The Nomama Rule

A little birdie told me that some people think it's highly suspicious when moms come to the defense of their kids on facebook.  As in:  suppose you're an author, and PZ Myers is beating you to a pulp, and you post a quick update to that effect, and your mom posts a supportive comment, but no different from what your pals are also saying. Is the fact that she's your mom a problem?  Being a mom with kids on facebook, I'd like to know... fast!  Before I make any hideous mistakes.

So I asked my two 14-year-old kids about it.   They pondered the issue for roughly half a second, and then made it clear I was never to write supportive comments, though I'm certainly fb friends of theirs and comment extremely briefly once in a blue moon.  Obviously, these fledglings need to have it be clear to their fb friends that they can fly without any support.  But then, the author in the example is not a teenager. He's an adult, and no doubt pretty secure in his ability to fly independently.  He clearly hasn't told his mother not to comment.  So...

So if Mom's comments are not a problem for our author, could they still legitimately be a problem for other readers--that is, other fb friends reading, since only fb friends can read?  But what (on earth) would be the problem?  A mom's biased?  Well of course, but nobody runs their fb page like it was an impartial jury!  Your girlfriend or boyfriend may comment, as can your circle of real-life loyal friends, your long-time ideological comrades, you fans, or what have you.  So also, of course, if you're confident and secure, can your mom.

On facebook people use real names, but out in the blogosphere, how many moms comment under pseudonyms? My guess is--over half of bloggers get comments from their moms, using non-obvious momonyms*. Relax everyone ... it's okay!  Actually, it's more than okay.  Especially when a mom is supporting her atheist, gay son (as in the case at hand). That's not just okay, it's hurray!

p.s. I had to invent a whole new category for this post.
*  As in, not "Mom" spelled backwards.


s. wallerstein said...

I'm not in Facebook and neither my mother nor my father has ever supported me publicly in any of my positions. In fact, some of my public positions have angered them immensely, since we share the same last name.

However, I don't see the problem if a mother supports an adult son who accepts that support.

In fact, there is something vaguely sexist in the idea that a mother's support is not valid. There is an implicit assumption that mothers are emotional, irrational and that their opinions are not worthy of serious consideration when they talk about their children and that children, especially male children, are more "worthy" when they show that they are "independent" of their mother.

It reminds me of 60's rock songs, for example, of the Rolling Stones, in which "your mother" was always mentioned with scorn.

There are a lot of unexamined patriarchal assumptions behind the jeering at mothers.

Jean Kazez said...

I suspect sexism too--I don't think it's a coincidence that what's being questioned is a mother supporting a son. He's essentially being accused of being less than a man--just a mama's boy. I really don't think a dad's innocuous comments at his son's blog would prompt a response.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend of the football-fanatic kind who roots for this horrible team with no prospect of ever winning a bowl game. On status updates after a yet another painful loss to a lower ranked school, his father (and the occasional uncle) always defends his son's views--even when they're comical. Good intentions aside, little he knows his presence on the thread makes that particular status update off-limits to the otherwise funny responses friends might offer up. As far as my circle of friends is concerned when we want to interact (read: talk mess) with him after game-day now, we use Twitter/SMS. On the other hand, pseudonyms are cool if a parent could so be persuaded to acquire one.

Anonymous said...

It all seems so bizarre. Toni and Chris are both grown ups. They're friends, like most decent independent minded people in families with good balanced relationships. They're probably both non aggressive atheists and Toni was merely commenting on another commmenter's comment (part of which she quoted) which was talking about atheists being 'horrible' and thinking they're 'right' or something like that. Toni was agreeing with somebody called Carla on a thread which was hardly "heated debate" as that other blogger described it and Toni was hardly "intervening". I've had family comment on posts before - I'd be surprised if they hadn't. We share interests, and come from the same environment. And she wasn't even exactly supporting her son who happens to be her friend. She was supporting Carla. The thread, I thought, was just vaguely amused at a petty post by PZ. But I think you're right - the criticism was sexist. :)


Jean Kazez said...

Responses to comments at B&W

I don't agree with PZ Myers that the issues about mom commenting at facebook are the same as the issues about a parent commenting on a blog. A facebook page is a private space commonly used to maintain personal ties. It's a circle of friends (and family), so it's absurd to think the rules there are anything like what they are in a public space.

At any rate, Ophelia was not advising Stedman, as if his publicist, on how to avoid appearing weak, but chiding him for wrongdoing of some sort. He was somehow cheating by having his mother around defending him. But that's just to misunderstand the situation--private facebook page, not public debate. And speaking of private--telling the world what's on someone's facebook page, and copying passages from the page, is an obvious breach of ethics.

Sexism. Anyone who thinks my post was about sexism just didn't read it. Not one line of it is about sexism. But Amos made a point that might have some merit. The attack on Stedman for his mom commenting sure does look like calling him a mama's boy, and if that's what it really is, essentially, then it's implicitly sexist. There's no such thing as a papa's boy--we allow fathers to do different things than mothers. Anyone could have these unconscious biases.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"And speaking of private--telling the world what's on someone's facebook page, and copying passages from the page, is an obvious breach of ethics."

I hadn't thought about that. Mostly what I thought was that what was quoted didn't square with the story that Toni Stedman was a so-called helicopter parent. She put in her $0.02 as anyone else might, and that was it. Oh, and she mocked Benson a little for trying to go after her. That was about it. No "how dare you go after my little boy," nothing that anyone else sympathetic to Chris Stedman couldn't easily have said. That didn't stop most of the commenters from keeping up the "mama's boy" spin, and that seems even more unethical than quoting from the Facebook page.

Jean Kazez said...

Exactly--these were innocuous, unnoticeable comments. Nobody would have even thought about the fact that they were his mother's if it weren't for Ophelia making an issue out of it and copying private comments from facebook onto her public blog. So it's not as if the comments themselves made Chris look weak (as PZ Myers claimed)--rather, they were used and fanned up in a deliberate effort to portray Chris as weak. As in--look, look, his Mom's supporting him!! What else is that, really, but calling him a mama's boy? The whole thing's an obvious personal insult, whether sexist or not, and not even remotely in the category of rational debate.

Anonymous said...

Sorry - my comment on 'sexism' was related to your comment suspecting sexism, and not related to your post. I saw the reference to 'mama's boy' and things on BW. I also felt there was an implication, in the BW post and thread, with the suggestion that a mother couldn't be a friend, that a mother's role should be in the kitchen where she is seen and not heard. The suggestion that parents aren't genuine friends with their grown up children (and even as mine were with their grown up childrens' friends), seems ludicrous. What is the point of having children in the end? PZ went completely over the top after his comment on the previous post, where he mentioned 'little boys' and 'big boys' with this: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2011/projects/#comment-94134 which sort of contradicts that humanist award the AHA thought him worthy of and is nothing but absurd. But even if I'm wrong that it's not sexist at all (let alone overtly), you're right that it's obvious personal insult (and it's a really silly non-issue in the real world).


Jean Kazez said...

The sexism thing is a secondary issue, to my mind, because what's most striking here is the inappropriateness of complaining about a private matter--how a person manages their personal facebook page and their relationship with their own mother. That's why I didn't talk about sexism in the post.

But OK, let's go to the secondary issue. I think the complaint about Chris's mom "works" on an emotional level because it plays into popular stereotypes about mama's boys. That's why people on that thread laughed so hard. How hilarious, that this guy gets support from his mom! But why is it hilarious? It's hilarious because it makes him a mama's boy--ho-ho-ho!

I seriously don't think people would see any hilarity in it if PZ put a supportive comment on his daughter's facebook page, if she was under attack. It would not make his daughter a laughingstock. That's because: no such thing as a papa's girl.

The complaint, then, is a bit subtle--it's not that these people consciously want mothers to stay in the kitchen, and away from facebook. It's that, for purposes of making Horrible Heretics like Chris look ridiculous, they're willing to tap into pernicious, sexist stereotypes.

My diagnosis is not so much that these people are sexists, but that they're a little too desperate to smear Chris ("by any means necessary"). I would say--why so eager? What's so threatening about the guy?

Anonymous said...

What's so threatening? My question too. Maybe they're jealous. Chris is doing constructive things, people like him, and what's worse, intelligent people like him. But the NAs can't cope with non believers getting on with religious people let alone appreciating that religious people can be intelligent too. I don't understand the mainly American New Atheist internet war on everyone and everything. They just look silly, achieve nothing constructive and just bicker and swear alot, they're spiteful and whine and make no impression, I don't think, in the real world.


Jean Kazez said...

I think some NAs believe the "can't we all just get along?" type of message creates a false harmony between atheists and religious people, and undermines the power atheists have to change the world. (In a nutshell!) So I can see how they would not be on board with interfaith work, etc. But the antipathy is another question--the desire to turn Chris into a laughingstock is puzzling to me. I don't really get it. Apparently the trigger is that he doesn't just say "we should do this" but says "we shouldn't do that"--where "that" is what the most militant NAs are doing. But I think this just a normal part of debate--what should we do, this or that? This is what continually drives me crazy about NAs, and keeps me coming back to the subject--the tendency to vilify and marginalize atheists who have different views on what seem to me like not-actually-terribly-core beliefs and values.

s. wallerstein said...

I'm used to conversing for the pleasure of a good conversation, not to change the world or still less to crush the other.

Roberto and I have been friends for over 25 years, and we converse about once a month.

We never start out in agreement. If we agreed, what would be the point of conversing?

It's not that we seek out points of disagreement, but the human mind works dialectically. If Roberto says A, I tend to see that there is something to be said for not A. Obviously, we converse within a certain determined universe of shared values.

Not only do we never start out in agreement, we never end in complete agreement. In fact, we only end the dialogue because one of us has some other commitment to attend to.

However, in the course of our disagreements about A, we generally discover, yes, discover, that we are in agreement about D, which has little to do with A or B or C.

Discovering that we are in agreement about D fortifies our friendship and the joy of conversing with one another. In fact, perhaps the secret of a good conversation that the partners in the dialogue discover that their mutual interest in D.

The first time I ventured into Butterflies and Wheels, I imagined that that same joy of conversing and disagreeing and then agreeing and then disagreeing would be present.

I was very innocent.

I've been interrogated by the NYPD on suspicion of giving drugs to a woman who jumped from a window and survived, by Panamian police for having entered in the country illegally according to them (I finally bribed them), by Chilean police for demonstrating against the Pinochet dictatorship (I convinced them that I sought a peaceful solution to our mutual differences), and they were all more pleasant, less hostile experiences than falling into the hands of the GNU atheists.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure we do have that many of the same core beliefs and values. I think there might be as many differences in these among non believers, as there are differences among people who identify as religious. I'm not sure many new atheists, so many of whom seem to have come from fundamentalist environments, realise the degrees of difference in religious views. Fundamentalist Christianity might be the loudest, most overt or predominant form of Christianity in the US, but in the Antipodies, Great Britain and some European countries too, religion is far more liberal, agnostic and secular. And in NZ for example, where I'm from, government and education are secular, the population is multi cultural but integrated and belief and non belief is far more personal (and 'Christianity' is very much 'Secular Christianity' without God and certainly without anything that affects the natural order of things, or contradicts scientific evidence). There is no rabid fundamentalism so no rabid fungusmentalism to oppose it. I don't share the new atheist view that the world would be a better place if we were all atheists. While fundamentalism needs to be vilified, or educated out of humanity with a general understanding of history and evolution - of religion! - surely there are more important issues for humanity to create a better world... for everyone. And it's impossible to stamp out religious ideas when they don't contradict science and science doesn't provide alternative views for unanswered questions.

As for why they should want to make Chris a laughing stock (which they fail to do for anyone but themselves) even if it's just jealousy, I still don't get it. It does remind me of the sort of vicious little children who get satisfaction from tormenting animals, but that's normally because those pitiful children generally come from dysfunctional homes. I just don't know.


Jean Kazez said...


I actually do feel like I share some core beliefs and values with the NA folk--like...

(1) There is no god
(2) The case for (1) is very strong
(3) It is very important for people to be able to openly assert (1)
(4) We should not "believe in belief" or otherwise shield religious ideas from challenge
(5) Religion has too much influence over public affairs
(6) We should not bullshit in order to salvage religious doctrines that are indefensible
(7) Morality is possible without God
(8) Atheists can be lovely people
(9) Some religious ideas are super-dangerous, and we should not hesitate to say so
(10) It's possible to deal with the life-cycle (birth, death, marriage, etc) without the assistance of religion.

I used to think that buying into (1) - (10) (and more) meant I had quite a bit in common with the NAs, and maybe in fact I was one! What changed that is seeing people get treated like heretics and turned into laughingstocks if, despite agreeing to (1) - (10), they also think some or all of these things--

(11) Some new atheists sound too militant and strident, and this is not constructive

(12) It's an open and complex question whether we'd all be better off without religion

(13) A person can coherently embrace science and at least some religion

Over time, I think NAs have solidified their "platform" so that you're not one of the gang if you get anywhere close to (11), (12), or (13). That's strange, I think. My gut feeling, reading Dawkins and Harris in 2007 was "oh goodie, people like me!"

Jean Kazez said...

Amos, (a) There's a history and there are personal factors here, and (b) there's a difference between a philosophy blog and a political blog. I think in some sense B&W is a political blog, designed for the promotion of certain positions and attitudes. So the sort of batting around of ideas that's just normal in the philosophy world doesn't necessarily fly. It took me a while to figure that out.

Wow--you've been in some intense situations. I've had a few adventures, but nothing like that!

Anonymous said...

I think alot of religious people share many if not almost all 1-10. I don't know America but in some other places I mentioned above, religion doesn't have, and shouldn't have, and religious people agree, influence in public affairs. Also for religious people values are not necessarily god inspired but human values, evolved and evolving. God and god ideas aren't necessarily important for some religious people who constantly challenge and question their own 'beliefs', and if not actually atheist, can be quite openly agnostic. I've never believed, and I agree with you really, but I just think new atheists put too much stress on religion especially 11,12 and 13 and lump religious people together, and seem to really despise people like me, even though I don't believe in gods and have never believed or needed to believe. They don't want to hear about religious diversity and even deny it. But I suppose we are talking about different cultures. I'm not fond of Harris or Dawkins for many reasons. They're both very bright and intelligent and not stupidly aggressive like many of the NAs choose to be, but they're just not that knowledgable on religion. But you're right, fundamentally we do share common values with NAs. And many religious people too I think.


s. wallerstein said...

Actually, one's real core beliefs are not A or B or C or even D, but R, S, and T, which people only discover after long, long conversations in which give and take and mutual respect are possible.

If John says A and I say possibly not A, and John begins to scream at me because of my relation with my mother, John and I are never going to discover if we share R, S and T.

What's more, if John and I don't discover together what we think about R, S and T, it is quite possible that I will never discover by myself what I think of R, S and T, since my habitual thoughts tend to revolve around A and B.

One of the clear benefits of give and take in a dialogue is that one discovers what one thinks about R, S, T, and even Z.

For example, this dialogue enabled me to discover what I just said.