Suzie at Echidne has a list up of the six things she’s learned from blogging–go check it out, and if you’re a blogger (or a blog commenter), add your thoughts in the comments over there or here below. Tell us what you’ve learned! (If you click on over to Echidne, you’ll learn all about Wiener Nougat.)
I’ve learned a thing or two–most of which I’ve already shared in my recent articles at the Journal of Women’s History and Common-place. One of the things we haven’t talked about here for quite a while is that motherhood or not-motherhood seems like a bigger deal online than it is in real life. In the JWH article, “We’re All Cowgirls Now,” I wrote:
I don’t want to give the impression that intellectual authority is simply a gendered problem—our identities are much more complex because gender is just one item on the long list of characteristics that mark us in both the meat and virtual worlds. While playing Historiann, I am clear about my sex (female) and my sexuality (heterosexual, married to a man) in real life, but I’ve chosen to remain deliberately ambiguous as to whether or not I am a mother. For the most part, this is because I blog with my professional identity up front, not my personal life or reproductive history: in other words, I blog as Historiann, not Mommyann or Not-mommyann. I’m qualified to write about history and politics because of my training and expertise in American history, whereas I don’t think that motherhood alone (if it pertains to me) would qualify me to write about anything other than my personal experiences as a mother. As a good feminist historian, I don’t believe that there’s anything essential, unifying, or eternal about the experience of motherhood. But, this refusal to identify myself either as a mother or a nonmother has also raised questions of authority. This becomes apparent when commenters disagree with me [when I write about motherhood from my perspective as an American women's historian]—they sometimes assume that I’m not a mother, and therefore question my authority to write about issues pertaining to maternity. I had thought that essentialism went out of style in feminism more than twenty years ago—but the blogosphere makes it apparent that essentialism about maternity endures, even among women in the academy.
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As a feminist intellectual, this conversation made me wonder: who is a mother, anyway? Is it only women who give birth to their children? Is it only women who lactate and nurse successfully? (Do they have to breastfeed exclusively for six months to count?) Do women who adopted or had in vitro fertilization qualify? What about women who had Caesarian sections or used pain relief in childbirth instead of having a “natural” or home birth? What about women who use manufactured formula—on purpose!—and don’t even bother with nursing or pumping? What about women who gave a child up for adoption, or women whose children died—are they mothers still? What about queer families, with perhaps two mommies or two daddies, and perhaps no actual genetic connection to any or all of their children—where do they fit into this insistence that the lactating body stands for motherhood, and vice versa? And I also wondered: what did my virtual identity have to do with my somatic body, and whatever persons or fluids may have or may yet issue from it—or not?
Is this important information to you when I write about either historical or contemporary childhood or motherhood issues? If so, why? If so, why not? Do some of you think I’m just being coy? Do any of you care? (FWIW, if any of you are interested in the article but don’t have access to a university library, let me know and I can send you a PDF.)