How to Succeed in Mommy Blogging: Cursing, Sex, and Vaginas


Recently I attended a lovely Ladies Who Blog luncheon with other mommy bloggers whose ambitions ran the gamut from “I’m just doing this so I don’t go crazy being a full-time mom” to “my agent is packaging me for a web series.” The idea behind the gathering was to pry us away from our laptops so we could interact with real live women who write the blogs, trade ideas, and offer support. General networking stuff.

Somewhere between the Israeli couscous salad and the mini-cupcakes, the conversation shifted to an analysis of a particular brand of snarkiness that accompanies some of the most widely read mommy blogs. The writers of these Snarky Blogs wave their snark flag proudly, often warning readers that if they can’t handle truckdriver-worthy profanity and torrents of sarcasm, they should get the f**k off their f**king site.

I have a theory about the genesis of the Snarky Mommy genre. The Snarky Mommy blogger is yin to the gloriously fulfilled mommy yang. Rip off the June Cleaver body suit and you’ll find a bedraggled Sylvia Plath gazing longingly at the oven. The Snarky Mommy genre gives voice to the Chinese foot-binding kind of pressure that our culture puts on women to conform to a saint-like model of mommydom:

Good mothers speak in beatific tones always, even in the toy aisle at Costco.

Good mothers make their own baby food and think it’s the cutest thing ever when their infant hurls onto the cashmere sweater they knitted during naptime.

Good mothers would never dream of weaning before their child is in preschool so they can toss back a mojito.

Given the oppressive, judgmental stance towards mothers these days, it’s refreshing to behold a counterpoint emerge in the zeitgeist. The Snarky Mommy Grand Dames, Dooce being the richest, and leading the pack, do what they do quite well. They are seasoned wordcrafters, and they have perfected a singularly brazen, irreverent and appealingly crass style that’s distinctive and laugh-out-loud funny.

But when any pop culture brand hits it out of the park, imitators go forth and multiply almost overnight. For instance: How many vampire books and Annoying Housewife reality TV mutations do we really need? The more these derivatives spawn, the more they sound alike and the less punch they pack.

Maybe it’s just my Uptight WASP upbringing rearing its prissy head, but there are a few Snarky Mommy trademarks that, when used indiscriminately, I’d rather not read.

Snarky Bloggers curse with pride and gusto. They issue proceed-with-caution warnings to prospective readers.

Snarky Bloggers announce that they’re just about to have sex with their husbands and they report on their activity, post-coitus.

Snarky Bloggers discuss the state of their post-breastfeeding breasts as well as their vaginas, aka “va-jay-jays.”

The Snarky Blogger celebrities have branded themselves and boast huge readerships. Dooce has over 1,500,000 Twitter followers. The Bloggess and Scary Mommy both have over 178,000. What does this mean? It means that Dooce, at least, is successful enough to support her family in a high-end lifestyle. I don’t know what The Bloggess or Scary Mommy make, but I imagine they don’t need day jobs. Which begs the question:

Do you have to curse or reference your vagina in order to be a successful Mommy Blogger?

Before I come across as too snarky myself, let me just say that I champion every blogger’s right to have her particular bloggy voice. For some bloggers, peppering their posts with curse words and airing intimate laundry comes naturally and they do so with aplomb. The Bloggess swears like a sailor, writes a sex column, and is perhaps one of the funniest people in the blogosphere. Her post about Mommy Business cards makes me howl every time I read it.

Why is it that some bloggers can make Snark appealing while others make it merely offensive? My friend Jenny Heitz, who writes the occasionally snarky and always witty social commentary/shopping blog, Find a Toad, theorizes that The Bloggess (and others of her ilk) rock Snark by being self-deprecating, turning the joke back on themselves instead of simply snarking on others.

As a writer who blogs about divorce, custody and complicated children, I realize that my confessional subject matter is inherently controversial and can ignite a firestorm of criticism. To protect the privacy of my ex-husband, my current husband, my children and anyone else even vaguely associated with me, I blog under a pseudonym and show only cropped, non-identifying photos. I am at times sarcastic, irreverent, satirical. I strive to be honest, entertaining, and to create meaning out of wrenching situations.

What I don’t do is curse. Or at least hardly ever. As swear words go, I believe less is more. I also don’t invite readers into my bedroom. Again, maybe it’s my prim Waspy background, but sex is something I’d rather keep private. Although I have taken pains to disguise my blog, there is always the chance that my children will discover their mother is also Pauline and would be completely grossed out to read about my sex life. And finally, if I were to mention my vagina, I would not refer to it as my “va-jay-jay.” Ever.

Unless someone offered me a lot of money.

Regardless of subject matter or stylistic preference, good writing is good writing. I’m perfectly happy to read about someone else’s vagina as long as there’s reason beyond shock value to read about it.

Bloggers, what are your confessional limits and why? Have you considered going snarky in the hope that it would boost your readership and bring in advertisers?

Readers, what’s your reaction to blogs featuring sexual emploits, cursing and body parts? Fine? Don’t care? Too much information?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
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16 Responses to How to Succeed in Mommy Blogging: Cursing, Sex, and Vaginas

  1. I looked at the Alexa scores and discovered that Dooce is no longer king, er, queen of the heap. Twitter is one thing but traffic is also a telling indicator of popularity. Maybe Alexa isn’t the be all and end all but for lack of another measure, I present the following.

    The Bloggess
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/thebloggess.com#
    global=13,471
    US=2,272

    Dooce
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/dooce.com#
    global=17,781
    US=5,337

    Scary Mommy
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/scarymommy.com#
    global=32,069
    US=9,491

    I debate with myself about following a set of personal standards and the question is whether or not those standards translate into something interesting for others. Robin Williams is very, very popular because he’s very, very funny. I’m not. Lewis Black has an extremely amusing outlook on politics and life. I don’t. That isn’t modesty. My Alexa score clearly indicates where I am in the eyes of the public. Then again I’m only one of seven billion people and that’s a lot of competition vying for your attention.

    From a purely commercial standpoint, anyone can deliberately consider what may or may not work for developing a following. Hey, if I could rap maybe I would cash in like Flavor Fav. If I was ripped and had a Brooklyn accent, maybe I’d audition for Jersey Shore. Hey yo’all! Oddly enough, I have a job and even though my popularity is measured by one, my boss, and by the other staff at the company, I am doing the same thing as everybody else by supplying a service for money whether real or for an entertainment value. And speaking of money, if I had an Alexa score like the above three bloggers, I’d monetize my own blog, quit my day job, and devote myself to peppering cyberspace with my sparkling wit and charm even if that meant throwing in all seven of George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV. Why you corksoaker! (I hate it when my spellchecker malfunctions)

    However I admit that right now I can’t make such a commitment. Like Pauline, I blog anonymously. I hold back out of fear of being “outed”, out of fear of what friends, family and my boss might say if they discovered I had written about some topics which may be considered delicate. A raised eyebrow from my place of employment might find me walking out the door with a cardboard box of my personal belongings. What would my children say if they found out I wrote about *gasp* sex?

    So, in a world of all or nothing, I will continue in the background timidly trying out different (written) voices. If my Alexa score drops under a hundred thousand, I would be in a position of betting the farm and going for broke. Yes, my family and friends could look askance at my snarkiness but who would argue with the money? I’m sure Snooki is flipping the world the bird every time she goes to the bank.

  2. I don’t make money from my blog. I swear on it on occasion and sometimes I pretend to soften it with a well-placed asterisk. I don’t put specific identifying information or pictures of my family. I must admit, that until recently, I didn’t even know the word “snarky.” Now I do. I read a lot of blogs. Seems there is a measure of safety when the snarky mommy blogger is married because even when writing about “f*cking” and “va-jay-jays” it is still a married woman talking about marital relations with her husband. It also helps if they are making a living from it. Then it becomes a job, a way of sustenance and sustaining sustenance. And it’s creative, legal, rewarding, professional/white collar and doesn’t compromise morals like being a 1-900 phone worker or call-girl would. It is family based, just with curse words and sex. Is it necessary to be a Snarky Blogger? Well, it’s, so I’m told (and ignore), necessary to find your niche. Without the “snark” family bloggers would be competing for the precious reading minutes of those who also read Parents’ Magazine, Ladies Home Journal, Rachael Ray, Good Housekeeping, etc .That’s tough competition. So, yes, in that way, it’s necessary and genius. I think women, mothers, need the “snarky” side (you know, I don’t think I like that word at all) because most of us are not TV perfect moms and we do still have womanly needs and non-maternal thoughts. Plus, the media, and especially 20 and 30 something single woman are very hard on mothers — once women give birth, we are expected to don the “mom” jeans and dance in our kitchens with a mop and sexuality becomes “icky” or even worse, we are supposed to disappear altogether. So, yeah, I get it, the whole “Snarky” movement. That said, I also admit that sometimes I can’t relate — but it’s not because of the cursing. Might be a cultural thing. I don’t know. Might be because I don’t have a husband anymore. Sometimes the Snarky Mom Blogs remind me of the seemingly perfect affluent Stepford Wife like moms I see every day in real life. So the “Snark” is not salty or shocking to me. It’s normal. (Guess what everybody knows we’ve had sex, we have children. Shhhh ) But if it’s funny, it’s funny. And I like a good read even if I don’t fit the demographic and have no personal experience with the topic — as long as it is enjoyable. A good writer or topic can bring in a reader who doesn’t check the same boxes and have that reader still “relate.” Some of the Snarky mom bloggers do that. I read a lot of blogs by women, often not moms, often not married, often much younger than I am. I bet I’m not alone in that, but I don’t know. The divorce and/or dating blogs have a different focus and don’t have to create a “dark side” to June Cleaver, so the amount of “Snark” (yeah, it’s official, I hate that word) is more a matter of personal choice. For me, it depends on the subject matter of the post. And sadly, I don’t often write about sex because, lately well, it doesn’t happen . . . that often. Sigh. But here’s to hoping . . .

    As a blogger I have some confessional limits, but other than privacy concerns, it all depends on the subject matter, how I feel, what I’m comfortable with and whether it is helpful or necessary to the post. I don’t think I’m capable of going “Snarky.” It feels like something the popular girls do, and I’ve never been in that group. Whatever adult content that shows up in my blog won’t be pursuant to the “Snarky” paradigm.

    As a reader? Meh. Depends on whether I am enjoying the read. I’m not easily offended. I am, however, easily bored.

    But, to the Snarky Bloggers who do it well, make money, don’t have to have a day job, and provide good stuff to read — I am so fucking jealous I can’t stand it.

    \

  3. phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    I’d say simply that, as a reader, I don’t read blogs I’m not comfortable with. I don’t want TMI about anybody and the idea that their children could someday read their writing should scare the hell out of some bloggers – male and female! Ayelet Waldman is an author whose books I generally enjoy but her other writing – particularly about her love for her husband, Michael Chabon – is whack-city. I read a fantastic satire on one over-the-top column she wrote a few years ago that I would send to you for reprinting if you’d like. It’s truly delicious. She also writes about her children in the most cringe-worthy way imaginable.

    I’m trying to remember the British writer who blogged about her children – she had three – in an on-going blog in a British newspaper a few years ago. She wrote in particular about her oldest son – he was in his late teens at the time – and his addiction to something called “skunk”. He was terribly out-of-control, both verbally and physically – and the entire family was afraid of him. She thought she was writing “anonymously” but her children and seemingly half the literate population of England knew who she and her family were. She then wrote a book on her experiences. If you’re interested, I’ll shake my early morning brain and find out the details. (I read the book and found it actually quite brave).

    So bloggers should write what they want and their “readership” will, in the end, make the decision on what’s worth-while reading.

  4. I think you’re right that mom bloggers follow trends and when one blogger became successful using curse words the others start trying it. But, it’s now over-saturated and most of them don’t have the wit to make it work. Great piece!

  5. (Disclaimer: I curse with pride and gusto. So please proceed-with-caution, as the following comment may offend readers.)

    😉

    Well crap…

    I mean, dammit …

    Errrr…eff it all. Yes, I swear. But I do so in real life (when children aren’t around, of course), so that just happens to be my voice. And here I thought I was starting a trend — hehe…

    You know, this whole mommy blogger business is a moniker that kinda annoys me. I’m a mommy, and I’m a blogger (sorta – more a writer, but you get my drift)…but there’s certainly an “ilk,” as you point out, that I don’t think I fit into. And I must be way out of the loop, because I didn’t know snark was a requisite.

    My take: If you’re being genuine, people can tell. But if you’re throwing in references to genitalia just to get hits (and wow, what quality hits those must be…), then people can tell that, too.

    Just my .02…

    Don’t hate me because I swear — k?

    • I don’t hate you and I agree with your .02– and that was really the point of the article. It’s all about being authentic. It’s the ones who haven’t really found their own voice and are imitating that can make the genre seem stale.

  6. This is a timely post for me to read because I write two blogs…one with one voice and one with another…and have lately been wondering if both of those are missing the mark and I need to try something that’s even more authentic to me? However, if I really think about it, those ARE both authentic to parts of my personality and adding cursing (which I do ALL THE TIME in my real life, around my kids, even at church once), while also an authentic part of my personality, wouldn’t necessarily jibe with the other two. In other words…maybe I should have started one way instead of considering changing. Or fall off the blogosphere and recreate myself again.

    Regarding the V, I grew up in a strict household that put a lot of shame on sexuality, so I try to sprinkle very little in my blogs (Wednesday Night Meltdowns is the one exception). My mother even once gave me THAT LOOK when she read a title of one of my poems and it contained the word “lover.” It hasn’t been easy to overcome that fear of whoredom.

    So, I guess I’m saying that I wish I wrote more like I talk or think, but I have this weirdly prudish sense of propriety when it comes to putting things in print. I’m not as concerned about my kids reading about me (except the divorce stuff — which I want them to neither read nor hear) because they hear all about my life and more around the kitchen table. I’m a little worried about my mom reading it, but have come to expect the snide remark.

    I just think that when I’m writing about serious stuff in my touching the trees blog, I want it to be serious and when I’m writing about the weekly travails of living in a commune, I want it to reflect the sense of humor we all have around here.

    Side note: I was toying with the idea of writing a blog with a man’s voice…

    Thanks for the post, P. I’m glad I’m not the only one with snark-envy.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Except occasionally, the whole mommy blogger/snarkette thing bores me to tears. I’m more of a blog snob, I guess, although I did practically fall out of my chair when I read The Blogess’ giant chicken post.

  8. sooboo says:

    It’s all about the writing. If the writing is good (entertaining, thoughtful, funny, honest and engaging) than the writer can curse/not curse, overshare or whatever. The problems arise when salacious writing becomes a substitute for good writing.

  9. I wish I could make money off my site – given the time and tending it’s gotten – and a very real need to generate revenues in a dreadful economy!

    But I suck at compromising my integrity. I suck at snarky (though I am, on occasion). Frankly, I suck at writing what I’m not feeling – unless I’m paid to do so, and even then it ain’t easy.

    I appreciate all sorts of humor (a little snark is good in small doses), I write about sex (but I hope, like a grownup), and I guess I’ll do without the gratuitous vaginas and amazing Alexa rankings, and hope my very slowly growing readership enjoys the conversation.

  10. Val says:

    Too many friends/family IRL know of my blog, so I keep it “clean”… (which probably translates as boring-as-hell to someone who doesn’t know me)

    & of course I try to avoid writing anything which would embarrass my son, should he stumble across it one day…

  11. Janie Bird says:

    I kind of have the opposite problem. I write a sex blog. I even have my own site with Q&A and photos (explicit but not identifiable), and it doesn’t pay me anything: I put it up to promote an erotic book. So even though I have a real life, on my site and blog I have to concentrate on being provocative and sexy. I have no integrity to compromise, because this is a wholly commercial enterprise, and I want to sell my book. I am a college teacher, so I must be anonymous online. I wonder if my non-kinky life is interesting enough to blog about, and worry about needing something new just to keep my Google searches happening.

  12. BatSheva says:

    I am a writer who started blogging earlier this year and only started reading other bloggers slowly over the past couple of months (being a mommy and a working mommy and a writer… well, you all know how much time that leaves us)… so I don’t know most of the ‘Mommy Bloggers’. BUT. I agree with the one commenter, that good writing is good writing. Yours, Pauline, is heart-wrenching and compelling. The Bloggess, is, simply, HILARIOUS. And I love love love to laugh. Anything else… who has time!!!???

  13. I used to read Dooce many many many years ago. And then I got tired of her content. It just felt very… recycled. Or something.

    As a blogger, I really just can’t fake the funk. When I have tried to write something in a particular tone, it just goes to poop and I end up deleting it. I just sit and write whatever, however. I go back and edit, of course, but I never change the tone.

    Is that why my blog isn’t a money-making creation? I have no idea. Truth be told, my blog is free and I’m not supposed to make money off of it. If I went for gold, would I get it? I have no idea. I like writing but I hate feeling forced to write and I feel that would come along with the territory.

    I honestly don’t know how some of these bloggers maintain these “characters” for so long. And yes, I know a lot of them are just that because I’ve seen so many of them fizzle out and revamp and change and overhaul. Which is fine with me except they usually make the same mistake and just choose another character.

    I have a horrible time filling out About me sections and writing reasons I think people should read me because I have no niche, I have no particular commonly known brand/style, etc. I just write me. And as long as that is interesting enough to some people to warrant interaction on some level, I’m happy.

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