This is the midweek edition of Culture Study — the newsletter from Anne Helen Petersen, which you can read about here. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing. I’m not a mom but I like to know what the moms are up to. You should too, regardless of your identity, because “the moms” — meaning, the moms embodying and directing ideals of femininity and domesticity and parenting — have a lot of power, and power demands attention. I follow some of these moms on Instagram: there’s
I got distracted at the top by that Ballerina Farm account. I would LOVE for someone to publish 10,000 words on the rise of what I call “Performative Farm.” I grew up on a farm in Iowa and I cannot abide the Farmhouse aesthetic trend or the rise of people with means setting up shop on a ranch or farm that they clearly do not rely upon as a livelihood and how this new cultural rural turn intersects with country music, evangelicalism, late-stage capitalism, white identity and conservative/libertarian politics.
When I was a kid in the 80s/90s there were a few former hippies who lived around our farm in older farmhouses who mostly worked in town but liked being out in the country. Other than that, it was all families who were farming to make a living. This meant raising crops to sell at market to earn money, mostly. However, the rise of corporate farming has mostly eradicated the family farm, so the Performative Farm is as much of a facade as the Momfluencer who is performing a sort of domesticity and motherhood that they imagine a bygone era to be like. It is not based in reality and plays heavily to a nostalgia that also isn’t based in reality. The reality is, since at least the 1970’s, family farming has been barely sustainable and the “rustic” charm manufactured by Pottery Barn or Magnolia is nothing more than a fantasy that never was.
I have stayed well and clear of the mamasphere, although it does pop up from time to time. The posed photos, the bible quotes, the weird visual screechiness of the too well scrubbed settings, the bad decorative taste- no thanks.
Motherhood- especially White Motherhood(tm) has always been performative in this country- and has always had a price to it and come AT a price. That social media is the newest version of this does not surprise me one bit.
This is brilliant and scarily illuminating. AHP you are a Rock Star. I love the way you identify and explore ideas that occupy some miasmal unidentified niggling awareness in my psyche. And so much leaps in to clarity! (I’m am still engrossed by and horrified by Jesus and John Wayne, and the Mars Hill podcast which I found through you.) I am a grandmother watching my daughter and her friends navigate parenthood....it takes a LOT of intention and character to hew to your values, and try to live with authenticity. I know it always has, but social media is so distorting and distracting. Thanks thanks and keep up the brilliant work.
Oh, my gosh, "Who is taking these pictures?" is the most common question I ask myself when I stumble into the "mamasphere" on Instagram.
“algorithmic precarity” AKA “the anxiety of influence” (apologies to Harold Bloom) all wrapped up with “authenticity” demands. And then to have to learn a whole new skill set, including different algorithmic demands, for TikTok and whatever new platform that’s siphoning away eyeballs the brands want to attract. The mamasphere subculture is a case study of a much larger and rapidly metastasizing phenomenon. One of the things that makes it interesting is competing for the “sweet spot” for engagement plays on a whole set of affective responses that don’t involve an accelerating feedback loop of rage, depression or the sorts of toxic content that Facebook/IG has become infamous for. Interesting that the feedback loop for mama influencers is an arms race in acquiring durable goods.
I don’t think I’ve ever clicked so many links or added so many things to my TBR list from one post before. Does Kathryn need a research assistant? I don’t even need to get paid, I just want a legitimate excuse to be down this rabbit hole with her…
Oh no this introduced me to term/movement "tradwife" and it's a black hole of darkness I never wanted to find... But that being said, great interview. I'm a fairly new mom (9.5 months) and I haven't delved too deeply into the mamasphere. (Two exceptions: I occasionally read Virginia Sole-Smith and that account everyone loves about feelings & toddlers). I'm not sure why other than a vague sense of ickiness. I haven't explored this feeling enough to say more.
I don't have too many friends with kids and I think being a mom in basically a vacuum (not being part of the online world, not having many IRL parent friends) has been a blessing. I'm kind of protective of my own ignorance because I don't want to know what I'm doing wrong or what my daughter "should" be doing.
These interviews are so great.
Ugh, this piece is so good and so interesting and yet I am annoyed that I now have more things I simply MUST read. :D
Okay I have clearly spent way too much time thinking about this, and I think I finally have it. These accounts reinforce the notion that I am irresponsible. It's on me to remember that they are highlight reels at their most honest, they don't acknowledge the privilege, the help, the expectations, their reality. I just compare how they claim to spend their 24 hours to how I spent mine. They aren't sharing their responsibilities for a proper comparison, and That is what makes the so noxious in the context of hustle culture. This isn't even their side hustle let alone real life, and I see it in the moments between my REAL actually responsibilities, the moments when I dont want to see my dirty face and lifeless hair in the mirror, the padding and redness from Cushing's, the semioermanent hair dye the baby has surely used as finger paint on our porous white tile bathroom floor upstairs. Those moments are precious and vulnerable, the polar opposite of BF. Give me AC Shilton's Affirmation Chickens every day. She shows her work without beating you over the head with it, which prompts me to give me credit for my own. It's a totally different experience.
Damn, this takes me back to the original mom group work that Sarita Schoenebeck did. Those moms ended up being pissed she was studying them in the early Web 2.0 days; now, I assume they'd be flattered.
Meg - you knocked it out of the park again. Well done. And AHP -> another timely topic. My daughter was just telling me this weekend that she's been going down the rabbit hole(s) of the origins of "crafts" v. "art" and how much of those distinctions stem from the time period Dr. Ulrich wrote about. When they made those "economic production" tasks "social," they made them hobbies...regardless of the skill, time, detail, etc. And we all know why this matters - crafts sell for way less than art...