OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: Radical Blogging Moms
Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer '10 panel: Change Agents: Radical Blogging Moms - Don't Even Think About Not Taking These Moms Seriously. Click here for more info.
This panel took place on Saturday, August 7 at 10:45 am and ends at noon Eastern time.
We’ve explored how “mommyblogging is a radical act,” but what happens when truly radical moms blog? For these bloggers motherhood isn’t the topic, it’s a catalyst for a new level of activism. Does naming motherhood as a fundamental part of these women’s identities impact how seriously they are taken? At the intersection of motherhood and activism, you’ll find these bloggers raising their voices, raising the roof, raising a stink and raising the visibility of their target issues, all while raising their kids.
Political activist Joanne Bamberger moderates this conversation with Annie Urban (author of PhD in Parenting), who uses her blog to explore the social and corporate barriers to parenting; and Stephanie Roberts, whose projects, including Picture Hope, are an amazing example of using her blogging force for good.
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Joanne: What is radical about what we're doing with our blogs?
When I found out the title of the piece, I was surprised -- I never considered myself to be radical. I've always been a career mom, focused on making money and on the path of creating the life I thought I was supposed to have. When I became more entrenched in photography, I left my 12-year career to be a documentary photographer. It's changed my life in a very radical way.
"I've always been this person, it was just undercover."
I'm very focused on raising my children to be extremely independent, self-confident, passionate. But I realized I wasn't really doing that myself. I really needed to start with myself and be an example. I had to get comfortable with the fact that I wasn't going to be the "room mom." I've never baked cupcakes in my life. I want to be an example of living your passion.
I've tried to be as transparent as I can be about this transition [on my blog]. I'm forcing myself to go in to very difficult places, and share that experience with people as it's happening. Ex: visiting someone who lives in a mud hut and doesn't speak my language.
I didn't just flip a switch. The transition has been difficult.
I've always been political. When I became a mother, I realized all these things that the government, that other mothers, that men, that companies are doing to harm our children. I got upset over the way the media treats us, the way companies treat us. Things started to fester -- and then I started to write.
The first "radical" post I wrote was after a report came out that bed-sharing (with infants) was dangerous. It showed a lack of trust in parents. These types of reports upset me, and so I took to my keyboard.
I got a great reaction, and brought in a lot of people from other sites/places.
I had always been a political person, but didn't know HOW political until we adopted our daughter. Everything that made me upset made me angrier because now I have a daughter. I thought we'd get equal pay for equal work by the time I was an adult; what if the world still looks like this in 25 years?
I realized that when I started to put things like this on my blog, I engaged lots of other women who were coming from the same place.
We've really found our voices online to help advocate for change -- whatever that change may be.
I made the good mistake/bad mistake of putting the word "mom" in my blog title, and discovered that people weren't taking me seriously because of that.
Joanne: How does being a mom affect how you're perceived?
The photography business is largely male dominated. In the world of photography, it's easy for a man to generalize that you're a wedding photographer or a portrait photographer. It's been challenging to get over that stereotype.
A lot of times when I talk to people, share my work, I get asked, "God, you're a mom? How do you leave your children at home when you're traveling all the time?" My kids understand that this is what I do. When I'm home, I'm with my kids. But I'm bringing a different example of what being a mom can look like -- especially to my small hometown in Georgia.
I was taken aback by how mothering issues weren't being taken seriously at all. It wasn't until I was a mother that I felt that my words didn't carry the same amount of weight as they had before.
I wrote a response to a blog post called, "Why are all bloggers male?" The writer dismissed mommybloggers outright, in addition to ignoring the women in all other spaces (tech, politics).
I wanted them to understand that I'm writing about very serious sociological and policy issues, and that I should be listened to.
There are situations where I'll have a good cry (because of backlash). Ezra quote: "If you're going to piss people off, you better do it well." I'm going to post my opinion and I'm going to do it respectfully.
Joanne: In what way do you prepare to write about something radical and/or controversial?
What I like to do is arm people with information. I like to give people links and resources so they can learn more and engage. I want readers to be involved in the cause. I think about what the actions should be: boycotting, posting on Facebook, calling legislators, etc.
Joanne: Stephanie, how have you used your work to engage people?
With the Picture Hope project, we're seeking out icons of hope. People who may not be seen by people anywhere else in the world. There's so much out there we're not seeing. I'm trying to go out and share those stories. The audience for these images is everything.
I want people to rethink the way they've thought about things. I've always wanted to combat racism, for example. My photography is one way I can do that.
In my small, conservative town I documented a married lesbian couple. Not because I'm condoning it, but because I'm exploring it. I want to show what love can look like in different ways.
Q: Stephanie, [tell us more about why/how] you include your personal stories when you're writing about photo pieces.
It takes me several months to process an experience. I'll write about how I felt, something that's interesting to me, something someone said that's interesting to me.
For me, the most difficult thing to write about are things I feel conflicted about myself. I'm more confident writing when I have a clear opinion. When i'm conflicted, it's much more difficult. It feels like I'm putting myself out there more, and the feedback feels different.
Joanne: What reaction do you get when they sense you have that conflict? Is it good? Bad?
Both. Some people will say, "I support you no matter what your decision is." Related to Nestle and my attendance at BlogHer, some people wrote me to say " I can't respect you anymore."
Audience Question: How do you manage your emotional response to reactions coming form your community?
I'm not a person who handles criticism well. I've had to develop a really thick skin. When I see something I want to respond to immediately, I have to wait. I have to let it sit so I don't respond emotionally and so I think about what I'm going to put out there.
I haven't had many negative comments, but sometimes people are uncomfortable with my work. But I've found that when someone leaves a negative comment or offers a different perspective on my work, it helps me get clearer about my own perspective. It either broadens my mind or helps clarify what I think or feel.
Disagreeing with ideas is one thing, but personal attacks on me or my family are not okay. When personal attacks are from a stranger, that's not so bad because it's easier to dismiss, but ,personal attacks from a real reader, that's upsetting. Generally negativity fuels me to greater activism. I also have a really good community, and that helps. Sometimes if I get a negative comment, I'll just approve it and wait for the community to respond.
Audience Question: How does your family feel about you being "radical"? How are they supportive?
It hasn't had a big impact on my family. I mostly blog at night when the kids are in bed. I haven't had to take a lot of time away from them to do this, so it's easy that way.
I have a supportive husband, so that helped financially. But photography is my love. I hope it inspires people to act and to do some worthy things. I'm also rethinking the physical situation of my house and my property. I've dealt with a lot of people who have very little, and it's quite a lovely existence. I don't care as much about the physical things anymore.
I've been lucky as well to have a husband who's working. The longer I've been writing a political blog, the harder it is for me to get freelance work. I don't know if that's directly correlated. I think there's always a risk when you put things out here that are controversial, but I don't have separate identities or names.
I actually use a different name, different Twitter handle, and Facebook address for my personal/professional life versus my blogging life.
When you want to move to a field that doesn't pay, there needs to be a blend. You can't just do what you want to do 100% of the time, because of economic realities. So I sometimes have to work corporate gigs to help support my passion.
Audience Question: When you know you're writing about something really controversial, and you're taking on someone who can crush you (like Nestle), how do you prepare?
I do my homework. I choose my words VERY carefully. I research extensively and am very very careful. But sure, there is an element of fear as well. I watch and monitor. There's fear and satisfaction in seeing that these big companies and government agencies reading my blog. I hope they're listening to what I'm saying, but I do worry sometimes.
Audience Question: Would you rather see radical posts on radical blogs? Or is it okay for radical posts on "regular" blogs.
There's power in having radical posts on personal blogs. That way it moves from being a rant and into something real and personal that has greater impact.
I separate my identities because I don't want someone looking for my professional work getting 10 posts about breastfeeding. I have completely separated them. Sometimes I tell professional prospects about my blog. But I don't want my sister-in-law or clients to be bombarded with all my activist content, because there's a LOT of it.
Audience Question: What about the financial impact on your families of being a radical blogger? Is there conflict in your homes about that?
I would not say that there's been conflict, but we do have conversations. Blogging isn't necessarily expensive itself, though the expenses of traveling for conferences comes up a lot -- is it the right thing to invest in? I have a book coming out in January so it's easy for us to justify the conferences this year.
My husban's been really supportive. It's challenging to be in a position of making less money than you were making previously, but I knew that my income would plummet and it would take a long time to get my income to maaaaaaybe 50% of what it was before. But I also knew that if i followed my passion, the money would follow eventually. And it has, but it's very slow.
There was some conflict, but it wasn't monetary. It's "Okay, if you're going to put yourself out there, and take positions that people won't agree with: how does that impact us? Not just as a family with privacy issues, but what if we get sued?" That's been an area of conflict there, protecting our family legally and with safety issues.
We haven't had conflict about finances but about time. I can usually balance my blogging time with the rest of my time, but sometimes there are urgent issues that come up that are harder to manage.
Audience Question: When you write radical posts, you don't necessarily change any minds. So…what do you do?
I beat my head against the wall. Because right now, arguments in comment sections are what passes for political commentary.
I ask people who are negative and of opposing viewpoints "why?". I try to engage them and have conversations with them, and not let them get away with just saying "You're wrong." I also like to tell stories, share my experiences, to illustrate my points.
Audience Question: It takes a long time to put together political posts (that are well researched). How do you manage that?
I've taken time from work when I've had to address urgent issues, but I do a lot of writing through my work, and writing comes very quickly for me.
I do spend a lot of time working with images, and writing is harder for me. But Twitter is great. Twitter is a great way to break up points, and get them out there, without getting caught in having to write long posts.
Agreed: Tweets and Facebook comments can be really effective when you don't have time to sit and write a full post.
Audience Question: Is society ready for women to be wrong? Can you change your mind and rescind something you said earlier?
I haven't had a lot of negative comments about changing my mind. Women seem to be pretty understanding. It's frustrating when I change my position to get snarky comments when I do change my mind, because I feel like I'm being open- It's hard not to be snarky right back, but that doesn't get us anywhere.
Audience Question: How do you do trans-partisan conversation, especially when taking positions on policy? How can we do better at widening the welcome? Is it realistic to invite bloggers who don't agree with your policy positions to your site?
I have loyal readers, but some disagree firmly with a few of my stances. Some have left the community because of that. Some stick around and just disagree with me on certain issues. I have not gone out of my way to invite those who are opposed to me to my site. I'm not sure how one would handle that.
When there are dissenters, it's good to remind people that yours is a personal blog. It's real and it's yours, it's not some company/corporate blog.
Audience Question: How do you balance rants with hopeful messages? How do you balance all the "angry talk"?
I just begin the discussion by posting my photos, showing what I have seen. I explain my own experience, and let other people form their decisions from there.
I try not to "rant." I work really hard to make my posts thoughtful and even. When I'm writing about something I feel emotionally charged about, I wait to hit publish until I've thought about it and edited it.
I rant. But I try to mix up my rants with positive posts, and I try to give my readers actions to take whenever I can.
Audience Question: Is writing enough?
I need to attach myself to people who are active. As a photographer, I am a storyteller. It's okay that I'm not giving money away, and I can't join a nonprofit and live in Africa for six months. My role is to be present, soak in the experience, and then share that experience with the world.
Sometimes I get comments like, "Well why aren't you out there volunteering?" My blogging IS my volunteering; this is my contribution. I do it late at night in my home while my children are sleeping. That's my action.
Audience Question: What do you do when the comments go crazy, but not around the real point but instead around something like semantics. Can you bring the conversation back to the issue at hand?
I have had that happen -- where a poor choice of words sets someone off, or where they couldn't tell where I was being sarcastic. Even when I clarify and apologize, there doesn't seem to be anything I can do to reel the conversation in or refocus it.
Audience Question: What role does privilege play in what you do? What do you do to support the radical women of color? The Mami blogs?
I try to reach out to as many people as I can, but yes. Privilege plays a big part in what we do. We have an obligation to reach out, to link to people in communities that are different from our own.
I seek them in the subject of my work. I'm interested and curious and want to meet and be with people who are not like me. For me, i'm trying to expose and highlight and lift up people who may not otherwise been seen, heard, or understood.
Joanne: What's one piece of advice you'd give to encourage our audience to go for it! To go the way of radical blogging?
It was a little bit at a time for me. I'd say to be as open and honest as you can be, bit by bit. It didn't happen in a day for me: when I shared a little bit of some what was going on in my life, I got feedback from readers that encouraged me to continue down that path.
Figure out what it is that you're passionate about, and write about that. When you care, it will resonate with your readers.
AND, find how to get your voice out there. There are lots of places where you can have your voice heard -- work at making sure you're doing that.
Don't be too scared of the trolls. They will come when you're taking strong stances. They're there to try to silence you. Don't let them!