There is a corner of Hyde Park in London called Speaker's Corner. There, people congregate, standing on crates, holding banners, spreading the word about their chosen subject. From social reform to religion, comedy to plain lunacy, people exercise their right to free speech. Pedestrians enter through Marble Arch, walking past, stopping to listen, moving around to find the speaker they want to listen to today. As long as there is no profanity almost any topic is tolerated. Speakers finish, walk off through the crowd, more arrive and start their speeches, tourists watch, office workers listen, people laugh, cry, argue, discuss.
The blogging world is similar in my mind to Speaker's Corner. When you start a blog, that is you getting up on your soap box. People visit your blog, listen to what you have to say, move on to another. In real life if we hear someone talking about something we don't agree with we generally shrug/roll our eyes and move on, sometimes we need to say we disagree and do things differently. If we agree we may say "Hear, hear!" and share our similar experiences.
Occasionally in a blog there is some topic being discussed that is dear to our heart. Perhaps we had a tricky time of it, and here is someone talking about how easy they found it. Or we are very committed to an ideal, and here is someone making light of it. We have three choices as readers:
1. We can move off the blog, stop reading it today, or forever if we feel we have nothing in common with the writer.
2. We can enter into a discussion with the writer, telling them how we have been affected by their writing and ask their motivation for writing it if we are unclear.
3. We can leave a rude anonymous comment saying we don't agree with the writer.
We don't get paid to blog. Nobody has asked me to blog about my parenting experiences. I chose to start this blog last September to make sense of what I was going through, to reach out and meet similar people on the journey I'm on. Hundreds of people have written to me to thank me for sharing my breastfeeding, birthing and parenting experiences, as they realise they are not the only ones going through the challenges. A lot of good has come from my blog for me and my readers.
What I don't get is the person who chooses to do option 3 above, who logs in anonymously to leave a vicious, judgemental comment. Sometimes it's disguised as a helpful pointer to me, in a passive-aggressive way. Sometimes it's blunt and downright rude. Obviously something in my writing has touched the reader, hurt them in some way; they see it as a personal attack, and they attack back.
I used to have all comments appear automatically on my blog, trusting people to leave an opinion, and to be fair in their criticism. Unfortunately there were some very negative comments and I had to start moderating and approving comments before publishing them. Whenever I see there is a comment waiting to be moderated my heart thumps, and I scan it quickly to see is it positive or negative, before reading it again slower. Only one of the negative commenters ever left a name, the rest were all too chicken. I put my real name and my face to this blog; I have nothing to hide.
The way I look at is I'm on this journey, some are on it too. Most of my readers are on a similar path. Some are ahead of me, have been doing it for longer, and are better at it, and want to check in on my progress. Some are behind me, starting out and learning a bit from my experiences. I follow blogs of mothers who have older children, who are home educating, or unschooling, or mothering more children, or older children etc, who I really learn from. If I got a constructively critical comment from someone on my path I would listen, learn and maybe understand a bit more. But the "haters" aren't even on this path, it seems. They aren't sleeping with their babies, breastfeeding their toddlers or exploring non-mainstream medicines. They are following the "done thing" that their sister, friends and mothers do/did, accepting the current social practices of detachment parenting as the best practise, and that's their choice. So why are they reading my blog? Why do they need to know what I'm up to in my little world? Why do they care enough to read, and leave a comment like "Shame on you for not vaccinating your children" or "I find your blog very, very condescending" or "You need to wake up and get with the real world".
In trying to understand these people I have come to the conclusion that they must feel threatened in some way, afraid that I'm doing something different, and doing it with confidence. I've read and researched for years about every one of my parenting choices, and I'm secure about them. Secure enough to be around other parents who parent differently and not feel threatened or judged by them. If a mother makes up a bottle of formula beside me, do I start to question whether I should be breastfeeding or not? If a mother puts her child in a creche, do I feel I should too? Of course not. So, when someone reads that I cuddle my babies at night in bed, and she feels compelled to tell me this is not acceptable in her mind, who's got the issue here? I figure she's struggling with her choice not to co-sleep, maybe has dismissed it as "unsafe" without researching it properly, and is threatened by my description of lovely night-time routines in our house, because her child may be having trouble sleeping alone.
Take the people who say my breastfeeding my almost-4 year old is wrong, that I am molly-coddling my son, that he is too old to nurse, that it will stunt his development, that I am fulfilling some need in me etc. My son has never needed a favourite teddy, a soother, a blanket or some other comfort item. My breast is my son's comfort item, that's all. That's fine by me, it's my breast, it's my son, it's my choice, not yours.
I could go on and on all day. I'm really pissed at the online hate for extended breastfeeders at the moment. There are mothers all over the western world feeling unsupported and victimised by the ignorant comments after the Time magazine article and it's subsequent discussions last week. I've since seen mothers online saying they feel vulnerable "still" breastfeeding their 2 or 3 year old, and they are wondering just how many people "out there" don't approve. It is only our culture that sees breasts as sexual organs before baby-feeding organs. In other parts of the world a breastfeeding mother is patted on the back by strangers when out feeding in public, in ours she is told to cover up. In other parts of the world a child is allowed to wean when he is ready, in ours it is the mother who decides when the child is ready. Mothers are not supported here; we're expected to get back into our jeans, into our jobs, and carry on earning money, as if our lives were not completely changed by the momentous feat of birthing our babies and becoming a mother. Even birth is not revered as the life-changing event it is. A mother who has a difficult birth is told to "get over it, get on with minding the baby, and be thankful you are both alive, that's all that matters". That's not all that matters. Everywhere I go, I meet mothers and share experiences, and hear constant tales of "horrific" births, which are glossed over, pushed down, and never dealt with. These women carry the scars with them for life.
As a society we need to create space to mother. We need to demand it. We need to believe we deserve it. If we want to have a longer maternity leave we need to ask for it. If we want to be supported in breastfeeding we should take offence at the formula advertising and call it for the money-making scam it is. Where is the nurturing, the support, the acceptance? It seems everyone is so defensive, so afraid, so unsure, even mothers are attacking other mothers. How did we get to this point?
And when it comes to leaving a rude comment on my blog, please do me the favour of leaving your name, if not your face, as there is nothing more cowardly than an anonymous bitch. Oooh!