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A woman’s place is in the HTML

July 29th, 2005 · 8 Comments

Much ado about nannies has been in the news, as this Salon article points out [ via SprogBlog] When I read the New York Times article that Helaine Olen wrote (link updated thanks to Richard Silverstein’s comment below) describing the tense triangle of her, her nanny and her nanny’s blog, one section stood out to me:

But there was more to my advocacy. Suddenly, with her in my employ, I felt I was young and hip by proxy. I might be a boring mother of two, but my nanny, why, she dined in the hippest Williamsburg restaurants and rated the sexual energy of men and women she met. I was amused – and more than a bit envious.

I was about to turn 40. I’d been married almost 15 years. My ability to attend literary readings and art gallery openings was hampered by two children, and my party life was relegated to the toddler birthday circuit. I imagined the snoozefest that would ensue if I were to post:

Spent the morning at the Garfield Temple playroom. Tried to read Paul Krugman while other parents gave me dirty looks as my younger son attempted to filch their kids’ dump trucks.

Here is a myth loud and clear: Mommy-bloggers are boring. I believe Helaine Olen suffers from many misconceptions, and this is one of them.

For life is only as boring as you let it be.

Here are some bloggers who break that mold, to name just a few. It is possible to write about a playdate with dumptrucks in such a way that readers snort coffee and start rolling on the office floor from the laughter. It’s possible to write about spilled milk in a way that spills tears with its sensitivity and thought.

Even if one isn’t gifted with a sense of sharp wit, bold sarcasm or creative interpretation, a moms’ story is still worth being told. It doesn’t have to include a daily count of diaper changes or dirty laundry piles. Maybe it does. Those struggles are stories too. When we release our tension and share our secrets, we find hope. We can break through the isolation and stereotypes, through the myths and fears, and discover who we are and why we are alive.

Imagine what might have happened if Helaine Olen, instead of writing to the New York Times, had put her troubles into a blogpost instead. What if she had started writing as a mom, with discretion? She might have discovered that there are others who share her troubles too. I know because there are bloggers on my blogroll who have similar woes. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been necessary to fire her blogger nanny or publicize it in the Times. Perhaps she could have found a better solution and a better perspective.

Shelley Powers composed a powerful essay on women’s roles titled When We Are Needed, focussing in particular on what happened during World War II. One example in her post that struck me was the story of a woman who saved her house from a prairie fire while her husband was away. Sure, she may not have won a medal yet she too was brave. Think of all the wartime heroes who were here at home, who were the women manning the front lines in the factories and families, holding it all together day after day, through each disaster. Shelley quoted Emily Yellin, author of Our Mothers’ War:

Through my mother, and all the women in this book, I came to see that the small things, the less dramatic changes in the world, were sometimes the most revolutionary. And often those were the kinds of changes women effected.

The comments on Shelley’s post are vibrant and valuable. Emily Yellin posted an article she wrote for Time earlier this year in response to Harvard President Larry Summer’s comments on women. Yule Heibel described her experience in academia: even though some women “play by the rules” and absolutely knock themselves out, they still get relegated to the footnotes. I would imagine though that this is true for men as well.

So if I can spend my life working hard every day and there’s still a chance I won’t be noticed for what I do, if I can put my nose to the grindstone, so to speak, or in my case it might have been my eyeball to the microscope lens, and I won’t even be a footnote on the page, then perhaps I should focus on the people who will remember me no matter what. I may not be remembered in the textbooks or periodicals. My name may not hang on any Halls of Fame. But I will be remembered by my daughters and husband. While my girls may not understand the choices Ted and I have made so I can be at home with them, they will have a comprehension beyond words of who I was when I was with them and what we did together. Each day their neurons are creating more connections, storing memories in their minds that will shape their life.

To quote Emily Yellin, it is often the small things that are more revolutionary than the larger ones seen by our society.

Blogher created sessions titled Room of Your Own. Mommy bloggers decided to do one. Jenny at Three Kid Circus posted We’d like to explode some of the myths surrounding parents who blog. . I believe it is crucial to try to combat what Helaine Olen clearly illustrated through her New York Times piece. Life as a mommy has its ups and downs but it is not boring. Mommy bloggers are not boring. Any kind of daily activity has its ups and downs, its routines and doldrums. Those who have poured their lives into domestic details, into caring for children and home, need to have a voice. They need to be able to share their stories. They are revolutionary!

As Shelley and her commenters noted, women often do the quiet work and don’t rock the boat. Many women spend their lives caring for others, husbands, lovers, children, parents, neighbors, strangers. For many moms, days pass without hearing an encouraging word, without the praise of a boss or affirmation of a happy client. We tend not to rock the boat. Instead we put out the flames. We Supermoms function as Superglue, and often we need some glue to put ourselves back together when we have Humpty Dumpty days. Women are quiet heroes who can help each other, sharing stories and giving each other the support we need to survive. Maybe we need to rock the boat more here and there. But maybe we simply need to speak a little louder. Maybe we need to pick up the microphone – or rather pick up a blog and a few pieces of HTML.

Living on an island, homeschooling three children, I spend many days taking care of my family yet feeling isolated, seeing no one else other than the other four Leungs inside these four walls. My blog has built a bridge for me, challenged my mind, opened new ways of thinking and living, connecting me to others across continents and cultures. I’ve discovered I’m not alone.

That’s why I say a woman’s place is in the HTML. Not to say that a woman’s place isn’t also in OPML or XML or any other ML. Yes I’m making a pun from the phrase a woman’s place is in the home. Controversial statement aside, whether or not she belongs in the house, she certainly belongs in a blog.

It is the small things that are sometimes most revolutionary, to paraphrase Emily Yellin.

We seem to believe as a society that there are only certain stories worth telling. The nanny hits the headlines, not the mother. Who wants to hear about a housewife – unless she’s desperate and lives on Wisteria Lane.

No matter how small or worthless a mom may think her life is, it has value. She has value. She has a voice. She should speak and be heard.

This is one of the reasons that I came to Blogher this weekend, why I folded piles of laundry and cooked food so I could leave my family for a weekend. I want to be here to encourage other women. I want to break down stereotypes. I want to build community. I want to hear more voices!

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8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kristen // Jul 29, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    Have fun at Blogher! I’m so envious, I wish I could have gone too.
    I agree with you …woman are usually in the background but they have so many important stories to tell. Have a wonderful time this weekend!

  • 2 Kristen // Jul 29, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    Have fun at Blogher! I’m so envious, I wish I could have gone too.
    I agree with you …woman are usually in the background but they have so many important stories to tell. Have a wonderful time this weekend!

  • 3 Yule Heibel // Jul 29, 2005 at 8:39 pm

    Great post, Julie, thank you. One reason Helaine Olen presumably wrote what she did in the NYTimes is because she got paid to write something …funny, engaging, yet without consequence — which neither you or I do. If I were paid to write what I do, I might tilt or slant things differently, no? All the same, that’s no excuse — and your critique of Ms. Olen is absolutely right on. Ironically, I just posted another comment on Shelley’s blog entry about Google (see http://weblog.burningbird.net/archives/2005/07/29/to-google-pregnancy-is-evil/) that having a baby is a sexual act, and that this society is too afraid of women’s sexuality. I’m afraid I rather lost my temper, and someone will probably say “hysterical” or “bitter,” but to hell with that…

    Have a great time at Blogher — I can’t go, no money…. Heh, maybe I should have spent some time trying to get gigs with NYTimes-type publications, instead of blogging for free…? ;-)

  • 4 Lisa Canter // Jul 30, 2005 at 12:02 pm

    I put a post up about how great this post is but it doesn’t show in your other blogs commenting option. Oh well – great post!

  • 5 Nancy White // Jul 31, 2005 at 10:16 am

    Julie, your post (and the amazing mommy bloggers at Blogher) were a good reminder to me that not only are each of us of value, in whatever path we take, but that each of our experiences brings our unique voice to our writing. That is worth tons.

    It is easy to dismiss a sector: Teen bloggers, mommy bloggers, fashion bloggers, political bloggers, sex bloggers. We may find some of them foreign to our experience and assume they are of little value.

    But peeking in, getting a sense, reading by first withholding our judgement (hard for me) can open new vistas.

    There is no one blog form. Blogging is a way to express ourselves and in that, there is no one form, no one practice. What is shared is simply our voices.

  • 6 Richard Silverstein // Aug 1, 2005 at 2:01 am

    Julie: i’d suggest that you use a permanent link to that NYT article since your link has died. Try this:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/17/fashion/sundaystyles/17LOVE.html/partner/rssnythttp://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/17/fashion/sundaystyles/17LOVE.html/partner/rssnyt (have you disabled html in comments?). That should work better.

    Also, if I might modestly put myself forward as someone who tries to blog thoughtfully about children/family/parenting (though my blog is not solely about those topics), I’d like to do so.

  • 7 Jenny // Aug 1, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    You crack me up – I love the title of this post! I regards to the content here… well said!

  • 8 Jenny // Aug 2, 2005 at 8:32 am

    It was so wonderful to meet you! This is a wonderful piece… says everything I hoped we captured in our session. Thanks for sharing your articulate, humorous and honest voice with all of us.

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