Culture, Other People, Parenting, Rants

In Defence of Mumsnet

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 disMumsnet logocussions 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 🙂 ❤ ❤ 😮 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.

justine off of mumsnet.  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.

About Alicia J Duffy

All purpose northern lefty guardian reading feminist single mum.


8 thoughts on “In Defence of Mumsnet

  1. Mumsnet has saved my sanity on more occasions than I can remember. Whenever we’re faced with a parenting puzzle, Mumsnet is our first stop. Every time. And every time, it delivers a sensible, experience-based solution. Admittedly, I only venture onto AIBU if I’m feeling particularly brave, but there’s a talk board for pretty much everything and everyone. I adore Mumsnet.

    Posted by eggdipdip | March 20, 2012, 9:55 am
  2. Thanks, Alicia, for a thought-provoking post. I am a member of Mumsnet, although as a blogger I tend to lurk in the Bloggers forum. I am very grateful for the support I got from Mumsnet (and Mumsnet bloggers) as a new blogger. It helped me get on my feet and told me nice things about my blog.

    I am not a mother (my choice, long story), so I tend not to read blogs that are solely about other people’s children – I have friends with lovely children in the real world and they get my full attention.

    However, although my blog was accepted by Mumsnet, I don’t get a lot of site traffic from Mumsnetters. Still, I would rather be in than out.

    I fully support the rights of parents, men or women, to express themselves in a positive, respectful environment. And I am very proud to be part of a network which promotes some very important social and domestic issues. My mother never had the advantage of this support, and many women in Africa still don’t.

    Which is why I may not always agree with the debate on Mumsnet, but I always support the right to debate.

    Posted by shacklefordlb | March 20, 2012, 10:28 am
  3. I do think that a lot of the objections to Mumsnet are based on the fact that a section of society (mothers) that was previously confined to talking about fluffy non confrontational things and pretty much barred from much of the political discourse (because they are often the primary childcarers and so stuck in the house unable to go to meetings etc) has now been able to find a voice.

    And they are pissed off.

    Yes, mumsnet has plenty of recipes, breastfeeding tips, stuff about school etc. But why is the fact that the site covers the concerns of parents (esp mothers) seen as a reason to denigrate it? And why does that mean that the other topics that it covers are ignored?

    Mumsnet has been a lifeline for me, not just for parenting concerns, but also as support with health, relationship, money and practical problems. It has also been a great source of friendship and entertainment – a haven of rude jokes, political debate and sheer unreasonableness.

    Posted by Alicia J Duffy | March 20, 2012, 12:55 pm
  4. Perhaps before we all grab our genitals, choose a side and go running into the fray, we should just take a few breaths and see what has actually happened here. A very well run and moderated platform has been attacked for the no doubt emotionally charged opinions of it’s contributors. Many of these have been deleted (as per the moderation guidelines) from the site and rightly so. Quite a few haven’t, and if the MUMSNET response is to be believed some have been fabricated by F4J to “justify” their response – which, if true, is indicative that they knew what they were about to do was not commensurate. Clearly the broad brush painting of gender stereotypes, on both sides, is a direct result of being unable to untangle personal emotions from the bigger picture, we can all understand that. What is, perhaps, harder to understand is why a wannabe national newspaper would carry such an advertisement. Call me an old cynic but is it possible that a new aspirational “broadsheet” would court attention by carrying a heavily biassed and inflammatory advert (so close to mother’s day). I would like to think not.

    Okay this is the official rebuttal – very fair in my opinion.

    On a day when Dennis Waterman is in the papers for wife beating, and his hopelessly stupid rationale behind losing his temper is plastered across the media, can we all just take a moment to not let this degenerate. Close up we are none of us stereotypes. After all, this is about the welfare of children, this is not about acting like them. I just hope that Fathers for Justice have not done irreparable damage to their image, you don’t have to be a dad to realise that their intentions, at heart, are good.

    Posted by James Conmy | March 20, 2012, 4:27 pm
  5. Good post. Obviously slightly biased since you are a member of the forum, and of course I will agree with your post, since I am also a member.

    I do think that James has a good point. It is good to take a step back and remember that there are much more important issues to get worked up about than this. No one, much less the children, benefits from gender warfare.

    When things are posted online in a inflammatory way, it is easy to get caught up in the “how very DARE you?” tit for tat, which escalates until neither side is looking particularly adult or educated.

    I feel desperately sorry for any parent who, through no fault of their own, loses contact to their child and would gladly support a campaign that highlighted this in a sensible fashion.

    Posted by MmeLindor | March 20, 2012, 7:50 pm
  6. Oh, I have (possibly stupidly) been googling… we have “feminist” used as an insult again. Sigh.

    How can it possibly be a bad thing to want both genders to have equal chances in life? In fact, some of the haters of MN seem to be saying that all they want is equality.

    Dirty feminists.

    Posted by Alicia J Duffy | March 21, 2012, 9:41 pm
  7. Great post – Mumsnet is not the enemy! I have recieved great help from Mumsnet on things, such as UK schooling, that I might not have wanted to ask the people around me.

    Posted by imaginatemum | May 1, 2012, 11:52 am


  1. Pingback: In Defence of Mumsnet | Think Left - April 20, 2012

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