Motherhood as an institution has and continues to incur social fascination, particularly the spaces that mothers carve out to celebrate and commiserate what it means to be a mother. The Internet provides the medium to host these communal spaces, creating a mamasphere of matricentric activity. On the surface, the mamasphere, and in particular online mommy groups promote notions of empowerment, individualism, and choice through relatable narratives. The validation and acknowledgment of seeing and hearing familiar stories are, in part, why these motherhood spaces work. But what happens beyond the celebration and commiseration?
The Parent’s video begins with a tongue-in-cheek post from a mom seeking advice about a rash. The replies range from advice to concern and criticism. On the surface, the video provides a lighthearted poke at the array of comments that appear in online mom groups. However, those same comments reiterate essentialist notions of motherhood and reinforce the new momism, a perfectionist, unattainable version of motherhood. Online mommy groups feel progressive because they appear to exist outside of the new momism, but in fact are beholden to the same raced, gendered and classed constraints. Privilege is rarely addressed and ethnic identity is eschewed. The universal moniker and identity of “mother”, or “mom”, or “mama” are employed, which is problematic when social constructions of motherhood skew white and middle class. Furthermore, when marginalized mothers leave the online groups and create their own spaces or communities they are often minimized or erased from the conversations about mothers online.
Celebrity mom profiles in magazines and entertainment news stories once performed the gatekeeping function of motherhood, detailing “good” and “bad” mothering. However, the mommy moderators in the social media groups, the mommy bloggers and Momstagram accounts are the new gatekeepers of motherhood shaping what it means to be a mom both on and offline. The change in the medium did produce more visibly discursive spaces for motherhood dialogue to occur. Unfortunately, much of the underlying rhetoric in these spaces has not changed.