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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mediate Gender: Performing New Momism in the Blogosphere (Part 3)


            Douglas and Michaels (2004) wrote about the phenomenon, new momism, which is occurring in mediated representations on women. New momism can be simply defined by saying "no woman can be complete or fulfilled until she has children" (p. 4). However according to second wave feminists, no woman can be complete without working in a professional field. Motherhood has become the need to, not only work full time jobs, but also come home and preform all of the roles that women traditionally perform. New momism both supported and challenged by mommy bloggers. It is supported by mommy bloggers that present their lives in an idealized manner. They never speak ill of their children or their husbands. However, there is also a movement to portray motherhood as exactly the opposite manner. They talk about how much they wish that they could have kept their job when they had children. They represent their children as parasites that cannot do anything right. In short they present motherhood as a dystopian society as opposed to those that present it as a utopia.
            Both representations do not fully represent motherhood. At its heart, new momism is about fulfilling women. It is about finding the balance between professionalism and momism. While much less common there are representations of this as well in the blogosphere. These representations give a different version of new momism and motherhood in general. Through their autobiographical blogs they "are creating a different picture of motherhood to what we see in the mainstream media. "Instead of the vision of the loving mother, we see women who are frazzled by the demands of their newborn baby, who have no clue what to do when their child gets sick, who suffer from postpartum depression and whose hormones rage uncontrollably" (Lopez, 2007, 732). Although this image is different than the image of new momism that Douglas and Michaels portray of new momism it is fundamentally the same.

Utopian Momism: Nie Nie Dialogues
            Stephanie Nielson started blogging near the end of 2004. Within only a few years she had a highly popular blog where she discussed her children, husband, and their lives. However, in 2008 she suffered a tragic plane accident with her husband and was burned over 80% of her body. Normally this would break any persons will. However, Stephanie used it to inspire other people. She travels around the country speaking at conferences on dealing with disappointment and adversity or on body image and self worth. On her blog she presents her life as she presents her accident: a blessing. In a recent post she describes one of her children's swearing problems. Problems such as this have faced many women in the past. However, it does not bother Stephanie. She breezes through it without breaking a sweat. Even though her child has an imperfection she knows that he will overcome it. Even more, her children's minor imperfections are joyous to her (Nielson). She is a seemingly perfect mother notwithstanding all of her heartache. As inspiring as this representation of motherhood can be, it can also be disheartening for people who have not suffered as much as her yet still complain about little things.

Dystopian Momism: Dooce
            While Stephanie Nielson views motherhood as a blessing in everyway, Heather Armstrong, author of the blog dooce.com, presents motherhood in a highly dystopian way. Her blog is definitely one of the oldest blogs authored by a woman online today (she's been blogging for over then years). In 2005 she became popular enough that her husband quit his job, making her the breadwinner of the family (Armstrong, About Me). Yet even with her success, she is overly critical of anyone claiming to have a happy family life. Her children are represented in a much different way than Nielson's children. In a recent series of posts Armstrong chronicles her daily schedule for her audience. Within the first fifteen minutes she's already telling her kids to go back to bed, complains about her daughter's obsession with her stuff animals, and her dogs usual excitement in the morning (Armstrong, First Fifteen Minutes, 2011). This is far Douglas and Michaels's image of new momism. In fact, it is more closely related to second wave feminists that wanted women's liberation from traditional roles.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mediate Gender: Performing New Momism in the Blogosphere (Part 2)


            The role of mommy blogger itself is an example of gender performance. West and Zimmerman (1987) explain that certain roles are gendered. For instance the gender qualifier male is used to describe a nurse that is a man and female is used to describe a business executive that is a woman. This is because traditionally these roles were either male or female. This is much like the qualifier mommy being added to blogger to describe a woman blogger. While there has been some progress in distinguishing mommy bloggers into other categories it is still common to refer to a women who blog as mommy bloggers.
            This title is not universally accepted by mommy bloggers. "Despite... success, the title of ‘mommy blogger’ is not always wanted: it can be both a source of pride and a source of embarrassment; it can both compliment and demean" (Lopez, 2009:730). Many women feel that if they are known only as mommy bloggers that they cannot write about anything else. This is not the case. In fact, many so-called mommy blogs mix autobiographical information with topical information (Carstensen, 2009). By assigning female bloggers the role of mommy blogger they are limited in what they can and cannot write about. If they chose to post about politics or science or a topic other than motherhood they break their gender role and therefore will face criticism by their readers.
            Many women who blog topically chose to write about their children in order to "establish their footprint in the blogosphere" (Lopez 2007:734). It, however, is clear by reading these blogs that many of these women are "simply mothers and occasionally write about their children" (p. 734). While there are many exceptions to this statement (i.e. men writing about their children) it brings to light how mommy blogging is a role that these bloggers perform. Men and women are always performing a role because "gender is not merely something that happens in the nooks and crannies of interaction, fitted in here and there and not interfering with the serious business of life" (West and Zimmerman, 1987:130). While not explicitly stated, men are male bloggers just as women are mommy bloggers because gender is omnipresent. It is always being performed.


         Another way to look at blogging is through the lens of gender as a structure. Just as government or the economy is a structure that effects society, gender is can also be seen as a structure. It is inherent in ever aspect of society. Ridgeway and Correll (2004) put it this way, "Social relational contexts bring sex categorization into every activity and sphere of life in which one person casts himself or herself in relation to a real or imagined other, be it in person, on paper, or through the Internet" (pp. 521-522). They go on to describe how thinking of gender this way give scholars the opportunity to analyze gender, not as a symptom of social influence, but as a cause of this influence. 
         Blogging also illustrates gender as a structure. Carstensen  (2009) wrote that blogs, "[range] from the reproduction of gendered structures in public spaces, to enthusiastic female bloggers, to chances for creating various gender identities" (p. 116). Van Doorn, van Zoonen, and Wyatt (2007) explain how gender is represented in blogs through analyzing their performances of gender on their blogs. They conclude, "[blogs] facilitate a mode of gender presentation that remains closely related to the binary gender system that structures people’s daily lives, they also offer a ‘rich’ environment... resulting in multiple heterogeneous performances of gender" (p. 155).  Therefore, in blogging, while gender as a structure supports many representations of blogs it also provides an environment for women to explore there relationship with their gender.

Works Cited

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mediate Gender: Performing New Momism in the Blogosphere (Part 1)

Blogging has gained incredible popularity in the past few years. According to Blogpulse.com there are over 160 million blogs as of April 2011. These blogs range in topic from evangelical Christian beliefs to the economic conditions and everything in between. However, there is one blog genre that is gaining more popularity than any other genre: mommy blogging (Nowson and Oberlander, 2006). Mommy bloggers primarily write about their family, children, and life experiences. They often also include topical posts about cooking, crafting, cleaning, or other traditional women's roles; however, these topical blogs are generally listed under different genres. Many have also said how topical mommy blogs contribute to Douglas and Michael's (2004) concept of "new momism”.

Put simply new momism is the idea that motherhood is so demanding that no person can perform it perfectly. Many mommy blogs present life as perfect. These mothers have perfect children, perfect husbands, and perfect homes. However, there is also a trend to represent motherhood as a chaotic mess that cannot be performed at all without resentment on the mother's part. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how many mommy bloggers react to these opposing ideas and relate mommy blogging to West and Zimmerman's (1987) theory of doing gender and Ridgeway and Correll's (2004) theory about gender as a structure of society. While many mommy blogs either contribute to or resist new momism through extreme representations of motherhood there are blogs that perform "radical acts" by finding balance in their representations of motherhood.


Blogging began almost immediately after the Internet was created. These forums were generally limited to people who had mastered computer coding languages and typically discussed technology and because there were few women in the technology field at the time the infant blogosphere was mainly inhabited by men. However, in the late 1990s three companies (livejournal.com, blogger.com and opendiary.com) were founded which brought blogging to the common person. These sites allowed anyone to set up an account and blog with little or no knowledge of coding. Within a few years women began creating personal blogs, or online diaries. These blogs focused on the lives of the individuals. Soon communities began to develop and in 2005 BlogHer was founded in response to the question "Where are all the women bloggers?" (BlogHer, About BlogHer). In there first conference in 2006, women bloggers from all around the country gathered to discuss the issues women bloggers face. During one of the forms a participant proclaimed if women "stopped blogging about themselves they could change the world" (Lopez, 2007:730).

This response is typical of many individuals’ perceptions of mommy blogging. West and Zimmerman (1987) argue that gender is scripted. Men and women perform their roles much like actors on a stage. When a person breaks his or her assign role then there is backlash against that individual until either the gender role changes or the person performs the gender role again. According to Lopez (2007) much of this backlash occurred because women were attempting to place motherhood in the public sphere. "Motherhood is commonly viewed as belonging squarely within the private sphere and successful, strong men do not air their dirty laundry in public, so to speak, mommy bloggers did not fit into this equation and were thus criticized for their transgression" (p. 731).

Mommy blogger's response to this criticism started a new movement in the blogosphere. Blog author, Alice Bradley, and attendant to the 2006 BlogHer conference, responded by stating, "Mommy blogging is a radical act" (Lopez, 2007:730). In her opinion mommy blogging was changing the traditional representation of women. "We’re redefining the roles with our blogs. The messages we get about motherhood typically either comes [sic] to us in sanitized or idealized form (television shows, magazine articles) or sensationalized (newspapers)" (p. 732). Mommy blogging is not about presenting the sensational, perfect life of motherhood that is seen on television and in the media. It is about presenting motherhood as it really is. It is about the diapers and the messes and the husbands that can't quite do anything right.

Works Cited

Mediated Gender Works Cited

Armstrong, Heather B. 2011. "About." dooce.com. Retrieved April 18th, 2011. (http://www.dooce.com/about).
Armstrong, Heather B. 2001. "A peek inside our day, the first fifteen minutes." dooce.com. Retrieved April 18th, 2011. (http://www.dooce.com/2011/03/28/peek-inside-our-day-first-fifteen-minutes).
Brown, Katie. 2011. "Home." Marriage Confessions: Laugh, Fight, Stay Married. Retrieved April 18th, 2011. (http://marriageconfessions.com/).
Brown, Katie. 2011. "Euphoria." Marriage Confessions: Laugh, Fight, Stay Married. Retrieved April 18th, 2011. (http://marriageconfessions.com/2011/03/31/euphoria/).
Brown, Katie. 2011. "In My Dreams." Marriage Confessions: Laugh, Fight, Stay Married. Retrieved April 19th, 2011. (http://marriageconfessions.com/2011/04/19/in-my-dreams/).
Carstensen, Tanja. 2009. "Gender Trouble in Web 2.0: Gender Relations in Social Network Sites, Wikis and Weblogs." International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology. 1 (1): 106-127.
Douglas, Susan J. and Meredith W. Michaels. 2004. “Introduction: The New Momism.” Pp. 1-27 in The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. New York, NY: Free Press.
Lopez, Lori Kido. 2007. "The radical act of 'mommy blogging': redefining motherhood through the blogosphere." New Media & Society. 11 (5):729-747.
Nielson, Stephanie. 2011. "No No Words." Nie Nie Dialogues. Retrieved April 18, 2011. (http://nieniedialogues.com/)
Nowson, S., & Oberlander, J. (2006). The identity of bloggers: Openness and gender in personal weblogs. Paper presented at the workshop ‘‘Computational Approaches to Analysing Weblogs,’’ Stanford University.
Ridgeway, Cecilia L. and Shelley J. Correll. 2004. “Unpacking the Gender System: A Theoretical Perspective on Gender Beliefs and Social Relations.” Gender and Society 18(4):510-531.
Van Doorn, Niels, Liesbet van Zoonen and Sally Wyatt. 2007. "Writing from Experience : Presentations of Gender Identity on Weblogs." European Journal of Women's Studies. 14 (2): 143-159.
West, Candace and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.” Gender and Society 1(2): 125-151.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

LDS Film Project Concluded

We made it. About three months. Ten films. And enough Mormon culture to make me rip out my hair. Even still, after watching each of these films I am nowhere near exploring all of the avenues for Mormon cinema. There is so much out there to explore. I limited my study to ten films that premiered in theatres. There are countless straight to DVD films that are excellent sociological studies for the LDS church. There are web series, blogs, and not to mention the hundreds of church produced films in circulation right now. However, even with the vast amount of material that I have yet to explore there are many things that I have discovered about Mormon identity in film and how it relates to transcendental moments. There are a few trends that I have noticed while watching these films.

First, LDS film rarely has strong female leads. The obvious exception to this is Charly, however, even within the film she is seen as an anomaly for her strength. In every other film if there is a female lead she is either a marriage hungry single or a baby hungry mother (Hollist).

There are four films that could fit in the category of historical fiction (Saints and Soldiers, The Book of Mormon Movie, The Work and The Glory, and The Other Side of Heaven). All of these films are also in the top five grossing LDS films. Of these films two deal with the creation of the church (either in the actual historical events, The Work and The Glory, or in subjects directly related to the church, The Book of Mormon Movie). This highlights the importance of history, especially church history, to the LDS people.

Every film deals with Terryl Given's at least one of the three dichotomies that I stated at the beginning of the project: searching/certainty, the disintegration of sacred distance, and isolation/integration (Givens 190-191). This clearly states that these are the issues that are most important to LDS identity. They are what make the LDS people work like they do, act like they do, live like they do. They are constantly in a state of paradox as they battle these dichotomies.

Lastly, each of these films has at least one moment trying to express a spiritual experience of some sort. These moments often are an attempt to visualize what The Spirit feels like when it testifies of Truth. Each film takes this attempt on in different ways. Some have a simple fade to black and opt out of explicitly showing the moment. Others raise the music in to create a feeling of abundance. There are some that show lots of tears. While other pull back and let viewers place themselves in the role through minimalism and scarcity. There are obviously some films that work better than others in this pursuit. However the importance that these moments have in each film I have viewed directly relates to the importance of these moments in the lives of every Latter Day Saint. These moments are at the root of transcendence in the church. They are what each member wants more of in his or her life. It is the desire and in many ways quest of the Mormon people.

I started out this project by defining cinematic transcendence. I said, "Cinematic transcendence includes, but it not limited to, films that assist individuals discover their relationship with God, their communities, and themselves." Each of these films reveals another layer of Mormon identity or at least the representation of Mormon identity in film. Through this project I have come to understand a bit more about my own culture, my relationship, and myself with Deity. To me that makes these films transcendent.

Works Cited

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Other Side of Heaven

We've reached the end. As I was watching this film I realized that this project is coming to an end. Jamie can attest that in many ways it has consumed me this semester. I've either had to watch a film or write about a film every day of this semester. The project was honestly far too big for the class. Tomorrow I present on my findings. I'm honestly a little intimidated. There is far too much to talk about, but I guess I will get into that when I write a wrap up post tomorrow.

The Other Side of Heaven is the film that every LDS filmmaker wanted to create. That's a big statement, but after seeing all of the failed attempts and all of the successes in the LDS film movement I am certain of it. First, and foremost the film is clearly a Mormon film. There are many references to the church, both implicit (a photo of David O. McKay in the church house) and explicit (the drunk Tongan proclaiming, "I am a Mormon!").  This is what many LDS films wanted to accomplish. They wanted every audience member to realize that the characters in this film were in fact Mormon.

Second, the film taught doctrines of the church, without being preachy or overt. It seemed that al Groberg did was teach doctrine. He taught about faith, repentance, The Word of Wisdom, and chastity. Unlike The Best Two Years or any other of the missionary films that I viewed this semester the doctrines are not strictly LDS or at least not blatantly so. This desire existed in every LDS film I viewed this semester.

Lastly, the film revealed truths about LDS identity in an honest way that brought its viewers to transcend with the characters. The film is a missionary pic. This genre is unique to the LDS film movement because "missions... are a modern phenomenon with which all Church members are familiar" (Astle, 38). This film did not gloss over any of the hardships of a mission. In fact it is clearly portraying one of the most difficult missions ever served. The story presents all of the "culture shock, foreign languages, homesickness, departures, homecomings, and letters—all components of accented cinema" (Astle, 38) in an authentic manner. With these trials we see a change in Groberg. We see him literally take on the culture of those he served. When he comes home we don't know whether or not to be happy that the love of his life waited for him or to cry because the other love in his life (Tonga and its people) are no longer a part of his life.

This is a feeling that is typical of Mormon missions, something that is not explicitly brought up in any LDS to this point. It is the point at which missionaries understand what their mission really was for two years. It is the most important transcending moment for each Elder or Sister. It is the realization of the common identity of man.

Which has been your favorite LDS film I've talked about during this project? Do you feel I am right in saying that this film is "the film that every LDS filmmaker wanted to create"?

Film Information
Works Cited

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Work and The Glory

I wrote a while back about creation myths and the impact that they have on a culture, specifically LDS culture. If I remember right the context was that of missionary work and the impact of both the Book of Mormon and the Joseph Smith story on modern day identity. What is interesting about The Work and the Glory is the modern interpretation of this story. The story centers on the Steed family, a fictitious family who move next door to Martin Harris around the time that the LDS church is founded. They interact with real people: Martin Harris, Joseph Smith, the Whitmer family, and other prominent people of the era. Gerald Lund, the author of the original works, in many ways parallels the lives of the Steed family after the lives of any family that is learning about the church today. There are children that don't agree, father is apathetic, some readily accept. The family gets a little bit torn up by the experience. However, it all turns out for the best in the end. This parallelism is important in the analysis of the piece because it shed light on the relationship with the creation story of the LDS church and its people.

To highlight "the significance of sacred narratives, often called creation myths," one must look "for the expression and maintenance of cultural identity" (Olsen 90) within these texts and the interpretation of these texts. By learning how the Joseph Smith story helps modern Latter-Day Saints express and maintain their identity we can peel back another layer of identity. It seems necessary to share some highlights from the story in order to best share how the both the various accounts of the story and how The Work and The Glory express and maintain LDS identity.

The Joseph Smith story begins with him as a young boy, about 14 or 15 years old. The religious world around him in in upheaval and he is confused. His goal was, in his own words, to discover "Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it" (Joseph Smith-History 1:10)? Upon praying in a grove near his house some two years after he first began asking himself this question he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ appear to him. They taught him that none of the current sects were true and that he was going to be instrumental in organizing Christ's church once again on the earth (See JS-History in The Pearl of Great Price for more detailed information).

This text is vitally important to the plot of The Work and the Glory and also the lives of Latter Day Saints around the world. "The symbolic structure of the Joseph Smith story exhibits the quality of wholeness" (Olsen 91). This wholeness creates wholeness in LDS identity. This wholeness creates wholeness in LDS spirituality. Every function of the LDS people as a whole is connected to this one event. The Work and the Glory strives to connect to this text on a historically accurate way while still helping its audience both connect spiritually with the film and relate the experiences of the Steed family with their own lives.

Friday, April 8, 2011

God's Army

Here we are. We're at the place where it all began. In 2000 Richard Dutcher released God's Army. I remember the first time that I saw it a few years after its release. It was magical. I was a developing adolescent who was trying to find my place in the world. Here was a film that attempted to represent Mormon missionary culture in an unapologetic way.  The implication behind this boldness inspired many filmmakers to throw caution into the wind to build the LDS cinema movement.

In terms of his goals with his film Dutcher wanted to "[honor] his own people with a film that dignifies their life and beliefs" (Pace, 183) and to show Mormon missionaries as "real folks with blood in their veins" (186). To put it another way he wanted to show that Mormons are real people with faults and desires while still presenting them in a way that demonstrates his admiration for his own culture and beliefs.

How then did Dutcher measure up to his goal? Did he succeed in the presenting an honest representation of Mormon culture? The missionaries that he portrays are nothing like those in The Best Two Years or like the recent returned missionary in The R.M. They "are not the molded-in-plastic icons tacked onto in-house seminary and institute films," but "fully-realized characters" (184). These characters present an alternative view from the previous representations of missionaries in church sponsored films like Called to Serve. "It approached the marrow of Mormon life, mixing the messiness with the sacred, unafraid to discomfit some viewers. In this story, the missionaries, usually lionized in Church media, were scaled down to human proportions and shown to be just as real as the people whom they teach" (Robbins, 171).

This realistic representation of Mormon missionaries helps viewers to realize something about the reality of Mormon life. It is not meant to be perfect. Members are supposed to "[explore] issues of regret, doubt, racism, abuse, and death, punctuated with practical jokes, missionary banter, slamming doors, fights, miracles, and revelation" (171). This honest representation allows viewers to see redemption, something that, while attempted in other LDS films, is rarely seen to the degree that it is in this film.

Without this openness it is impossible to achieve an accurate perception of Mormon identity. If all we see is the good, the perfect then we cannot understand the depth of sorrow. Members of the church are asked to "know good from evil" (2nd Nephi 2:26). If we are to gain "life eternal" by "[knowing] God... and Jesus Christ" (John) then we must know that "[Christ] will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." In order to know this we must know the pain and admit that it exists. Only by accepting one's faults can he or she achieve true redemption. God's Army seeks to open its audience's eyes to this reality.

Film Information
Works Cited

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Book of Mormon Movie

When my professor found out that The Book of Mormon Movie not only made the top ten grossing LDS films, but also ranked fourth in the list she was shocked. After a bit of a debate about the credibility of my sources she was convinced and proclaimed that I have suffered more than any other student she has known. To be completely honest I agree with her. Prior to my recent viewing of this film there have only been two films that I've found so obscene that I've turned off during the viewing. The Home Teachers and The Book of Mormon Movie. I've been dreading this film since I started the project. I wish that I could say that this viewing changed my perception of the film, but it didn't.

I did, however, find something extremely interesting about this viewing. I found myself thinking about The Book of Mormon itself. More than any other unique factor of Mormon identity The Book of Mormon sets it apart from any other identity in the world. It is "the keystone to our religion" (Ezra Taft Benson, "The Keystone of Our Religion"). Everything else hinges upon its validity. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that every part of Mormon identity hinges upon The Book of Mormon. Our religion. Our faith. Our spirituality. Our identity.

The task that Gary Rogers took on by wanting to direct this film seems a lot bigger when we put it in that light. No wonder it seems he failed.

Thinking about the film this way I tried to push all of the acting, writing, design, and Lehi's strange pink shirt out of my mind in order to figure out its relationship to Mormon identity. The Book of Mormon is the hinge to our faith. Faith in The Book of Mormon demands "the unquestioned loyalty to the official version... One of the most important roles of this text in Mormonism may be the manner in which it articulates Mormonism's self-conscious mission to mankind" (Olsen 90). The film is an interpretation of that articulation. It attempts mediate that text to a new and innovative way.

In a way it reminds me of a story from LDS church history. Oliver Cowdery was a transcriber for Joseph Smith during the translation of The Book of Mormon. He desired to do more for God. He wanted the ability to translate. After much prayer and pleading he was given the gift. However, Cowdery didn't quite get it. He didn't understand what it took. He failed (see Doctrine and Covenants 8, and 9). Rogers took upon himself a role to translate The Book of Mormon into film. He was inexperienced. He didn't quite get it. He took an impossible feat upon himself. However, in the end it could be said "The Book of Mormon Movie is true, as far as it is translated correctly."

Film Information
Works Cited