This week, Guardian writer Hadley Freeman wrote about “happening across a particularly fascinating Instagram post from a member of that strange and relatively new breed of person known as mumfluencer”.
According to Freeman, the aforementioned mumfluencer was “dressed ever-so-casually but with mysteriously perfect makeup” while marching through a forest with three small boys. Even more curiously, she was holding a letter board sign which read: “Into the woods we go because kids won’t remember their best day of television.”
In addition to asking the obvious (did she really carry that letter board on the entire woodland adventure …. awkward), Freeman vented her frustration with what she called “performative parenting”, which often includes a healthy dose of implicit or explicit mother-shaming. Because, let’s be honest, mumfluencers’ primary target audience is other mothers.
But for me, the most infuriating thing about the woodland Insta mum was that, unlike other recent mother shaming episodes, including one in which a tabloid newspaper slammed mummy bloggers for “confessing to their gin-soaked shortcomings” such as serving their kids fish fingers, this time the mother-shaming call was coming from inside the “mumfluencer” house.
And, sadly, it’s not the first time.
Here in Australia, a few months ago author and “mumfluencer” Lauren Dubois was slammed for issuing an edict in which she advised mothers what they should wear to the school pick up.
“When I became a school mum, I genuinely put time and effort into researching what I should wear to school drop-off and pick-up,” the Canberra mum-of-three wrote.
Dubois told mums that they should be “casual but presentable”, as it’s important to show that “you’ve put in a small amount of effort”. And she advised them to opt for “minimal active wear”. Lastly, she warned that failure to heed her advice could have catastrophic consequences: other parents may not allow their kids to be friends with your child as they will “worry about play dates at your house being inside a dumpster”.
Another striking recent example of an Australian “mumfluencer” run amok: Taylor Winterstein, who is married to the NRL player Frank Winterstein. In 2019 she prompted backlash after promoting her $200 “informative” workshops on Instagram to help parents understand why “vaccines are not safe and effective for everyone”.
When some raised questions, not only about the scientifically dubious advice, but the $200 price tag, Winterstein responded that “if a money block is coming up” followers should “reflect on those limiting beliefs”. She also “invited” them to reflect on how they could be “more resourceful” with their money.
Sadly, this series of events is representative of everything that’s wrong with a certain cohort of “mumfluencer”, who perpetuates already rife mother-shaming whilst simultaneously claiming to create a safe and supportive “community”.
Too many trade in deeply anti-woman claptrap, positioning themselves as a kind of “mother superior” called upon to educate the poor, proverbial unwashed masses about what it means to be a “good mother”. And we all know that the concept of a “good mother” — and broader society’s insistence that women adhere to a very narrow script — is very loaded indeed.
For far too long, as Freeman’s fellow Guardian writer Zoe Williams recently wrote earlier this year , our parenting culture is one in which “everything that goes wrong is down to irresponsible mothering and the concept of responsibility is interchangeable with affluence.”
What’s more, as the pandemic rages, putting additional pressure on mothers, who study after study shows are shouldering a disproportionate burden of the pandemic-related domestic work whilst losing their jobs at alarmingly higher rates, exhaustion and other health-related consequences are on the rise. Experts here in Australia and elsewhere have warned of a shadow pandemic of “parental burnout”, which is particularly impacting mothers.
Someone needs to stand up for the everyday mums who don’t occupy the privileged world of social media influencers. And someone needs to tell the individual stories of these mothers and the systems and structures that have failed them.
Thankfully, a growing number of major media outlets are doing just that, devoting considerable column inches — and front-page treatment — to highlighting the real challenges facing mothers in the midst of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, a front-page story in New York Magazine declared, “This isn’t working” in reference to women during the pandemic, particularly mothers, who are “barely hanging on”.
Then The New York Times published a special series over the following weekend entitled “Primal Scream”, which contained a series of articles highlighting the extent to which “mothers are in crisis” with the pandemic exposing “balance” for “the lie that it is”.
This is the kind of “content”, whether on social media or in mainstream media, we need more of. Not, chirpy, Insta posts scolding mothers for not taking the necessary precautions to avoid giving the impression that their home is a “dumpster”, they let their kids watch too much telly, or they think it’s socially responsible to get their kid vaccinated. Yeah, that last one hasn’t aged well.
For too many mothers, 2020 and 2021 have been a dumpster fire. Ask any Sydney-based mother who finds herself overseeing “remote learning” again next week.
If a mother’s choice of clothing reflects that, or she turns a blind eye to a bit of extra screen time (or lugs the whole damn flatscreen on a jaunt into the woods) so be it. I, personally, think mums should get a gold star just for muddling through this pandemic as best they can.
Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica.