Essays like Caitlin Dewey’s that purport to be knowledgeable about middle-aged women are often self-serving drivel just like the viral content it says middle-aged moms are sharing.
A recent article in the Washington Post by perky digital culture critic Caitlin Dewey proclaimed that the ever-popular Mom Demographic—now conflated with the women of a certain middle age —have stolen the Internet from 18-34 year old males and are now dominating it.
DOMINATING! Do you believe it?
Dewey’s commentary waxes condescendingly about how Moms dominate Facebook, and how easy it is to get Moms to make all that cutsie stuff go viral. Dewey quotes so-called experts in her article to back this up:
“… I always tell writers to go on Facebook and, you know—look at their moms,” says Maia McCann, content director of up and coming content mill ‘Little Things,’ which seems to be enjoying a huge viral outbreak of 1 million clicks a day. Even viral content pundit Neetzan Zimmerman (Who? Check out his Wikipedia entry. I’ve been blogging longer than he’s worked on the Internet) says that “Facebook was obviously always going to be co-opted by moms. It’s all about gossip, baby photos, schmaltzy stuff—it’s so mom already.” And Scott De Long, founder of Viral-Nova, told his writers to train their brains to think like “40-or 45 year-old women.”
Wow. I can’t be more angry about this poorly reported nonsense than I am at this very moment.
First, I’d like to correct an assumption made by Dewey and the others that is not true: just because a woman is middle-aged does not mean that she is someone’s Mother. Sure, I can understand if the only women one knows in one’s life are one’s moms, and that all of them are middle-aged, one might be led to believe this is an adequate random sampling to claim that all middle-aged women are moms (note that Dewey, McCann, Zimmerman and Scott are all under middle-age.) I guess I these four don’t get out much, and need to be reminded that correlation does not establish a causal relationship. Simply because women are in the middle-age demographic does not mean that all of them are Moms.
So, let’s throw out this whole “momification” thing and just talk about adult, middle-aged people for a few moments.
We shall start by looking at some stats from the Pew Internet and American Life Project regarding Internet use among adults. Pew’s most recent Social Media Update for 2014 published in January of this year, shows that adults have increased their social media usage across platforms and that the growth at Facebook in particular has slowed. In fact, the platform that saw the biggest growth among women was Pinterest (this doesn’t surprise me. Pinterest is a visual aggregator and keys in to the gatherer part of women’s brains.)
Not only that, this study found that 31 percent of all seniors (age 65+) are now on the Internet, while young people dominate Instagram.
If women are dominating Pinterest, can we still say that Moms are dominating Facebook? From the Pew stats, we really can’t say that, since the only online social media site where women dominate is Pinterest.
But let’s go back to the whole relationship of moms and middle-age. By assuming this correlation, we leave out the women under 40 who are also moms and spend a fair amount of time on the Internet. How could this have happened? Could it be in part because Dewey doesn’t seem to know any moms who aren’t middle-aged (and, by her admission in the article, her own mom.) If Dewey were interested in knowing the Internet habits of parents, she would have considered Pew’s study on Parents and Social Media. This study finds that the parents of children under 18 share parenting info more than they share cute puppy pictures.
Statistically speaking (to use a term) adults, women, and parents in particular are doing a bunch of other things on the Internet than sharing drivel among themselves.
How then does Dewey claim to know so much about the Internet habits of middle-aged women-moms? Aside from her brief interviews with viral-content pundits, Dewey quotes stats from eMarketer, a company that, along with many others, sells a platform that collects data on Internet usage. eMarketer is one among many companies that sell a product that collects and parses out data gathered from clicks.
Each company that has a product to sell will have stats to show that their stats are better than their competitors’ stats.
Stats are fun! Especially when we want to conflate correlation and causation to make a really bad assumption about people—here, middle-aged women and moms—who we have little experience with and know basically nothing about other than from our own homes!
Which gets me to this point: essays like Dewey’s that purport to be knowledgeable about middle-aged women are often self-serving drivel just like the viral content it says middle-aged moms are sharing. The info contained might sound good when it’s all strung together with snappy quotes from the heads of viral media content mills and supported with stats from a company with an interest in selling their platform, but what it’s really telling us isn’t much more true than saying that than most of those puppy and cat pics are really, REALLY cute.
Except the puppy and cat pics are a lot more relevant.
Tish Grier is a writer and longtime blogger living in Easthampton, MA. Even at middle-age, Tish is still a girly girl who enjoys blogging about fashion and beauty. She also writes essays about her formerly dysfunctional life and wants to let everyone know that things change. You can read her at High Fashion Average Woman. Tish is also a contributor to Midcentury/Modern on Medium.