So Mumsnet has come under attack of late, in more ways than one. I’m going to ignore the DDoS attack, and focus on the criticism it has attracted from other bloggers, some of whom are justifying the attacks by describing Mumsnet as a pit of vipers.
Let’s face it, they’re not alone. The media haven’t been shy in criticising Mumsnet, with some describing the website as “smug, patronising and vicious”. There are entire blogs set up, purely to froth at the mouth about how awful and man-hating and unsupportive and vile Mumsnet is, because they allow women to swear (it’s not ladylike, don’t you know?) and aren’t filled with glittery gubbins and tickers like the other parenting website.
Still, with all the hatred Mumsnet is getting, I think it’s important to remind people that the site isn’t pure evil.
When I found out I was pregnant unexpectedly at 19, I was terrified. I signed up to another parenting website – I won’t name names, but let’s just say it’s renowned for its love of glitter and tickers – and asked for advice and help. Despite having a dedicated young parents section, as soon as I posted, I was under attack. People criticised me for wanting to continue with my education; they told me I was awful for considering abortion; that I’d be gallivanting with their taxes if I continued with my degree.
I reported some of the nastier posts to the admins, who promptly banned me for not using my real name as my screen name. Considering I had just found out I was pregnant and didn’t want anyone finding out, I don’t think it’s hard to understand why I used a nickname. And without so much as a warning, I was banned.
So I Googled again, looking for parenting websites, and found Mumsnet. I’d heard of Mumsnet previously – only in articles like the one above, describing it as unsupportive, rude and cliquey. I felt apprehensive, especially when I realised they didn’t even have a young parent’s section – I was certain I wouldn’t fit in – but I went ahead and posted a thread in their general Parenting section.
I was overwhelmed by the messages of support, encouragement and positive stories. Not one person called me irresponsible or stupid; people told me I absolutely could continue my education, they gave me advice on how best to tell my parents, they inspired me with their own stories of how falling pregnant at a young age had never held them back, and they had no regrets. At the same time, they reassured me – if I decided to have an abortion, that was okay too. It was my choice, and no-one else had any right to tell me what to do.
That will be two years ago on September 4th. Since then, I’ve been an active member of Mumsnet, and not only have I received such amazing advice, I’ve been able to advise other members too. I can frequently be found on threads started by young parents-to-be, reassuring them like other posters reassured me. I’ve had fantastic tips on dealing with development anxiety, when I was worried that SB was falling behind. I’ve had endless encouragement from Mumsnetters when my dissertation was tough going.
It’s also on Mumsnet where I met two amazing groups of ladies; the April and May due-date clubs. We have shared not just our pregnancies, but the last eighteen months of our babies lives, and they have constantly supported, never passing judgement on me or my situation. Without Mumsnet, I would never have had this support network. With uni and work, I’ve never had time to make proper ‘mummy friends’ – the Mumsnet groups have filled that void.
At Christmas, someone nominated us for the Secret Santa Appeal. Total strangers from Mumsnet took time out of their lives, and sent beautiful, thoughtful gifts for us and for SB – something so generous, so kind and so wonderful that I cried. I don’t know what we did to deserve that, but it is one of the most heartwarming things I have ever encountered.
Mumsnetters are campaigning for better miscarriage care. For higher awareness of the needs and the identities of children with special needs. Their ‘We Believe You’ campaign aimed to increase support of rape victims. They have raised incredible amounts of money for charities. Woolly Hugs, the Mumsnet knitting campaign, doesn’t just knit blankets for other Mumsnetters who have lost loved ones, or for the families of Mumsnetters who have sadly passed away – they also make Angel Teddies for the families of babies who pass away in the SCBU of Yorkhill Children’s Hospital, they send beautiful Billie’s Blankets to children with cancer in low- and middle-income countries, all organised and knitted by volunteer Mumsnetters.
We’re not man-haters. Most of us have partners or husbands. Many Mumsnetters have sons. Even those who don’t are not man-haters. The feminism board is home to a lot of radical feminists, but even they do not claim to ‘hate all men’. They are more outspoken in their hatred of the patriarchy and of inequality, but I have yet to see any poster declare that she hates men.
There are areas of the site that are cliquey, or argumentative. Am I Being Unreasonable is not for the faint-hearted, and Chat has its moments. Breast vs bottle debates can be dicey, but the majority of posters on both sides of the argument are reasoned, measured and never resort to personal attacks. Put it this way – if you go looking for the bitchy side of Mumsnet, as many of these bloggers and article-writers appear to have done, you will find it, and you won’t like it. If you go in with an open mind, see the bitchy posts for what they are – posters letting off steam behind the keyboard, and the odd idiot on a power trip, just like every forum has – you’ll find the most supportive, loving, gin-obsessed, absolutely-bonkers-but-totally-amazing group of genuine, awesome people you will ever encounter online.
But if you still want to denounce Mumsnet as a pit of vipers, and decry all of its members as middle-class, bitchy harridans, that’s fine. For me, however, this pit of vipers was the only place that accepted me, and these middle-class, bitchy harridans were the only people to support a young, terrified girl when she needed it most.