Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Blanket/Punching Dilemma: On Rape and Mommy Blogs

I am currently consumed with gendered rage. Perhaps you too have been bewildered about the rape and assault of the journalist Lara Logan in Egypt. Perhaps you have felt pommeled by the same message coming across any kind of writing about sexual assault. There's the classic "She should have been more careful." The Julian Assange- business gives life to the always charming "Was it 'rape' or was it rape-rape?" There are the speculations over someone's sexual history, attractiveness, motives. A victim's motives. It really does make me rather sick.

I can't express myself properly on the subject because there is something utterly debilitating about that creeping sense that society, to varying degrees and shades of consistency, is up against you. I can't quite decide whether I should go out and punch people or just curl up in a blanket and cry. Neither seems a satisfactory option.

So I direct you to places where people have said it better, provided more context and been more direct. I am hoping I can nudge The Slightly Disgruntled Scientist and Laurie of Fieldnotes from Fairy Land to weigh in this as well: I know they have thought about the issue a lot and have challenged people and organisations on their attitudes to sexual assault before.

In  What Not to Say About Lara Logan Mary Elizabeth Williams talks about how quickly commentary on Logan's ordeal turned to her attractiveness or even resentment over the attention she would get over the assault. 'Cause what's rape but a savvy career move?

In Unspoken Judith Matloff talks about how common sexual assault of journalists is, and how hidden. The rapists are colleagues, guards, translators, the local police: people whose support is essential to the job getting done. Women don't report assaults because they don't want their employers to see them as a liability. 'Cause what's rape but an HR paperwork nightmare?

In Time to end the idle smear of Assange's Swedish accusers Michael Brull makes the radical suggestion that "Those who make an accusation of rape should not be subject to scurrilous public attack, to derision, to trivialisation and so on. They should be given the same presumptions of innocence as anyone else." I touched on this earlier here, and I'm glad the argument lives.


If you want to look at less traumatic marginalisation of women, you can read about New York Times' not-so flattering article about a one-day conference for "mommy bloggers", or women who run parenting-oriented blogs, Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand. PhD in Parenting outlines the article and links to many responses, who take issue either with women's professional blogging being cast as a (child-neglecting) hobby, or the belittling attitude towards the writing work of women more generally and mothers more specifically.


Next time someone tells me they're not a feminist, I'll throw off my blanket, punch them in the face and ask them two questions:



"What's wrong with you?"


  1. (I'm sorry, this ended up rather longer than I intended. Hopefully the links are interesting.)

    It's ridiculous that some of the same people who agree that Wikileaks is "important for democracy" are willing to completely forget the most basic principle of democracy: the right of anyone to be treated fairly under the law... yes, even if they are, or are accusing, someone famous. (Ridiculous, but not unpredictable.) But on top of this is the rather horrible attitude that rape apologism, victim blaming and pompous pontification about "what is rape, really?" are all absolutely fine topics for unbalanced, uncritical, unqualified public discussion and are "important discussions to have."


    There are so many people who will demand citation and qualification from someone prepared to comment on a scientific issue, but think they're qualified to talk about subtle and insidious cultural problems without ever having picked up a book on it themselves. Case studies? Interviews with the police, lawyers, counsellors, doctors, judges, victims and perpetrators? Cultural and historical analysis that convincingly describes how, yes actually, a lack of women in engineering or judging mummies for caring about their blogs is fundamentally connected to rape (and rape apologism, and mischaracterisation of rapists).

    Naaah, that's not evidence, it's all just indoctrination, right? And here's this SCIENCE (aka. ethnocentric survey of 15 people attending the same university campus with no control group) that PROVES that women wear makeup to help them pick berries to improve their childrens' immune systems.

    Pfft to that too.

    But, of course, thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect these people often dominate the more public discussions, because anyone smart enough to know about privilege, or the "hidden brain," or making the invisible visible... well, they're afraid they might just be waving their privilege around too.

    If someone doesn't identify as a feminist, but is willing to listen in good faith to your arguments, I'm okay with that... up to point. The point is either (a) when, after hours of debate, they say "I just don't agree with feminism because «something that has nothing to do with feminism that they read in some anti-feminist opinion piece»" despite you showing them the dictionary entry, or (b) when they are clearly espousing feminist concerns and ideals, but refuse to associate with an established movement and want to start their own, thus dividing all of our collective efforts and dooming us all to repeat the same activism with the signs changed.

    But as for the loud-mouthed anti-feminist proclaimer, or the person who inevitably says "feminism was important decades ago, but it's all just whingeing now," my standard response is along the lines of, "feminism is about the same things now as it was forty years ago — the rights of women to be treated equally to men, and exposing and criticising the sexism that prevents this. Which of those things are you 'anti,' exactly?"

    Then I will call you so that you can punch them.

  2. I'll help with the punching. I had to take a break from from all my feminist blogs (I got too sad) for a few days and completely missed this story. has a great(terrible?) list of comments about the story. Savvy career move, really?

    The term "mommy blogger" makes me cringe but also reminds me how much internalized misogyny I am still dealing with.

  3. I just thought I'd be a bit contrarian about the last point because I have absolutely no experience whatsoever with being a Mommy or writing a Mommy blog.

    I agree that the article comes across as pretty condescending, but I also think what a.b. just said is a good point: part of what seems so dismissive is the use of the word 'mommy'. In any formal situations like the article it comes across as kind of infantile, so the fact that it's used everywhere as an adjective doesn't help the situation. I suspect within the community it's coded very differently and with somewhat of a sly wink (we call ourselves 'Mommy' when it's actually incredibly complex), but for an outsider it just sounds weird.

    It's sloppy writing of the article to adopt that as the tone for the piece, but when I hear 'Mommy blog' it probably has similar connotations for me, as opposed to 'Parenting blog' (I'm still unsure how I'd feel about the term 'Daddy blog', especially since it sounds like a gay porn thing.)