Picture this. A new kid at school enters the playground on her first day. “TA-DA!” she shouts to a group of children playing together. “I’M FINALLY HERE after much moaning by my parents and a lost school application, the school board have fast-tracked my application and I’m now officially a pupil here. What have I let myself in for?”
The child continues, “Some of you may already know me, in which case “Hi”. Some of you may never have heard of me, in which case “Hi” – where the heck have you been for the past two years?”
One of the children in the group sneers, “I have no idea who you are. Sorry,” and turns away. “Well it’s nice to meet you!” offers the new kid.
“Look, I’ve been here longer than you,” says the sneering child, “and your entrance has got my back up.” Before long, more children get involved, slagging off the new kid, telling her that she’s broken the school’s ‘unwritten rules’ and even calling her a c***.
The scary thing is that while this scenario happened, just this week, it didn’t happen in a school playground. It took place on parenting forum Mumsnet. The ‘new kid’ was a mum who’d just joined the Mumsnet Bloggers Network, and while her original post on the forum was arguably ill-judged, the reaction from other forum users was gobsmacking.
Much has been written in the past about the nastiness lurking in the Mumsnet forums, yet it seems to be brushed under the carpet and generally accepted as ‘one of those things’. The users of the forum adhere to the bizarre ‘I can be as nasty and vicious as I like, as long as I’m being honest and say it to the person’s face’ mentality. It’s an attitude that took flight during the ten seasons of reality TV show Big Brother, with housemates gaining a strange kudos for being nasty (but honest).
The Mumsnet forum users also regularly refer to the rival ‘insipid’ parenting forums (for insipid, read supportive and friendly) and tell people that if they can’t handle Mumsnet, to clear off elsewhere. Conjures up images of a school gang telling a fellow pupil that if they don’t like the name-calling, to leave that school and find another, doesn’t it?
The word ‘bullying’ is bandied about a lot these days. Often to the point that it devalues its meaning – very frustrating for real victims of real bullying. But having dipped in and out of Mumsnet a few times in the last couple of years, I genuinely think the word applies to some of the goings-on there. It begs the question: how on earth are we supposed to stamp out the serious bullying problem we have in schools, if parents are behaving like this? Admittedly, they’re doing it while hiding behind the anonymity of an online forum, but they’re still typing those words, saying those vile things, making other women feel like crap.
So what are Mumsnet doing about this? Well, not much it seems. Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts explained it away, in a Daily Mail article, last year, saying, ‘We don’t want to sound like schoolteachers looking over our spectacles, and we don’t do it publicly. If someone has made personal attacks, we may contact them off board and it’s amazing how often they’ll say, “I’m so sorry – yesterday was just one of those days”. Mothers often have a lot going on in their lives and they don’t always realise how their words may come across.’
Ah, so this behaviour is acceptable if they’ve had a bad day and apologise afterwards? Well, it doesn’t wash with me.
I’m putting a challenge out there. We need an intervention. Someone needs to stand up to the Mumsnet forum bullies and deal with them like we deal with the school bullies. Who’s brave enough to do it?