Law in the Internet Society

Modern Motherhood: the tale of a working woman and her working baby

-- By JulieLi - 20 Nov 2020


Through a series of perfectly imperfect causes and effects, the existence of the internet has done for mothers what no government has been able to do before. Indeed, the conditions created by the internet and the forms of capitalist production that it propagates have been able to empower women to be, at the same time, economically productive and ‘good mothers’ in the eyes of society. Unfortunately, like all things that seem too good to be true, the conditions of productivity for mothers in the age of the internet are positively Faustian. This essay aims to show the formation of this Faustian bargain, the journey to monetisation of motherhood and ultimately, reasons why babies will continue to work from before they are even born.

You need to explain here, not 625 words further along, what you are talking about. You need to say that you are talking about influencers who are mothers and are using their infants and toddlers as props in their content manufacture, thus putting the infants and children to work. There's so much other language between here and the first appearance of the theme that reading twice is necessary even to understand what's going on, which is more than you can expect of readers.


I should begin by drawing an outline of the confines of this essay. Firstly, this essay discusses the work of children in the developed world. The work of children in developing countries is undeniably pervasive and poses myriad social, political, economic and moral issues, all of which are not intended to be the subject of discussion. Instead, this essay seeks to paint a picture of how babies are participating in the economy of the developed world. Babies, for the purpose of this essay, is defined to mean children between the ages of 0 and 5 and is intended to represent a group of children characterised by limited cognition, communication, self-sufficiency and self-determination.

The internet giving mothers wings

In the pre-internet age, the market for baby work was characterised by minimal demand and minimal supply. Although stage mothers and their baby ‘talents’ were available for moneymaking opportunities such as acting, modelling, pageants and other competitions, demand for baby work was limited and relatively concentrated to cities of media production such as Los Angeles. The internet changed all of this. As our own Professor Moglen writes in The dotCommunist Manifesto, digital technology “transformed the bourgeois economy” as “the dominant goods in the system of production – the articles of cultural consumption that are both commodities sold and instructions to the worker on what and how to buy – along with all other forms of culture and knowledge now… (had) zero marginal cost”.

The internet economy birthed the ‘influencer’, who at almost no marginal cost, could gather an online following by curating an online identity, consolidating their web of influence through likes, shares and comments on various social media platforms, and monetise this ability to connect with a mass audience. With consumers becoming more reliant on reviews from online communities and more suspicious of the traditional marketer’s pitch, the influencer became a powerful vessel for advertising as their candid, personal relationships with followers supplanted word-of-mouth advice. Unlike the previous generation of celebrity influencers whose identities were predicated on a life of status and glamour, the social media influencer’s charm lay in their ordinariness, which, combined with low start-up costs meant that anyone could be an influencer.

The internet was thus able to do what no government had successfully done before. By simply existing it presented a solution to the biggest biological conundrum that modern women faced since the invention of condoms: the trade-off between career and motherhood. The modern woman, beholden to the ticking of the biological clock, is presented with a decision for which there is no right choice – a working mother is criticised for failing to fulfil the time intensive duties of mothering while a mother who does not work is beholden economically to another person. The internet however, by providing women with opportunities to monetise their daily mommy life, created the working conditions that empowered women to be breadwinners and good mothers who take on the role of primary caretaker at the same time.

What does baby work look like?

Baby work is an incident of the mommy influencer. The mommy influencer is usually a blogger who curates their identity around their own life which is greatly shaped by motherhood and the development of their child. Many mommy bloggers were already influencers before they became mothers, while others became mommy bloggers as they settled into motherhood. A smaller number of mommy bloggers manage social media accounts for their children, becoming the orchestrators of an online identity for which their child is the model. Mommy bloggers use a variety of interfaces, including blog websites, Instagram, youtube and facebook and post in a wide variety of time frames ranging from daily to sporadic. Children are largely the subject of mommy blog content, with Crystal Aibidin categorising the children’s ‘domestic filler’ activities into five categories: (1) developmental milestones (2) family occasions (3) errands (4) confessions and personal reflections and (5) responses to daily happenings. Often, influencers will produce content that shows their child wearing or playing with sponsored products so as to fulfil advertising partnerships. As such, the baby becomes a brand extension of the mommy, depicting the influencer’s everyday experience of motherhood and thus promoting the influencer’s way of life.

Why baby work is here to stay

The arrival of the internet has irrevocably changed our society and economy. Like the pandora’s box, what has been released cannot be replaced –the internet society has forever lost the innocence of a time when babies did not participate in the economy. As long as mankind exists, the continuity of births, humans’ pathological obsession with their progeny and the mother’s needs will form the demand for baby goods, in turn creating demand for advertising and thus, baby work. Without regulatory invention the existence of demand necessarily implies the existence of supply and so, baby work will continue into perpetuity. It is uncertain whether baby’s existence can be disentangled from the existence of the mother to create separate rights in a labour law, privacy law sense but this is a discussion best left for another essay. For now we can only surrender ourselves subliminal messages being tossed at us by babies.

You need to be clear about scale. There are several billion mothers, and there are at most some tens of thousands of such workers. The relevance of such a tiny phenomenon has to be established, it can't be assumed. So many of the words that are used to talk about how unidirectional a phenomenon this is have to be used instead to explain why it matters.

You also need to be a little more clear about the fact that this isn't new. Household prodiuction was production in early modernity. Child labor in domestic life is still everywhere; what Indian household of any type doesn't make use of it, for example? The tension between being a "good mother" and treating one's children as servants is the outlier cultural position, not the norm.

So the universalism implicit in the way your points are presented deserves more critical consideration. Perhaps this isn't an essay about the Internet changes everything, but rather about a small, novel cultural evolution occurring through presently existing social media, that shows a new combination from the arc of culture.

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r2 - 22 Dec 2020 - 21:38:40 - EbenMoglen
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