Honesty and Snark in Parenting Blogs

There are a lot of differences between most mom blogs and most dad blogs. (I think. Maybe there aren’t a lot. But when I was taught how to write introductory sentences to introductory paragraphs I was urged to move from general claims to more specific claims, and eventually the arguments would focus on supporting the specific claims within a sea of general claims that are uncontroversial. So, I take it as uncontroversial, and therefore uninteresting, yet introductory, that there are a lot of differences between most mom blogs and most dad blogs.) Apart from well-known disparities in sponsor attention that dads claim to not care about anyway, there is a deeper, and more superficial difference, that leaps out of the screen at me when I read blogs: moms are more likely to snark about, complain about, reveal foibles of, their partners than dads. I don’t know why this is, but I fear, unhappily, that it is both more and less respectful, more and less egalitarian, more and less discriminatory, and that deciding on an answer is a bit of a Rorschach test.

As a preliminary, I take it as uncontroversial that dads are less likely to write negatively (even gently so) about their partners than the other way around. Maybe this is completely false and I have been sheltered in a strange way from those dad blogs that are critical in this way. I have no way to tell, beyond asking readers to enlighten me. That isn’t the interesting part, and if it’s not true it’s even less interesting. What’s interesting is the reason for the (assumed) discrepancy.

Superficially, the difference reveals attitudes about what is okay and what isn’t: it is okay to belittle fathers as husbands and parents, even in jest or love, while it is not okay to do so to mothers. I suggest this is superficial because, while it seems like this is a power imbalance in favour of women, it might be instead just be a by-product of a more general power imbalance in favour of men: it’s okay to sting giants, but not to slap babies, and there’s something unsettling about the giants raising a stink over it. What do you think? (For more confusing, but focused, opinions about whether or not this imbalance is okay, you can go read my Feminism and the Immersed Parent post. On the narrow question of whether the imbalance undermines feminist commitments I haven’t changed my mind; but on a more general question, not addressed in the post, about whether the imbalance is okay from outside those commitments I don’t have an opinion.)

I don’t think it’s appropriate to litigate your relationship on the Internet, with a jury of people your partner has no relationship with. But I may just be generalizing from one example, which is my own. I don’t think I’ve ever done that here in this space, but I can’t be sure. Maybe I’ve written a post in which Emily appeared more as fodder than partner. If so, then I regret it. But maybe not everyone ought to regret those discussions. Maybe the only way to keep from breaking in a relationship is to vent, and so the disrespect is only superficial and no one should be bothered by it. I know that some people believe that to be true. What do you think?

(I leave out of the discussion those forums that attract men overwhelmingly and in which the participants feel “safe” to reveal opinions or details of their relationships without their partner finding out. The point here is to find out why men don’t seem to do it with their partner’s knowledge, in their face so to speak, but women do. I’m not making any claims about the Internet being free of disrespect toward women.)

41 thoughts on “Honesty and Snark in Parenting Blogs”

  1. You make an interesting point. I think the tendency for women to be more prone to public criticsim of their mates and relationships in general exists as much offline as it does online. Yes, there are men who discuss their relationship challenges openly (sometimes out of genuine concern and sometimes out of self-depricating snark), but I think that's an exception, not a rule.

    Without overgeneralizing, I think women are more comfortable with the somewhat passive-aggressive approach to behavior modification (e.g., if I mock my partner's bad habits/thoughtlessness/parenting choices and the blogging world agrees that he is gross/thoughtless/a bad parent), I can shame him into correcting his faults). It's sick and sad when you think of it, but it's true. I'll be the first to admit that I've been very guilty of it, so go ahead and tattoo that big "SB" for "superbitch" on my sternum.

    So, is it right to air your relationship issues on one's blog? I suppose it all depends on what the blogger's intent is. If they're trying to live their life out loud and are genuinely looking to openly expose the vulnerabilities in their relationships as a couple and as parents, I'd expect to see those relationships explored in the same voice. If a writer is using his/her blog to manipluate someone into a behavior change (either directly or subliminally), I'd venture to recommend an alternative way to resolve the situation.

    My two cents.

    1. Now that's a good angle: what is the point of your blog?

      Although even if the point of your blog is to openly expose the

      vulnerabilities in your relationship I'm not sure the question of right or

      wrong is resolved so much as pushed up a level: Is it right or wrong to make

      that the point of a blog?

  2. I'm not surprised that your assumption has brought you to this conclusion in any way, shape, or form. I see it too.

    Women in general vent more about their husbands, both online and off. I hear it in my church group. I see it on Twitter. I witness it at family parties. I read it on Facebook, but when you turn towards blogging, well… it's imbalanced and somewhat unfair for the bloggers spouse. Like you said, there is a "jury of people your spouse does not have a relationship with".

    So why do women do it? To vent? To build up themselves b/c their spouse won't? Or to create attention from the opposite sex to settle a craving? Who knows.

    I learned two or three years into my marriage that if I want others to see my spouse as I see him (loving, hard-working, funny, hot-as-hell, respectable, and most deserving) then my tongue should be held and I should focus my conversation on his positives.

    Do I think it's okay to blog about my spouse's faults? No. I don't like to read others do it, even if it IS just a facebook remark about how he pissed you off and you'd rather divorce than wash his dirty socks. It's degrading to him, to the said marriage, and to the mocker.

    So, let me bring up one thing. Leaving "snarkiness" out, how do you feel about one blogging about marriage struggles (ie: infidelity, financial hardship, alcoholism) in order to minister to couples and show others a marriage CAN be strong and saved through trials such as this?

    1. I think it is possible to be disrespectful even with permission and even

      with a benevolent purpose. So I'm not sure that having a purpose is enough.

      Maybe it is. But analogously, suppose a wife realizes she can save thousands

      of couples if she cuts off her husband's foot: even with permission, with

      his blessing, and with the benevolent purpose, we would still be able to

      point to the act and say it is a violence. Maybe it's a permissible

      violence, but it's the kind of act that, on its own, smacks of wrongness no

      matter what the benefits are. So although in the blogging case there might

      be other benefits that doesn't mean there's been nothing done wrong.

  3. This is interesting. I think your generalizations are right on.

    I'm likely to tease him in public about forgetting to add an ingredient to that night's dinner but in the next breath, I'll be praising him to the skies because he's a REALLY good cook. Or at least as good a recipe reader as I am. I would tease my co-workers the same way for their little mistakes that don't mean anything. I will admit that since he has become a stay at home Dad, it's easier to let stuff go because he knows how hard it is and what a balancing act the whole day is. When he was working full time, his behavior indicated a lack of respect for what I did even while he was telling everyone what a treasure I am. It was easy to be critical of him because he wasn't in the trenches with me.

    I am not comfortable airy our dirty laundry in public. Especially because as I get older, the more I find that our laundry looks awful in the moment but comes out fine in the next wash.

    I am comfortable talking with a close friend about my husband's foibles in those moments because I need her perspective. She's SO good about saying, well, yes, that was a dumbass thing to do but did you ever think that he might be feeling tired/stressed/overextended/whatever adjective really does fit him.

    I'll be interested to read the rest of your comments.

  4. I'm totally speaking for myself here, other women may or may not share my thoughts.

    Deep down I want my husband to adore me and find no fault with anything I do. I don't want him to watch porn, I don't want him to find other women attractive or interesting, I want to be the queen of his universe! Narcissistic much? YES!! So when I read another guys blog, I want him to be totally into his wife! I cringe in horror when I hear about celebrity guys or any guy cheating on their wives. I generally want all men to be totally into their wives.

    In return, I will not talk bad about my husband on my blog, to friends or family. Whatever disagreements we have have are personal. I totally hate it when women trash their husbands, I hate the TV commercials that paint the husband as too dumb to do grocery shopping, I hate the TV shows that make the husband look stupid. It's not funny.

  5. Honestly? My wife would kick my ass if I said anything belittling or even snarky about her on my blog. And that, to society, is generally an ok thing to profess. However, if a mom blogger said "my husband would kick my ass" it automatically evokes a strong negative reaction along the lines of abuse. Not saying that is WHY women tend to be more snarky about their mates. It is merely a reflection triggered by my reading your post.

    I have no answers. I rarely do.

  6. He's not a blogger, but Mil Millington is full of snark about his longterm girlfriend, the mother of his children.

  7. I have aired my dirty laundry on my blog, and my husband has been hurt by my posts. I know this makes me a wiener. I do try to cast my husband as the good guy that he is. Sometimes I have fallen short, and I regret it. But I didn't intend to be disrespectful. I just called 'em as I saw 'em.

    And yeah, I vent. It's been a lifelong curse to tell too many people about how I'm feeling. If only I could go about my life with a "stiff upper lip" and keep it all private. Maybe, in spite of feminism, it's still more likely to be women who talk and talk and talk about their feelings.

      1. Oh, it depends on so many things. Who you are as a person. Your culture. Your intended audience. Your intent. We can generalize and say that women are gossips. Think of Chaucer's "Wife of Bath". Is she a terrible shrew? Or is she perceptive about inequalities between the genders? Probably both.

        1. Well, sure it might depend on a lot of things. But there's no mystery in

          your own case, right? You know why you did it. Do you think it's not okay

          that you did? I just wonder what "regret" means in that statement. Does it

          indicate a moral position or not? I think it's possible to have a variety of

          positions on this question, I just wondered what yours is.

          1. In my case, I guess it's a matter of intent and impact. I intend to make fun of myself, or write about how I'm feeling. I'm not out to satisfy some passive-aggressive agenda. (Except maybe in that one post, when I was frustrated about stuff not getting done around the house.) But what I write has an impact on other people, and sometimes a different impact than I intended. People get hurt. And this is what I regret. I don't know if it's wrong to write about relationships. To put that stuff out there. But I have learned to be more careful about what I write.

  8. Very true. Belittling men for their parenting skill or lack thereof is an old tradition just the way some men can joke on the supposed simple-mindedness of women.

    Also, this notion of motherhood is traditionally a woman’s domain; for a man to even poke fun at the idea of her being a careless parent sometimes or other idiosyncrasies that she engages in looks like you’re critiquing her ability to be a functional WOMAN. Maybe this is the reason many Dad blogs are skittish to write about their partners in less than good graces.

    1. Now that's interesting. And there might be something about men who choose to

      blog as fathers that makes them less prone to want to express general

      anti-woman sentiments, and maybe that's partly responsible for the dearth.

  9. It's not just online, it's in real life too. I tease my husband about different things and he's good natured about it (we both are, because honestly he dishes it right back to me when I deserve it!) But online, I try to keep things like that private. Because like you said, he doesn't have much of a relationship- if at all- with my 'audience' and it's not really fair to put his 'stuff' out there for the world to read if he doesn't want it there. (Similarly, same thing with kids, which is why MommyBlogging makes us tip-toe a fine-line. I'm sure our kids don't really want their entire lives out there for all to read, right? So you gotta be careful, really.)

    1. Ah yes. Is there a difference between permitting the Internet to participate in your marriage and permitting the Internet to participate in your parenting? I don't know. I think there is, but I'd have to think about why.

  10. Super interesting question. My rambling thoughts: it seems like there could be power dynamics at play. Since, for the most part, women are less likely to be physically abusive, their verbal abuse is more likely to be tolerated … sort of a "meh: let her bitch. She's harmless!" disempowerment.A man spewing vitriol about his wife can be seen as actually threatening and maybe even scary because he's in a social and physical position of power … where-as the nagging, bitchy, snarking wife is tolerated because, well, that little lady's never going to ACTUALLY do anything.Regardless, I find bitching online to be a supreme waste of time. Especially bitching about family members. The brief relief of venting just isn't worth the ramifications of the subject of the bitching reading what you've written — which seems inevitable, at this point.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with your premise. I refrain from making (many) comments about my husband for 3 reasons. 1) He's a saint. seriously. he works 60-70 hours a week and still changes a diaper as needed and does more than his share of cooking and picking up. I think many of the partners in these situations aren't so angelic.2) I am genuinely happy with my marriage. I have been known to post something like I asked my husband to do X and he didn't, and I'm unreasonably angry at him for it. placing the blame on myself, not him, but overall, we are a very happy couple. and 3) I think it's stupid to post something usually petty about your spouse for others to comment on, weigh in on, and garner support. If someone points out that your partner may be in the right, they'd better watch out for the army, or have their comment deleted. If you find yourself posting the same BS over and over, maybe you need counseling, not a blog. Just sayin'

  12. There are a lot of interesting points here, and in the comments. I have given the subject a bit of thought, and I am wondering if part of the reason lies behind the breakdown of the groups writing the blogs. [warning: I'm about to make some Generalizations, as I have no scientific evidence to back it up]

    Mommy blogs are in abundance, for the obvious reason that the vast majority of home carers are mums. This stems from all of the reasons you already know, ranging from the husband making more money than the wife, to societal norms making it feel like the obvious choice. The few dads I know who are home with their children have made a conscious choice to do so (okay we don't need to go into the fact that women staying home are also making a choice.. it's the fact that when a man does it, it's Noteworthy. There are often questions about it, comments from family or friends, etc.) These few men I know irl who are home with their children are just not the sort to whinge and complain a lot. They're very laid-back, and comfortable with themselves, and their children.

    I'm not putting this out there as the sole reason. I think points brought up by others here are possibly more applicable than my own. (I especially like the idea that men don't discuss relationship issues publicly. I think this is true. Men complain in a general, anonymous way on the internet, but not specifically, where their partner will read it.) I just always wonder about these things, the people behind the numbers in these sort of generalizations. :)

    also, fwiw, I don't complain about my husband online. I have only mentioned two things he did which had a humourous outcome (one of them: left a package of cookies we'd specially brought home from the US within reach of our toddler… then we discovered said toddler sitting in a pile of cookies, one in each hand, happy as larry.) I just said it because we were both amused, but a good number of my comments were along the lines of "oh, men!" etc.

    okay I'm just babbling now. interesting topic.

  13. I have to say for the most part, my husband is off limits on my space. Probably because I'd kick his ass if he wrote what he thought of me for all the world to see and I would expect the same for me.

  14. This one might surprise you but I am a woman and I agree with you. I can't stand it when I hear a woman refer to her husband as "the other child" in their family. You don't marry your child, have sex with your child (ughhh… too much badness in the world) or have children with your child. Your husband/ wife is your partner. And if the best you can do when referring to your partner in life is to call them "the other child" then that certainly reflects badly on the speaker for their choices.

    I am sure I'm preaching to the choir, but that type of woman just pisses me off. They give the whole sisterhood a bad rap as whiny, nagging biotches. No, thanks, ladies. Give your man the respect he deserves… and if he doesn't deserve your respect then take a good look at the choices you've made.

    I think you touched a nerve. Good post.

    1. Well, I wouldn't say it pisses me off. I don't like to see it, but I'm not

      sure it's wrong and I just wonder why I (and apparently many men) seem

      reluctant to do likewise.

  15. Even if I had a problem with my wife I certainly wouldn't air it for all to see or weigh in on. There are too many dynamics at play when there are marital issues and anything of a serious nature would probably be oozing with bias anyhow. Plus, there is no way people would have enough backdrop on the situation to be able to formulate a helpful opinion. I think all it would do is get a legion of people agreeing with you out of implied loyalty.

    If the issue is comical, then I don't have a problem with it at all…either way. I know men are sometimes portrayed as complete imbeciles by the mainstream media, but I also know that some of this ridicule is warranted. I know I have quirks and I know I make really dumb decisions sometimes. I know I have habits that drive her batty. And truthfully, I get a kick out of it when she humorously posts about it on Facebook. She's never mean about it, she's playful, and I'm cool with that.

    I've posted about how she killed our well pump…but it was funny. I've posted about my shortcomings when I was home alone for a week…but it was funny. I'd never think about showcasing any shortcomings for the whole world to see, assuming she even had any. Nothing good could come of it. I'd come off looking like a jerk and her feelings would be hurt. The former, I could live with, the latter, I couldn't.

    If we chide each other, it's with love, and the intention is never to embarrass, ridicule, or pursue some passive-aggressive motive.

    When you say, "it is okay to belittle fathers as husbands and parents, even in jest or love, while it is not okay to do so to mothers", I'm not sure I share that same viewpoint. I don't think anything I write would ever belittle her or myself anyway, but I have no problem posting some funny little jabs now and then.

    I suppose the difference is in intent. If my intent is to garner some smiles by commenting on funny little nuances or frustrations that people can relate to, that's one thing. Harmless, in my mind.

    But if my intent was to vent, rant, or complain about her publicly, that's another. Destructive, in my mind.

    I've seen friends post angry wall posts for all to see and I cringe. These kinds of things don't belong in a public forum. For when you do make up and move on, you can never retrieve those words, or the opinions that are formed by people as they read the angry bits and pieces of your private lives.

    Anyhow, I've droned on too long once again. Great post and it had me thinking. Your writing tends to do that to me and I love the engagement.

    1. When I said "it is okay to belittle fathers as husbands and parents" I

      wasn't actually saying it's okay. Just that having the opinion that it IS

      okay might explain why there seems to be this difference between dad and mom

      blogs. So it's a theory of collective attitude offered up to explain a

      phenomenon; not a statement about what I think is right to do.

      Thought that was worth clearing up.

  16. My first thought was that women are much more likely to read their husbands' blogs than are men to read their wives', and that might account for some of the discrepancy.

    But in reading the comments, I thought a little deeper, and I guess it really is just an outgrowth of the larger social trend you've identified. I don't have any answers, but I think it's fair to say (while generalizing tremendously) that men tend to have a few good friends to whom they'll say anything, including complaining about their wives, and women tend to have many more "friends", which includes acquaintances, well-wishers, frequent passers-by, and all kinds of people to whom they talk about all sorts of things when the chance arises, so they end up sharing many things they think with a much wider audience.

    With blogging, you've just created an extension to the naturally more diverse social circle, and women are much quicker to add readers to the list of their "friends" with whom they share (too much?).

    1. Now that's not a bad theory at all. I like the approach of looking at how

      men and women might form relationships with others differently. I think that

      might be very informative.

  17. I think it has to do with the fact that in modernity women were relegated to the role of mother. The ability to reproduce was directly related to a woman's sexuality, and thus it became a part of her psychic identity. Even though, in terms of female subjectivities, we have entered into post-modernity, we are still left with residues of modernity. To question, or discount a woman's parental abilities is to directly assail her identity. This is why it is more accepted to make fun a man's parenting skills, it is not connected to his identity. Although, this is changing. There is a shift from a patriarchal domination of urban industrial society, to one that is matriarchal. This can be seen in the massive numbers of women in the work force. They now outnumber men (in the US). More and more men are staying home with the kids. Personally, I would never disparage my partner on my blog, as you point out-with strangers who have no relationship with him. I find it utterly disrespectful.

  18. I leave it to the comment "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Guys want to stay out of the way of that. There is no such comment about us guys.

    This is a very intersting and thought provoking topic. Sorry I am incapable of depth today.

  19. It really does depend on where you live, and what you experience. As a hairstylist in the South, I find that most women there even if they have issues (unless they are headed for divorce court) tend to NOT say things about their spouses being bad…whilst the men will bitch to me about their wives, and their parenting styles, and how their wives used to be open-minded and wilder when they were young and now that they are older…they have become different. Of course, they also will complain about intimacy times with their wives, and how their wives run the children all over the place. Now if I were single I would take this as disheartening, but I am married and I find it interesting at the very least. Is it because I am a woman they say this to me? Is it because I am married and it is safe to say this to me?

    My girlfriends on the other hand, do not really complain that much about their husbands but then they and I love our husbands, picked them because we thought they would be great fathers, and have not been disappointed. I say that this difference in perspective comes from the area you live in…because when I lived up north…women complained, and men. Just an observation.

  20. This is a related, but slightly tangential point, but more broadly in society, men are portrayed as adolescent fools or simply fools. I think of this every time I see a commercial with a couple. 99% of the time, men play the fool. Movies are often the same way.

    I also think in our culture, mothers are considered saintly. So, though it may not be a conscious decision, fathers may be unwilling to criticism mothers. This cultural understanding, then, bleeds over into what mothers and fathers put on their blogs.

    Just a thought.

  21. This is extremely interesting to consider, especially as I am currently obsessed with feminism and stay at home parents and all that good stuff. Probably because I don't work in summers and am not a huge fan of staying home with my kid and therefore must construct large-scale societal recommendations based on my opinions. Anyway. Just wanted to echo another commenter who said that mommybloggers who bitch about their spouses in a serious way only end up reflecting poorly upon themselves. I inevitably find myself asking the computer screen, "Why the eff did you marry such a douche, you idiot?"

    What pisses me off even more is when these women have sons. What on earth do they think they are teaching their boys? Blech. Can't we at least ATTEMPT to change the world a little in the next generation and mightn't that involve BOYS AND MEN? Oy.

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