Not so long ago Quite a while ago (took an age to finish this post) I was asked about my decision to blog about my daughter. That is, the ethics of taking away some part of your child’s privacy on the Internet without their consent, or hell, without even their knowledge. My daughter is only three. Nothing about blogging or online journal writing is entirely private so you can read the entire question for yourself here (from the lovely Hand Mirror). Or otherwise an excerpt below.
Several of the bloggers I really respect, in particular bluemilk, put up pics of their children, and I guess this post is really a non-critical question to them:
If I share photos of my child am I just using them as blog fodder, particularly when they are too young to even understand that the shiny box with the red light is being used to record their embarrassing moments for humiliating enlargement later in life.
The Hand Mirror isn’t the only one to wonder about this. Not so long ago the biggest mummy blogger on the block (you don’t need a hint do you?) wrote about her decision to blog about her young daughter.
And I have every reason to believe that one day you will look at the thousands of pages I have written about my love for you, the thousands of pages other women have written about their own children, and you’re going to be so proud that we were brave enough to do this. We are an army of educated mothers who have finally stood up and said pay attention, this is important work, this is hard, frustrating work and we’re not going to sit around on our hands waiting for permission to do so. We have declared that our voices matter.
Dooce’s post came in response to ongoing criticism she receives for blogging about her child. It won’t surprise you to know that someone always wants to “save the children” if it means an opportunity for some moralising. Dooce’s post was full of righteous anger. Good for her. I, like others, appreciated Dooce’s strong defence of mummy blogging even though to be honest I also felt she was a little timid in dealing with some of the pointier ends of the topic, particularly given her level of celebrity. Dooce is such a successful blog that she appears to have achieved that rarest of things in blog land, a blog which makes real money.
Dooce being as successful as she is at producing her ‘reality’ for our entertainment, faces the moral dilemma of both earning the family income through this pursuit and also being responsible for protecting her family from exploitation and intrusion. Dooce writes, although decreasingly so, about intimate aspects of her life such as bouts of depression, constipation, a miscarriage, and arguments with her husband. It is the rawness of her family life, as glimpsed through her writing, which has attracted so many fans. There must be significant pressure to continue to provide this intimacy, and yet with growing fame the costs of lost privacy have also grown. She didn’t address these moral questions in any real way except to say that she takes these considerations into account when she’s drafting her posts. And I guess if Dooce didn’t want to tackle the thornier issues of being her very own Truman Show then so be it.. because frankly, she’s owed a little something just for herself.
Another big name blogger, Bitch PhD also occasionally blogs about intimate aspects of her life including her child, and she liked Dooce’s post. In reflecting on the criticism of mothers who blog about their children she said -
Guess what? “But what about the children!” has been an indirect way of criticizing women for acting like people ever since Mary Wollestonecraft suggested that maybe being educated *wouldn’t* make women into terrible mothers. (And before that, even.)
There is something to be suspicious about whenever people jump on a bandwagon against a practice almost entirely pursued by women, which parent blogging overwhelmingly is. Feminism has a rich history in the liberation of making the personal political – of destigmatising ordinary but shamed aspects of womens’ lives, and the solidarity which can come out of sharing one’s own story with other women only to find theirs are touchingly similar. Indeed, much of my interest in writing a feminist motherhood blog arose from this idea. And yet, to be honest, like some others I’m still rather ambivalent about the decision to blog about my daughter.
When I started writing here it was with several purposes, among them was the desire to create something for my daughter to read when she was older. I’m imagining she’ll want to know more about who she was and how she came to be than I could otherwise recall without referring to this blog. Maybe she’ll also want to know who I was back then, too. But as my interests with the blog have developed, I find myself increasingly writing about other facets beyond the personal and I frequently wonder about their compatibility with the journal of a childhood. This is particularly the case when I write about contentious topics, posts which attract new readers from varying sources, readers I don’t have any kind of connection with, and readers who have an axe to grind. These posts, I know, can incite debate if not outright hostility, and they attract trolls too. And all the time, just above or below each contentious post is a cheerful little post about my daughter, with a photo or two of her. I feel like I am rolling over and showing the trolls my soft underbelly. See, right here, that would really hurt. I’ve tried to prepare myself for the inevitable attack when it comes, and I’m trying to be ready to see it for the stupidity that it will be.. but still, soft underbelly, very soft.
My daughter’s privacy is an altogether different concern. I couldn’t have known it when I first started posting photographs of her, because she was a baby then, but at three she has emerged as a very spirited introvert. Already she is resistant to being photographed (see above), and it is probably only a matter of years before she refuses to have photographs of herself put on my blog. I will of course respect those wishes and I’ve seen other blog writers go through this process without incident, moving from blogs with photos of children to blogs without photos. I think it will be a comfortable evolution when it happens.
When I first started blogging I noticed something right away – the blog looked a lot more interesting with pictures. I post photographs of all of us on here but my daughter is definitely the main subject. I love looking at photographs of her and I photograph her a lot. With all these photographs being taken of her it isn’t so surprising that there are a lot more photogenic photographs of her than there are of me. This is one of the key reasons why she appears more on this blog than I do. And regardless of any future angst about privacy that she might have, I can at least assure her that I only ever posted her best photos on the Internet, which is more than I can say people have done for me. (Yes, those Facebook photos you keep tagging me in, enough!). With friends and family I try and respect their privacy by not including particularly identifying photographs of them on my blog.
Blogging, like any autobiographical writing involves an inherent moral judgement by the writer. Not just how much to reveal about oneself but how much to reveal about others? This blog is written with love. So, for instance I tend not to blog too much about my arguments and tensions with others, even though at times this has meant I’ve not talked about what are fairly universal and important themes in motherhood. I personally believe such blogging would be unfair – I’d control not only the version of events but the dissemination of that story. I apply these same cautions to talking about my child, some aspects of her development have been deliberately ignored here. My partner is deeply private, he prefers not to think about my blog and rarely reads it. And really, strangely I’m a relatively private person too, though with a “two drink limit” to sharing, much like that described nicely here by Breed ‘Em and Weep. I’ll post any thought/confession of mine that I’d be willing to share with strangers at a dinner party, after two glasses of wine, which is actually quite a lot (of sharing, but not even that much wine). Only twice have I questioned something I’ve written and neither of these revealing posts were specifically about my daughter.
Some people’s criticism of mummy blogging is about the potential threat of ‘stranger danger’. I realise there are some safety risks with blogging, but in reality, after considerable research, I believe they are minimal. Maybe I’m somewhat desensitised, because there are a lot of parent blogs out there, and I read quite a few of them, and they are posting a lot of photos of children.. and nothing much is going wrong. It is unlikely that many paedophiles are trawling blogs for a glimpse of your child’s underwear when sadly they have so many other more sinister, and even more benign, sources of material out there. Strangers aren’t really the biggest threats to your children. I live with a lot of anxiety about the danger of strangers, more than I care to, and I want to try and contain that paranoia within reasonable limits. I don’t want to succumb to hysteria. Having said that I’ll admit that one of the most disturbing elements of blogging is seeing the source of traffic to your site through your Google search results. Some seriously unfortunate terms somehow bring people to my site. I take heart from the fact that they’re ‘single clickers’, they don’t appear to be looking around my blog, they come, see it isn’t child p0rn after all and leave. All the same, in a nod to personal safety and privacy I don’t post any of our real names, no, not even my daughter’s (Lauca is a pseudonym). I respect their rights to embarrass themselves online to new friends and potential employers and not have me do it for them, so I’ve ensured that any Googling of their actual names won’t bring my site up. And in an effort to avoid being “Dooced” myself I don’t post about my work or even the topics I specifically write about for work, which has meant on occasion that I’ve missed some really good stories on my blog.
As a mother I will make mistakes, many of them, and parts of this blog may be among them, but in answer to the Hand Mirror’s question I can only say that I’m writing this blog with love and I’m exercising the caution of a mother (which is considerable). Right now my daughter wants to drink everything from a syringe. Her drinks are served with a syringe on the side so she can self-administer her drinks with a squirt into her mouth. Deliciously eccentric and very much her. Maybe she’ll find this tidbit to be over-sharing one day, or maybe she’ll enjoy these little insights. Becoming a mother is like no other process I’ve experienced, her life is tightly woven through mine. For the past three years I couldn’t have described my life without describing motherhood. When I come back to read this years from now, this little story of her insisting that her drinks be served with a syringe will remind me not just of her three year old determination but of other things too, things about myself. Of my exasperation with those kinds of demands. Of my incredible patience, patience I didn’t realise I was capable of, and which I may no longer be capable of when I get old. It will remind me immediately of that special experience of doing something silly for a small child because it is possible to bring them great, great joy (and harmony) by complying with such requests, that you do it for them even though you know it will double your cleaning up.
It won’t always be this way, her life story won’t always be woven so tightly through mine, it’ll be clearer one day where mine ends and hers begins. She’ll become more and more a separate individual. And when that happens, this writing and those photos will be a gift for her and I both.