Some (belated) thoughts on the Facebook motherhood challenge
February 7, 2016
I’ve read a lot this week about the Facebook “motherhood challenge” – funnily enough, I’ve been tagged in as many posts from friend’s sharing the articles as I have friends doing the challenge, and the whole thing got me thinking.
I couldn’t help but wonder… (sorry, Carrie moment) what it was about the issue that had (has?) got everyone so wound up.
I don’t think that there is any one right way to use social media, contrary to what a lot of social media courses say. There are optimum ways perhaps of using algorithms and personal usage to achieve maximum exposure, but the vast majority of people I am friends with – 493 at today’s count (which I am sure has dropped recently so I must naturally be doing some wrong) use it as a way of broadcasting stuff about their life. Some post really personal thoughts and comments; others only post photos of their children, cats, cocktails and/or cars, depending on their life choices and interests. Some post only political rants, others have a taste for motivational quotes, slightly sexist videos, car dash cams, fund raising endeavours large and small, extreme sports clips and quick recipe videos. I don’t pretend that I am interested in every last thing that every last person shares or uploads but I also don’t take any of it personally. I’ve seen one of every last of these things in the past week – I think I’ve read a selection of bad news, good news, life commentary from the uplifting and inspiring to the grossly mundane (that was my Finsbury Park related rant), a million links to Guardian stories and about as many video clips.
Some of these I’ve engaged with, in a Facebook sort of way – I’ve liked, or left a short comment giving condolences or congratulations as appropriate. Some I’ve watched and then shared, many more I’ve scrolled past as it didn’t take my interest, or I didn’t have time, or several other people had shared the same thing. Some I’ve even been tagged in where the person thought I might be especially interested. But, you know, not once did I think that the person sharing whatever it was, or tagging me in whatever it was, was making a comment on my life. Several times, I’ve thought “how lovely” in relation to some personal bit of news but not once did I think the sharing of their news or photo was any kind of reflection whatsoever on my life and my choices.
Now supposing I’d been tagged in a cycling challenge photo sharing meme, or a cooking one, or even one about house ownership. Might I have engaged and shared my own? Possibly, depending on time and inclination. Might I have taken this as some personal reflection or commentary on how I own a bike but haven’t actually unlocked it all year, so that the last photo I would have been unable to upload was embarrassingly from 2014? No, I really don’t think I would. I might have thought, how nice, xx is really passionate about their cycling – actually, I think this frequently, I know a lot of people who post touching updates about their cycling endeavours every week, and then I like it, and keep scrolling. Might I have thought that my friends were trying to pit home owners against renters and force us into two opposing camps? Of course, not, that would be silly.
Likewise, when I upload things to Facebook I give a small amount of thought to how my post will be perceived, but the fact that some of my friends aren’t working right now, or don’t like their jobs, or love their jobs doesn’t stop me writing something about work. I might consider who could read the post, or what the consequences might be professionally, but I like to believe that by virtue of being friends with me on Facebook, my friends have my best interests at heart, and that they would like to share my joys and support my lows, just as I do theirs. In a Facebook appropriate way, of course; I interact personally with my close friends and family too, I don’t just conduct all relationships through Facebook. In the same fashion, I’ve shared some of my family photos, discussed my support of the NHS and dislike of David Cameron in the full knowledge that I do know people that voted Conservative, and I even upload holiday photos, despite knowing full well I am friends with some people who can’t afford to go away very often.
So why the angst and endless discussion when the subject matter is motherhood? A lot of posts on Facebook make me want to punch my screen (not specifically the person who shared it, but usually the writer of the article, or the originator of the meme) but I don’t think that those posts “fetishise [insert subject matter]”. Why are we extrapolating from the meme wording that “challenge” is in this context some way anything other than some sloppy wording from the originator – was it even Facebook itself, trying to get users to generate content? Why are we assuming that the people taking part are boasting, or being smug, or trying to make some comment on the lives, decisions and fertility levels of their other friends. I really disagree that a meme originating on Facebook can be “simply another way to measure women and find them wanting”.
But yet, people are irritated and writing articles all over the place about it. So, there must be something about the subject which causes this. Daisy Buchanan, writing for The Pool says the ‘Motherhood Challenge’ “feels like it’s there to pit women against each other”. Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka, in her post for The Stylist sees a more nuanced version, much like my opinion – the challenge is not what is wrong per se, it is that somehow, another opportunity has arisen for people (who are these people) to have further ammunition to drive a narrative in which women are split. The promotion of Anna’s article appears to push the idea that it is the challenge which has done that, but on closer reading, I don’t think that is what Anna is concluding at all – it is the way that some women have reacted to the challenge, and which has driven the collective narrative, which has then concluded that this challenge is by it’s very existence divisive.
It seems that a lot of people have jumped on the “I would never join in with that” wagon – a quick internet search led me to some discussion forums where people said things like they worried about perception of those who are struggling with infertility, or they didn’t agree with posting photos on social media due to privacy issues – again, written with the implication that they thought that those who had joined in were thoughtless, or smug – adding their weight to the narrative that this is a divisive issue.
I really don’t believe that has to be the case. I do think we (as a society) thinks of parenting as a role for a woman, and I do think that social media makes it hard for anyone who is having a tough time personally, child related or not, and I don’t think that these memes have any real point, or that the world would be worse if they didn’t exist, but, I think we need a bit of perspective too. Just because women are celebrating their families on a form of social media intended as a personal broadcast to people that are supposedly their real life friends, doesn’t mean we have to interpret this as meaning men are somehow lesser parents, or that there are good and bad parents and we are to only tag those we genuinely think are amazing mothers (or whatever). I really don’t buy that the one and only friend who tagged me made a qualitative assessment as to who of her friends she felt was truly deserving of the tag – I presume she enjoys her family, thought for about half a moment of a handful of close friends who also have children and pressed send.
I think we should give it about as much thought in return. Either that, or delete Facebook.
Photos: Love Biscuits (Lavender Bakery) Bloggers (Mumsnet Blogfest 2013 official photos by Anna Gordon)