Thursday, November 3, 2011

What the World Needs Now: Gendered Rhetorics and Daddy Bloggers

hands on keyboard

Nathan Hegedus has a post on why daddy bloggers are an important and necessary part of the new parental landscape. 

Before we dissect that, let's look at an earlier article from this week about mommy bloggers. Lisa Belkin takes a look at a study on mom bloggers that finds:
while only 14 percent of American mothers have a blog . . .  those who do are more politically aware, socially involved and, might I add, better educated, than the average woman with children (52 percent have a college degree compared with 37 of mothers nationwide.) They are wealthier too (with an average household income of $84,000 which is $14,000 higher than the national average.)
Belkin ends by reflecting on some of the ways blogging (and the communities created through blogs) has   shifted cultural expectations: "I have seen many a time when a parent's mind was changed by the virtual conversation."

A related conversation is touched upon in this article by Courtney Martin. Here, Martin explores the role that feminist blogging has played in organizing the feminist movement and shaping the future of feminist philosophy.  She goes on, however, to discuss the problem with feminist blogging: 
Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the executive editor of, explains, “Blogging has become the third shift. You do your activist work, then you have a job to make money and then you blog on top of that. It’s completely unsupported.”
It was with these two articles in the back of my mind that I found Hegedus' post about daddy bloggers.

He discusses a recent (and amicably resolved) spat between a mom blogger and a dad blogger which involved some power dynamics. He discusses how the spat should teach us to be allies:
Mom bloggers need to realize something.  Dad bloggers are your allies.  These are the guys you should be nurturing, supporting, like sweet little fuzzy chicks tottering around the farm yard.  Like Avant says, these are the guys who are creating the new paradigms of fatherhood, the ones in which dads will not dump much of the child care and housework on women.
With that, Hegedus touches upon a point that is really important to me, and one I talk about a lot on this blog: gender equality is not sustainable if it means only that women get the freedom to take on roles traditionally ascribed to men. In that model, women either have to take on double-duty, or the work traditionally done by women goes undone (and that work is important, so that's really not an option). In order for gender equality to be truly reached, men have to also be free to take on roles traditionally ascribed to women. The ideal is that individuals then take on the duties that make the most sense for their skill sets and interests (and divvy up the work no one wants to do fairly, without concern for gender stereotypes).

This concept of individualism within the collective shift toward gender equality is an important one, as Hegedus points out in his post:
Many, if not most, guys are in some sort of trouble, with either their traditional jobs slipping away or their traditional family role disappearing. You may lack sympathy for this -- the dominant gender finally falling -- but it is confusing and hard for well-meaning, individual men. 
So, yes, the world is still an unfair place for women. We do not get equal pay. We live in a sexist world where objectified images of our bodies are used to sell everything from perfume to hamburgers. Little girls are told to be princesses when they play while little boys get to be whatever they want. We're still called sluts if we enjoy having sex, risk getting raped and then blamed for it because we wore a short skirt, and are generally still oppressed in a patriarchal system. But we have to recognize that's a societal system and that changing it means giving up some previously closed off spaces to men who are a part of the changes to that system. I blog because it helps me figure out my place as a parent. I read parenting blogs for the same reason. Men's participation in that system of communication is imperative to creating a more equally shared ideal of parenting. 

Hegedus concludes with this:
Mom blogger communities are a digital marvel, a true sign of how the internet can foster connection, not alienation.  But maybe now it's time to open the doors. This is not about stealing mom-blog ad revenue or pushing men to become more feminine or parent like moms. It is about reimagining the masculine in a world of innovation, equal relationships and shared parenting.  That requires collaboration, and that would be good for everyone.
By pointing out the work that mom bloggers have done to foster community and collaboration, I think Hegedus steps into some considerations of gendered rhetorics. Perhaps the reason that mom bloggers have created this collaborative community (though we all know that it's not always collaborative, and the parenting battles can get pretty heated), it is because many of the women who have created them have done so with a female rhetoric.

What's a female rhetoric? Well, when Kathleen Parker used it to explain that Barack Obama might represent (rhetorically) our first female president, she defined it like this:
Generally speaking, men and women communicate differently. Women tend to be coalition builders rather than mavericks (with the occasional rogue exception). While men seek ways to measure themselves against others, for reasons requiring no elaboration, women form circles and talk it out. 
So, putting together all of these things--the potential power of mommy bloggers to change the conversation, the power of blogs overall to make cultural contributions to important causes (if they can manage to keep up with the technological trends and become profitable), the need for mom bloggers and dad bloggers to recognize themselves as allies, and the potential culturally-ingrained gender differences in rhetorical styles--we're left with some interesting intersections.

  • Does the collaborative nature of female-centered rhetoric hinder potential avenues for monetization? This Gawker article talks about the monetization problems of new media models of communication. It cites Shelia McClear: "you can freeblog for fun but don't spend too much time on it–real adults get paid. Jesus, I sound like a Dad, but seriously–do you want to be popular, or do you want to make money?" I think it's really interesting that she points out she "sounds like a Dad," tapping into both paternalistic images of protection and the male-gendered rhetoric that is more direct (and thus more likely to get you paid). Do females tend to undervalue (literally) their written and creative work? Does the collaborative nature of that work further a system that does not have monetized avenues? Is that a problem?
  •  What are the risks for giving up female dominated spaces to allow male voices? How does this correlate with the risks of giving up the power of traditionally female roles in other realms? In research on equally shared parenting, one of the biggest struggles for women is giving up the power that comes with being the primary caregiver. Having the final say in everything from which clothes the baby wears to what color the walls get painted can be a powerful position, but it is one that must be given up if caregiving is to become a collaborative space where those decisions are made together. 
  • What are the benefits of allowing more male voices into a traditionally female-dominated sphere? How would this collaboration look? Since mommy blogging has a deeper and longer history, will daddy bloggers fall into more feminine rhetorics in an attempt to fit into already created spaces? Will a new rhetoric--one that takes the strengths of both feminine and masculine rhetorics--emerge? Could the combined strengths of this potential new rhetoric help bloggers--men and women--better navigate the complex world of monetization and profit in the quickly changing new media landscape?

Photo: Mike Traboe 


  1. Your article was very informative and well thought out. I love reading "dad blogs" to see the "other point of view"...typically it helps me to see that my husband is not alone in his male view of the world/raising kids!

  2. I pretty much agree with everything here. Just to point out, though, one tiny thing: little boys don't get to be "anything they want" -- they're constrained in a different way to a different set of possibilities than little girls. Obvious example: it's generally frowned upon for little boys to want to be princesses. Gender stereotyping of toys and experiences in children reinforces those stereotypes on both sides.

    If anything, I'd say that women, due to the concerted pressure of the feminist movement for decades, have done a much better job at opening up play possibilities for girls than men have for boys -- it's more okay for a little girl to play with Legos than it is for a little boy to play house, for instance.

    I hope that more interaction between mom and dad bloggers can help both sides break boundaries down further for both genders!

    1. Good point. That's especially true in "dress up" and anything that has to do with physical appearance. And you're right that it is equally damaging to little boys' full range of expression.

      I think that the range of acceptable expressions is narrower for girls than it is for boys, but the boys probably face harsher cultural penalties for deviating from their accepted norms than girls do.