Presentation of self: blogging and the beautiful

Once upon a time, when I was young and had a pen in my hand during the week and a beer in my hand on Friday night and no one ever said to me "Where is my shoe" and "Why can't I have bought lunch/Mcdonalds/a tv/playstation like everyone else in my class?", I took a university course on the novels of Henry James and Edith Wharton and we had to use the lens of an apparently famous book by Erving Hoffman called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Hoffmann wrote about the minute constructions of self that we present to the world. To him, we are all actors all of the time.

Last night, after checking my email and finding some wonderfully thoughtful and interesting comments on my last post, I went for a walk on the beach without asking if it suited anyone else, and at the same time refusing to take any children.

Johanna wrote:
You feel like you have to be a bit of a poster child for the values you
support, and that includes always talking positively about the great stuff you
made or cooked or did. ...
I think there's a feeling that you (well, I) don't want to show the chinks
in the armour, because then you open yourself for people to actually put the
knife into your whole value system ....There's also the whole transition townsy
thing of wanting to making a sustainable life sound fun and enticing ...

I have a few suggestions to add to Johanna's thoughts on the construction of happy woman blogs. One reason, I think, for curtailing the bad stuff, is that can be too personal. I have two friends on facebook (both with many fb 'friends') who sometimes post mentioning arguments with their partners. Frankly, I would put that on my blog (or fb) over my dead body.

I've been thinking about the parallels between happy woman blogs and those posters of happy housewives in the 1950s. I've met women who raised children in the 1950s, who spent their lives caring for others, based at home. They never worked outside the home after they married. They loved it. Not every second, because who loves every second of their life, but it was fulfilling for them. But for women in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s who wanted a life outside the kitchen, they had to fight damn hard and I certainly appreciate the changes those women achieved.

Throughout the changes in the lives of women since 1945, when the men came home and women were ordered to down their tools and get back to the kitchen lickety-split, some very enormous proportion of meals have still been made by women. Increasingly, women have worked outside the home but luck of all luckies, we now have microwaves and ready-meals which means we can not only do all that, but also take our precious offspring, ever at risk of falling below the line of class success (you could call it academic or sporting or whatever, but really it is the fear of delinquency which I think spurs much super-parenting), to soccer and piano and maths tuition and St Johns and pony club and martial arts and cricket and swimming lessons and carefully chosen play dates and ballet and and... as well!

Which of course lots of dads support as well, but I'd be interested to see how many men you can find who not only do the sports/dance/whatever hobby drop off and pick up, but also organised how it would all fit together in the morning, made sure the kids had the right gear, prepped dinner and worked full time for the day, AND made sure that when the unexpected which we all kind of expect at work crops up, he could still finish on time and collect the kids without recourse to a partner who could surely sort it out more easily.

The industrialisation of food making (which had begun before the war) continued and I think is mirrored by the industrialisation of food growing. I have found it very interesting to talk to my Dad and also to Lou before he died, about the changes to organic growing I have been trying in my garden. Dad (and Lou in his later years) was delighted to garden with greater ease with the use of fertilisers and pesticides, but when I talked about slug catching methods Lou remembered being out with the torch and bucket vividly in his early years and when I talked about growing legumes for nitrogen fixing and rotating the chooks, Dad remembered his father gardening in the same way. When I grill my maternal grandfather about chooks, he remembered having them at home - killing and plucking them was one of his jobs. None of these men would have shared this if I hadn't brought it up - they were very pleased to move on from such labour intensive methods.

Yes, we definitely live in a society where home based nurturing is devalued. Deliberately in my view, because it does not feed the capitalist system, most notably in the lack of a tax contribution, but also in other refusals to buy 'value-added" commodities. I wish we would own up to the travesty which I think the retirement funds are: money 'invested' by rich western world people for it to grow and provide them with comfortable lives when they retire. But how exactly does it grow? Where does the exploited labour come from to create this growth in wealth which then feeds back to pension fund beneficiaries? From poor countries where people cannot take a sick day right now, let alone have any provision for their old age, if indeed they make old bones.

This has turned into something of a broad-spectrum rant. I would like to turn to a case study of a happy woman blog and how I have identified or not with it. Heart Felt is a very lovely blog of a very happy family. It is written and photographed by the Mum, who is nameless, though we know the names of her children well and we do learn the name of her husband. I will call the author Heartfelt as that is her identity on the blog. Heartfelt is a superb photographer and a gifted op-shopper and crafter. Her children and her home constantly look so completely gorgeous that you could eat them up. She was always out of my league. But one day I read a reference to her job and realised that she worked outside the home as well as producing such gorgeous children, crafts and homelife more generally. Oh, I thought, she is like me, she works outside home and she wants to value home life as well. I find it interesting that she said/says so very little about her life outside the children and crafts. Blogging is definitely a place where we construct our identity as mothers. A woman who grabs the world from all directions and blogs with style and verve is Nikki at Tales of the Red Headed Devil Child.

I still haven't said everything I want to say, or focused on radical stay at home mum nourishing traditions cooks, but my children are arguing too much and I need to get sorted to watch rugby league, help at the school gala and visit my elderly sick cousin (don't even mention food). I've got part of a room, Virginia Woolf, and ninety minutes with only six interruptions is pretty fantastic, but all good solitary things must be rationed round here...


Johanna said…
A lovely thoughtful post - it's 1am in the morning so I can't do it any justice in a comment right now, but wanted to say - yes, actually you are very right about the privacy thing, re talking about the bad stuff.

Seems like there are all sorts of external and internal forces conspiring to make us start sounding like 50s housewives, albeit with a green bent.

And hear, hear to your comment about Nikki! 'Grabs the world from all directions' - love that turn of phrase.

This whole conversation is occupying my brain a lot when it gets the chance ... We are pulled in so many different intersecting directions. There's the tug-o-war between public and domestic spheres, and then the conflict between wanting to opt out of the system, and needing to stay in it for many things ...

I sometimes wonder if I could ever lead a consistent and unhypocritical life. I suspect it's not possible at this point. But maybe that's too defeatist.

Oh, turning into a broad spectrum rant ... know that feeling so well ... It's because of the interconnectedness of it all ...
Heather said…
Hi Sandra,

I know this wasn't your main point in this post, but I'd be interested in hearing more about your ideas about retirement savings.

This is a fraught area for me. I'm 33, and don't believe that, when I'm old, the government will be providing universal super. In addition, as a wealthy person, it seems to me that the responsible thing to do is to invest a portion of my income for the future (rather than to live it up now, and expect someone else to pay later).

However, I don't want to be living in the future on the backs of someone else's sweatshop labour.

As I see it, this isn't what my retirement 'savings' *have* to be.

When you receive money, you broadly have three options of what to do with it:
1. use it in some way (spend it, give it away etc.);
2. save it (put it under the bed or in some other non-interest-bearing place);
3. invest it (which is what retirement 'savings' are, or anything in which your money 'grows').

Practically, option 2 isn't a good option for retirement income, as we live in a world with inflation.

Morally, option 3 *can* be suspect, but it doesn't *have* to be, does it? If I give my money to someone who owns a Nike factory and my money 'grows' by the workers being paid next to nothing and generally getting treated like crap whilst the shoes are sold for a fortune, then that is bad. But what if I lend my capital to someone who's had a good idea but needs a slug of money to make it work, and then they essentially pay me 'rent' for their use of my resource. That doesn't seem morally suspect to me - does it to you? For example, we invest our emergency savings with a company called Prometheus that loans money to people trying to develop eco-friendly businesses, and those people pay interest in return. In the same way, we wanted to buy a house but didn't have the money to buy one outright, so the bank gave us the money to do this and we paid them for that service. I didn't feel expolited by that.

I'd be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on all this (sometime when you have the energy). I really appreciate your blog. I check it every weekend, and always find good food for thought. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

--Heather :-)
nova_j said…
also too tired to put on a 'beautiful blogger' face or a breath-takingly inspiring comment, so- yes. totally agree.

my favourite blogs are the ones filled with little tidbits that i can utilise to make my thoughts/house/crafts a little bit better, but that are tempered by a good dose of reality!! i've been deleting all of the 'perfect life' ones from my feed because i've noticed that they really do increase my sense of insecurity & discontent at my own, fairly reasonable, life, house & family. not a good scene.

and as the owner of a craft blog i take a wry pride in sharing the things that go disastrously wrong! it may be a reason why i don't have as many followers as GardenMama, but it amuses me, so meh :)
Isa Ritchie said…
It's almost as if you're writing my thesis for me - this is great stuff, and you raise some very important points that really need to be discussed more in the public arena.

Thank you everyone for your comments. I love them. Heather I will return to your questions at some point this month. Thank you for your compliments.

Johanna I think the ability to multi-task is a double edged sword.
Johanna & Nova & Isa: I have the beginnings of more to say but too tired for a proper post - I have been thinking about how we construct and reconstruct our lives through the blogging lens. I am interested in the relationship between what I term happy woman blogs which elevate and endorse traditional familial structures and home based traditions and those which assert their voices from less tradtional perspectives. I'm not making myself clear enough as my thoughts are going way faster than my ability to express them clearly. But I wonder if it could be argued that female Christian mother nourishing revolution blogs re-assert the primacy of not just mothering, home-creation & food growing and making, but of a nuclear family focused on procreation and traditional gender roles. I had to give up Down to Earth (which is not overtly Christian but eventually I could not enjoy the gendered messages). I remember my friend Gilly (I can't believe I haven't actually met you face to face Gilly!) mentioning on her gillybean blog that she was now solo parenting and the inference in her next post was that people had dropped her from their feed or 'following' her after this revelation. I had a quick look at Eilleen from Consumption Rebellion earlier today after spotting an interesting contribution from her on simple green and frugal. I love her journey and its candidness. Proper links tomorrow hopefully.

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