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The internet: the last frontier of The Mummy Wars

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mummy warsYesterday, headlines trumpeted that “vicious cyber bullying by mothers towards other mothers has prompted the managers of one of the largest Facebook communities for parents to tell the mama trolls to shut up or get off.”

Hugely popular kids’ style website, Babyology told its followers: ”We have made the decision to remove at our discretion any negative or abusive comments made on our Facebook page… It’s hard enough being a mum without strangers literally berating you for how (or how not) you keep your baby warm, or your decision not to breast feed past four months.” Amen, sister.

Some readers will know that, some time before setting up HerCanberra, I spent a year or so as moderator on the now-bloody-huge website MamaMia. It’s a massively popular site and I’m so proud of what Mia and the team have grown it into.

So, why did I jump from a position that could have seen me part of what is arguably the most popular women’s website in the country today? Quite frankly, I was worn out. It seemed that Every.Single.Day. I was refereeing fights between mature women who suddenly, shielded by anonymity, became vicious attack dogs.

Issues to do with motherhood were the worst offenders: the old ‘working mum’ chestnut; breastfeeding vs bottles, natural birth vs c-section, kids’ parties, even whether there should be access to “Parents with Prams” car parking. All of them were, to not sugarcoat it, shitfights. Whenever I saw one of these topics on the editorial schedule, I knew to cancel any other plans I had that day, because I would be in front of the computer, desperately trying to smooth things over.

I was personally attacked a number of times. Called selfish when I dared admit I went back to work part-time after the birth of my first child…not so much for financial reasons, but for my own sense of identity and self-worth. I was told to harden up when, in an attempt to overturn the myth that c-sections were an easy way out, I spoke about post-operative pain. But, I got off easy compared to some women. Some were on the receiving end of such vitriolic remarks that they left and never came back to the site.

So much judgement, so little time. But why? Why do we feel the need to defend our own choices by attacking others?

I have friends who work full time. I have friends who are full time stay-at-home-mums. I have friends whose kids attend child care. I have friends who’ve breastfed; others who’ve bottle fed all three children. I have friends who’ve had natural, drug free childbirths. I have friends who had labours armed with all the drugs they could get their hands on. I believe they’ve made those decisions because they’re right for them and their family. And who are we to put the boot in by telling them they’re wrong? And how is it our business anyway?

Is it that we are so desperate to convince ourselves that we have made the correct choices in our own lives, that anyone who makes a contrary decision can’t possibly be right? It is our duty to tell them all the ways in which they’re wrong? Will we only feel good about ourselves when we’ve berated others into submission?

The Babyology team wrote: ”Unless you would make a comment face-to-face, then this negativity does not have a place in our online space.” And there it is. It’s as if a computer screen strips us of our manners and, sometimes, our humanity. It’s so easy to write a snarky remark without thinking of the harm it could cause. It takes a strong person to dismiss a cutting criticism as ‘just someone on the web’. Because, unfortunately, our feelings don’t come with an ‘off’ switch.

So why? Why does it happen? And why is this bullying rife amongst a community of mothers? Shouldn’t this be a time in our lives when we are teaching our children compassion and leading by example? Shouldn’t we be teaching them that old adage ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?’

One of the things I’m most proud of about HerCanberra is that we’re pretty much completely trollfree. People who read and comment on the site and our social media channels are respectful. While they may disagree, they always do so politely, and argue the point, not the person. So, thank you, to our community of readers. Thank you for taking up arms for the ‘Resistance’ against bad online behaviour. I salute you.

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6 Responses to The internet: the last frontier of The Mummy Wars

Natalie Cooper says: 30 July, 2013 at 9:21 am

I am so pleased this issue is getting media attention. As a first time mum, in those early months I naturally sought online advice of other mums and I was horrified at the judgement and vitriole of some of the contributors on these forums. It is safe to say I didn’t go back and instead returned to old school methods such as discussing issues with friends and family and even my local Mum’s group where I only found helpful advice and acceptance. It is such a shame that so many people use the online environment to share their nastiness and anger (why are they so angry??) instead of using it for the possibility of positive collaboration that it offers. Great move by babyology!

Nina Downes says: 30 July, 2013 at 10:05 am

Amanda – I’m glad HerCanberra is not like most of the rest of the Net. I generally avoid commenting on most things I read out there because goodness knows I don’t have the skin required to cop the abuse. I admire all those that put themselves out there and try and build a community in the face of relentness trolling and bullying! Online communities have definitely played a big part in my life since the bubs came along! Nina xx

Jane says: 30 July, 2013 at 11:27 am

It’s because of all the judgement flying around about motherhood that I am very reluctant to discuss it online or in person. I’ve made peace with the way I raise my daughter and i don’t want to talk about it anymore, especially not with strangers or casual aquaintences. These days even when I probably should ask for advice I usually don’t unless it’s from a trusted, credible source.

Slightly off topic – why is it never the father that gets judged harshly unless he’s totaly absent or doing something criminal? Just like mum’s there are some truely wonderful dad’s and some truely awful ones out there but dads are not held to the same standard as us mums. Being a mum and being a dad are not the same experience because both our children and society have different expectations of those roles. They can empathise with each other about how hard parenting is but one can never truly understand what it’s like to be the other. I’m not saying the being a mum is better or more worthy then being a dad – I’m just saying that they are two different things and we need to stop pretending that they aren’t.

Natasha says: 31 July, 2013 at 7:23 am

Amanda and so you should be very proud of HerCanberra indeed! 😉
I very much enjoy reading the interesting, informative, thought-provoking and needless to say intelligently-thought-out articles that HerCanberra publishes, but also the fabulous comments they garner. I am proud to be living amongst a community of intelligent, considerate, supportive and respectful women here in Canberra. (The rest of the country have no idea what they’re missing!) Much kudos to you and the HerCanberra team! 🙂

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