility in this quarter. As Jeneane Sessum (who knows a little something about women and blogging) recently wrote about what happens when this kind of dialogue isn't invited:
"So, if mommybloggers are cool with being called mommybloggers (i would say i am one sometimes, just like I'm a PR blogger sometimes, a tech blogger sometimes, a poetry blogger sometimes, and whatever else you want to call me save late for pizza), why does it piss so many women and men off?
"First, the very subject matter of children can ignite a firestorm among the bloggers--the SAHMs vs. the Working Moms vs. the Childless By Choice, vs. the Queen Mother. Everyone gets into the action and I've seen it escalate until someone takes down their blog or makes another kind of dramatic statement that says, you all suck!"
Jeneane's right. And, impressively, that isn't happening on Sweetney's blog. The women in this conversation are courteous and clear when they don't see eye to eye. And for me, the reader, I found it moved the conversation forward. I learned.
So now that I've watched the "how" in action, I'm prepared to call Sweetney whatever she wants. And better trained to ask other people too -- as well as demand I be asked in return.