Mumsnet, one of the major British parenting network sites, has always come in for a lot of flak, most of which comes from two points of view:
- Those who think it is the same as the other fluffy pink mummy sites, full of bad spelling and tickers
- Those who think it is a sinister conspiracy against the country: a Boden and biscuits mafia
Now we have a new one – those who think it is a distributor of “man hate”. Sigh. *
So, what is Mumsnet? Why does it cause such a problem?
When people say “Mumsnet” what they usually mean is the Talk section of Mumsnet, which is a huge message board or forum, aimed at parents (although the majority of users are mothers, there are a sizable minority of fathers, grandparents, childcare workers and childless people who also use the site). There are hundreds of sections, covering all aspects of life, not just parenting. Each section tends to have its own “feel” – so Pregnancy tends to be fairly gentle, Am I Being Unreasonable? is a hotbed of disagreements and strong debate and Feminist Activism can be pretty militant. There is a site wide policy of very light moderation, so swearing, heated discussions and pretty obscene conversations do occur (never, ever google anything users of Mumsnet tell you to google…). Members can name-change whenever they like, meaning that posters can reveal secret details on one thread then go back to joking with long term friends on another, under their usual nickname, which does not tend to be related to ‘real life’ identities. There are also no avatars, twinkly tickers, signatures or pictures, and only a very small range of emoticons.
Herein lies one of our problems. Mumsnet is very different to the rest of the parenting forums, and I would say that the main difference is that Mumsnet treats posters as adults. We aren’t mollycoddled, and the only things that get deleted (apart from spam) are personal attacks and hate speech. Mumsnet as a body of posters tends to be self regulating – so a poster coming on who doesn’t follow the rules will get very short shrift. This has given us a bit of a reputation for being bitchy, although, to me, it just means that we say how we feel, like grown ups. Other sites will tend to ban you if you express any forthright opinions, and so there are a good few Mumsnetters who are banned from other sites.
Mumsnet also tends to be a bit more educated than other sites. That’s not to say that Mumsnetters all have doctorates, or even GCSEs, but there is a higher expectation of basic education. Text speak and bad grammar are frowned upon, and there are often jokes about things like classic literature and politics. This is often given as evidence that Mumsnet is somehow elitist, and that “ordinary” people would be pushed out and ridiculed.
To me, there are endless websites where you can post cute little tickers, use vomit inducing euphemisms and tipe lyk u cant speel <3 <3 and I think it is only fair to let one site have its own way of working. Just because the users of the site are mostly women, and mostly mothers at that, doesn’t mean that we have to act like children ourselves.
Because of the general culture of the site, there is a higher than usual concentration of professionals and, in particular, journalists. Mumsnet is often used as a cheap research technique, with posts (usually without the knowledge and assent of responding posters) being used in news articles as the “opinion of parents” (I have had this happen to me, when I posted about an internet joke, and there was one reply – I was quoted twice, as different users, as proof that mothers in general found the joke hilarious). Justine Roberts, one of the founders of the site, can often be found on talk shows giving her opinion – she can’t give the opinion of Mumsnet as a whole, because the 2 million users that use the site every month can’t possibly have one opinion.
However, that, and the fact that the site regularly hosts web-chats with politicians and other movers and shakers, gives Mumsnet a reputation as attention seekers who try to control the media.
Why is it that people hate the idea of a site where women can get together to chat about sex, politics, parenting and culture? Men have most of the rest of the internet, and any woman daring to post anywhere else is often attacked if she dares mention anything feminine in any way. Parents of young children are likely to become isolated, and there isn’t the support network that used to exist to support young mothers.
So, if my baby is acting weirdly, or the cuts are pissing me off, or I just thought up a really good joke about mooncups…I’ll see you on Mumsnet.
*I have deliberately ignored the ridiculous behaviour of a certain pressure group lately. Don’t feed the troll and all that.