Homeward Bound: Chapter 3

Oops! It’s been over a month since I last blogged. I suppose it is fitting that today I am going to write about chapter 3 of Homeward Bound which is about the blogosphere.

In chapter three, Emily Matchar tackles the growing domestic blog trend and the potential  economics of it. Domestic blogs include many of the blogs I read (and have unsubscribed from) and I can safely assume that many of the people reading this blog also read. They include mommy blogs, craft blogs, neo-homesteader blogs, home-decorating blogs, and so on (some ambitious bloggers do all of those things!). Matchar points out that writing about homemaking isn’t exactly new, but argues instead that these blogs work to “actively try[ing] to make traditional women’s work cool” (p. 49).

Matchar argues that we live in an “era of near-universal Web access” and that “even the most traditionally isolated of women–homebound mothers of newborns, farm dwellers, work-at-home-ers living far from family–can be connected” (p. 52). Um, sort-of. In rural areas, Internet access is still spotty and a significant expense (think $90US/month for broadband). Even where Internet is affordable and widely available, there are still access challenges. A digital divide still exists. There may be “near-universal Web access” for white, middle class women (who are urban and suburban dwellers and mostly Western), but that is the extent of it.

I’m not going to repeat Matchar’s statistics on blog writing and readership, but they skew female and women bloggers are more likely to be stay at home moms compared to non-blogging women. I suppose this could be why I haven’t blogged in over a month? Work is partially to blame despite being on “summer vacation.” I digress.

Blogs create community. I certainly agree with this assessment. I’ve used blogs to create a community for myself in the world of both scrapbooking and sociology. I’ve met people online who I have then met in real life. Moreover, these blogging subcultures do have other features of off-line communities. Recently, The Digi Show talked about how Tangie Baxter was seeking to open a store in Arizona and if memory serves me correct, Tangie’s Kickstarter was funded by the next week’s episode. (Read more on this topic here.)

Matchar continues that blogging is a way to gain credit or acknowledgment, if you will, for housework (and I would add, conventional womanhood). Instead of simply cooking dinner, one can now photograph the entire process, share the recipes on a blog, and end up with cookbook-deals and their own show on The Food Network (e.g., The Pioneer Woman).

It is somewhat easy to dismiss domestic blogging as a return to conventional gender roles, but some argue that it is also a feminist activity. I’m on the fence. What holds me back is wondering what else the blogger could be doing with her time. What social problems continue to fester because we are too busy photographing dinner and then blogging about it to spend any time solving the problem? For example, blogging about “eating local” (as “helping the environment”) is not the same as going out into your local community and educating your fellow community members about how they can do it too (the logistics of “eating local” are no way the same everywhere) or why they should consider it. I feel like a lot of the lifestyle blogging is a turn inward rather than anything radical. (“Why fight for high-quality subsidized childcare for everyone when I could just quit my job and blog for a living and provide the care 100% of the time?”) [An aside: my daughter has been enrolled in a high-quality childcare program that I have had to personally fight to keep open. This kind of work takes time and energy.]

Blogging as a job is just that, a job. It takes time (think years) to make money at it. It may allow a woman to set her own hours (one of the appeals for women), but those hours still have to be put in if it will continue to be a money maker. (Read more on this topic here.)

There is also the issue of authenticity of the reality that is portrayed by the domestic or lifestyle blogger. Matchar (p. 62) writes that

A blogger with a vested interest in being seen as an expert by her readers might not always be sharing a 100 percent accurate picture of what home life is like every day.

Many lifestyle blogs are only work as money-makers as long as people continue to like you as a person. And herein lies one of the challenges of using a blog as a money-making vehicle or as some sort of feminist statement. People have to like you. Really. They have to imagine you as their friend or as someone they would like to hang out with. Enter Workdesk Wedensday and the smack sites (I refuse to provide link bait here. If you made it here, you can certainly google both.) Workdesk Wednesday posts allow bloggers to share the state of their workspace (typically, messy or with semi-finished projects). Something like this:

 

The smack sites are a whole other beast. They are the place to go to criticize (rightly or wrongly) the scrapbooking celebrities, thought leaders, and I imagine anyone else who ends up on a poster’s radar as unconstructive criticism-worthy. To be the face of a lifestyle blog, means you will be criticized for all of your choices: the clothes you wear, parenting decisions, your choice of photograph avatar, grammar, and so on. Some criticism is good and when kept professional, probably a good thing. I’ve been told my photography is bad. Big deal. I don’t lose sleep over it. I’m also not a professional photography, nor do I aspire to be a professional photographer. In a nutshell, criticizing my photography is an attempt to take me down one notch. This is not the type of criticism I invite. I invite critique of my theory or analysis or conclusions based on my research on scrapbooking. That type of critique is useful and moves my research forward.

Besides opening yourself up to the world on a blog for all to criticize, one also has to consider how biographical others (e.g., family and friends) are pulled into the mix. Matchar talks a bit how lifestyle bloggers often use their children as fodder stories about their chidlren for posts. I have always been hyper-aware of how I write and share layouts about biographical others online. For example, I generally do not retype journaling so that blog readers can more easily read my journaling on a layout. That journaling is mine. I’m also fairly selective about what types of layouts I post online. I post a miniscule number of layouts online. My family did not ask to be put online. My daughter certainly can’t consent to having a public life online. It bugs me to no end that there is rarely any conversation about privacy and scrapbooking online. In my dissertation, I argue that scrapbooks are semi-private unlike diaries (private) and blogs (public unless password protected). I think the conversation goes beyond issues of privacy. Honestly, we are under near constant surveillance (e.g., security cameras, GPS on cell phones, and so on), that privacy is almost irrelevant.

I’m honestly more concerned with how children in particular are used to make money online (a holdover from the offline, magazine days). Think about all those cute kids plastered on the covers and pages of scrapbooking magazines. The cute kids were used to sell magazines. How have those children been compensentated? Were they paid? I have no personal experience with publishing in a the scrapbooking magazines and do not know how compensation works there. Here’s how I was compensated as part of Ella Publishing’s Take Twelve design team: digital freebies. I received a couple of free e-books and free access to a couple of classes at Big Picture. I have earned a tiny amount ($13.40) as an affiliate for Ella. But at what dollar amount and freebie amount, do the people in the photographs need to be compensated or permission secured? At no point was I told to be sure that I had to secure persmission from anyone I photographed before posting their image online. I don’t know if this is realistic or not, but do know posting photographs of the research I did is not ok. (Read more on the topic here and here). I think this was a missed opportunity for Matchar when considering domestic blogging as a feminist activity. Even my crtique of it is underdeveloped. I’ll have to come back to this topic at a later date.

Matchar closes the chapter with this

In order to make a living, bloggers are selling fantasy but calling it reality.

Exactly.

Read about the first two chapters:

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  • I think you have excellent points. Blogging is not really a business, it’s more of a gossip column with ads. (ooh I wonder if people will come and smack me for that!)

    I blog as part of my business, but I feel like that’s different – it’s a lead generation tool for my classes. My personal blog is purely for my own memory keeping, and I don’t imagine it will ever earn any income.

  • Mary

    I haven’t read this book, but I have LOVED reading your thoughts on it here. I’ve followed scrapbook blogs for years, but I just started mine in March. A lot of the things that you’ve brought up here have been on my mind recently. Am I just looking for validation for my hobby and my life as a stay at home mom? Is this the best way that I can contribute to my community. I want to feel passionate about work that I’m doing, but I don’t want to add to the false idea that life is all sunshine and roses. Thanks again for this interesting series. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  • Thanks for commenting! I think there is something to the blogging about scrapbooking (or whatever the topic is) as a source of validation for it. When I did my study of scrapbookers, I was surprised by the number of people who worked in the industry in some capacity and the number of people who worked in the industry that did not need to for financial reasons. I think there is something going on here about needing to justify it in some way.

    I think too, that scrapbookers quickly learn that there really are only a few people who are interested in what they scrapbook. I found that moms, school-aged children, family members who scrapbook, and then other scrapbookers were most interested in seeing layouts. If a scrapbooker seeks feedback or even acknowledgment for their work, going online with a blog (or submitting to a gallery) makes a lot of sense.

  • Thanks for commenting and sharing how using a blog works for you and your business. You are right, blogs are often gossip columns with ads. Sometimes they are more or have a different focus, but many are simply that. I hope you don’t get any smack for that! 🙂

  • Mary – I hope you are enjoying your new blog 🙂 sharing is fun and therapeutic especially for those of us that don’t know many scrapbookers in ‘real life’.

    I think if you aren’t intending to make money, rather just share your work, it takes a lot of the pressure out of it 🙂

  • I post a lot of picutres my son on my blog and my Facebook page. Since most of my blog readers and friends and family, this has not caused any problems so far. If he has concerns about this when he is older, I could take them down. I do think about his privacy sometimes, but I do not make any money from my blog or scapbooking. Even though I post a lot of pictures, I try to be thoughtful about the content of my blog and Facebook page, especially if it mentions others or uses photos of others.

  • Thanks for commenting. I think it really matters when money-making is involved. I post to instagram and facebook quite a bit with mostly photos of my daughter. My facebook is private (whatever that actually means in facebook-world). My instagram is not. I review who follows me occasionally. I think if I have any concerns, then I’ll revise my privacy settings.