I struggle with my predilection for the internet. While I enjoy traveling and connecting with others, all in the comfort of my bathrobe, I know this level of instant gratification and constant information can’t be good for my mind, especially when I sometimes stare at the screen like I’ve been glamoured by one of the vampires on True Blood.
But why, on parenting sites especially, are we made to believe that it’s moms with the problem that needs fixing? (If you don’t believe me, check here and here.) I am quick to worry about technology’s effect on our culture, our learning, our human connection. I see students everyday holding their phones like they’re a life-line, afraid to let go for fear they may disintegrate into thin air. “I have a phone, therefore I am.” As I’ve noted before, I see people at restaurants, enjoying the company of their friends or family with one or more cell phones on the table, always ready to pick it up and continue or start some other kind of conversation. We are juggling so many personal and professional networks at once, we hardly know how to focus on a particular experience anymore, like watching a movie, having dinner with friends or family, sitting in a classroom or remaining attentive in a meeting. (Though obviously, some meetings are the reason Twitter was invented.)
So while I recognize that access to the internet has somewhat altered the way I and others think and communicate, the way we all behave, I am tired of condescending parenting magazines or top-notch newspapers reproving moms for their use of technology, acting as though their frequent use is a threat to the stability of society.
Google “mom internet addiction,” and you will see an abundance of titles: “Why Moms Are at Risk for Internet Addiction” (Cnn.com); “New Moms and Internet Addiction” (NYTimes); “Moms + Internet = Addiction?” (World of Psychology); “Mom vs. the Computer” (pbs.org).
Then, google “dad internet addiction.” Surprise! You won’t find any articles.
“Men internet addiction”? Articles about pornography.
And yet men are just as guilty of spending time on the computer as women (even when it has nothing to do with porn); they just don’t get condemned for it. Instead, I believe that our cultural biases assume men should and will focus on themselves, while women are supposed to be ever-present and attentive to their families. Did I just get a whiff of pot-roast and potatoes and Lysol, circa 1960?
Another place you’ll find vitriol directed toward mothers with laptops is the comments section of the New York Times Motherlode blog. In Lisa Belkin’s numerous posts about mom-bloggers, commenters scold mothers for neglecting their kids, for selling out to advertisers, and for seeming to have any ambition or hobbies aside from their children. It seems that a woman at the computer doesn’t quite match the fuzzy, consummate image of an aproned mom making muffins in the morning. Since the narrow width of a computer is seemingly insular, contributing usually to only one person’s entertainment, or knowledge, or connection to others through a social network, it challenges our expectation of what a mother should be doing. Take these two comments about mom-bloggers from the Motherlode blog, for instance:
Bob, from New York
I have a one-year old, and 90% of my free time is taken up by cleaning, catching up on work at home, or trying to sleep. On the weekend, it’s constant activities and play time. Yet, I always read about these blogs in which mothers write endlessly about how little time they have or are overwhelmed. How do they have the time to construct such rants when they’re taking care of a baby?? Is it when their partners take over? And if so, why do they waste that precious free time writing on a blog?
Marshall,, from Binghamton, NY
Mom blogs are a poor substitute for spirituality. Instead of Let Go and Let God, their slogan is Let Everything (and I mean THING) be of importance so someone will read it, I will accumulate millions of “hits” on my site and thus sponsors will give me lots of $$$$ so I can go buy more THINGS.
Beyond diseased. Mommy Blogs are a symptom of a country without direction . The weight of the Internet coming down on Maytag? How about the plight of _______? Get a life.
I can’t help but think that Bob’s inherent sentiment is that mothers should be spending their free time catering to their husband’s needs or taking care of their children. This modern business of sharing household and childcare duties is a drag. Can’t we all see that he is tired? And clearly, Marshall subscribes to the religion of judgment and bitterness. Mom-bloggers—moms looking for connection and acceptance and maybe a bit of ad revenue—are the symptom and cause of a spiritless America. Hmph. Wonder what his view was on those Wall Street bail-out bonuses.
This sense of ownership about how moms should be spending their time is way too close to 1950’s notions of motherhood and femininity for my taste. My reflections are no doubt inspired by Stephanie Coontz’s new book A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960’s, which uncovers the negative reaction toward Betty Friedan’s work, The Feminine Mystique, upon publication in 1963. Many women and men thought her book—which detailed “the problem that has no name,” women’s sense of purposelessness, hopelessness, and depression—was garbage, and told her so in writing. There weren’t internet commenters, but there were admonishing letters claiming there was no problem with the limited options for women in those decades of American society.
One housewife wrote, “It is reward enough for me to see my husband busy but happy, my children leaders in their own schools, because I am home each day making beds, cooking good meals, and ready to listen…to problems, sorrows, and joys…to be all-loving, self-sacrificing, gentle, feminine” (30). Good thing laptops weren’t yet invented. Then she might be searching for signs of “depression” and “repression.”
Another said, “Real women are wanted, needed, loved, and desired because we are happy, having learned the finest lesson of all: selflessness” (31). Yuck. I’ll take a “self” with my fries, please.
In the above messages from two very different time periods, one can’t help but see the parallels when it comes to society’s expectations of mothers. 50 or 60 years ago, mothers weren’t supposed to want more for themselves than the happiness and comfort of their families. Now, when women make the choice to be home, the assumption is that they shouldn’t want more, either. But they do.
While we have made countless gains toward equality, we still live in a society that, to some extent, fears female ambition, female desire. We much prefer a female archetype of selflessness and giving, and fail to recognize the personal and societal price of achieving that model: women’s happiness. As we all know, the old adage–“If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”–can not be more true. (And it can not contain appropriate grammar, neither, when Mama is angry.)
We all need to be careful about our use of technology—men, women, teenagers, educators, college students, workers. We should be endeavoring to live a life more focused on the depth of experience (an idea explored fully in William Powers’ book Hamlet’s Blackberry), rather than shuttling from one thought to the next to the next, making superficial connections and retrieving arbitrary data from a plethora of websites. But what we need to throw out are the old-fasioned ideas that a mom who is seeking some form of connection, an escape from her suburban isolation, is going to harm her kids and her family, that she is not subscribing to society’s expectations (usually also her own) of ideal motherhood.
Despite our many gains, what we still haven’t come to grips with is that women have dreams.
Image: “Housewife” by mrrobertwade via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.