April 15, 12pm: Kara Van Cleaf, “Of Woman Born to Mommy Blogged: The Journey from the Personal as Political to the Personal as a Commodity”

Presenters: Kara Van Cleaf

Time: 12pm, Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Location: Room 1631, Hunter West, Hunter College, 695 Park Ave., New York, NY 10065

RSVP: hunterdigitalsociety@gmail.com

This article investigates the claim that mothers’ blogging “authentic experience” is a political act. Mining personal experience was the first step in transforming society for second-wave feminists. Today, when personal experience meets up with digital technology, it is mined instead for two intertwined forms of value production: emotional and economic. To map the shift from the personal-for-politics to the personal-for-production, I compare personal writings on motherhood from two sources, separated by approximately forty years: Adrienne Rich’s book Of Woman Born (originally published in 1976) and selections from mommy blogs, which explore all aspects of motherhood and have a global readership in the millions. Despite being separated generationally from Rich, mommy bloggers discuss their experiences in startlingly similar terms. The blogs are a rich and vast archive of experiences of motherhood, yet the feminist project of situating women’s experiences within a larger social context as a way to effect change, as so adroitly done by Rich, has disappeared. The intimate experiences of contemporary motherhood becomes a commodity through two interrelated structures: the architecture of social media platforms, which garner value from the free labor of users, and “narratives of resilience,” which refer to public articulations of personal triumph over societal obstacles (James 2015). I argue that mommy blogs reveal a simultaneous commodification and depoliticization of motherhood, where value is generated by mothers but absorbed by media platforms. Returning to Rich and the feminism of the 1970s provides a method to connect personal experience to our contemporary political landscape and, ultimately, to imagine a different world.

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