We’ve all got a guilty pleasure online and while for some of you it will be DIY porn projects or the ASOS flatform section, mine is totally naff: Mumsnet’s Am I Being Unreasonable forum.
I don’t have any babies yet, nor am I particularly wound up by an evil ‘MIL’ (that’s mother-in-law, in Mumsnet parlance), but there’s something about the naked honesty of the threads that keeps me coming back for more.
Feminist wisdom is not in short supply on AIBU - no surprise, as the site as a whole specialises in information, advice and resources for single mums, women seeking to leave abusive partners, and women returning to work after having a baby. No wonder it's recently been heralded as the backdrop for a quiet feminist revolution.
AIBU forumites are always quick to slap down breaking tales of sexism - whether inside the home or on the front pages, and have campaigned on a range of issues from victim-blaming to miscarriage care.
They’re also genius wordsmiths - Google ‘fanjo’, ‘cocklodger’, ‘twunt’, ‘vagine’, or ‘fuckbadger’ now if you haven’t yet learnt any Mumsnet lingo.
Mumsnet is also famous for its no-nonsense approach to relationships, epitomised by the commonly-heard refrain, 'Leave the bastard'. Friends and family can be over-cautious when it comes to offering a woman advice on whether to break-up a relationship - and even more so if her partner is the baby daddy - but it's easier for forumites to give a woman impartial advice. As one woman points out: 'In RL [real life], I find that when my friends complain about their partners/husbands it is not anywhere near LTB [Leave The Bastard] territory and it's rare that I'm even thinking, let alone, saying, they should LTB... Things were pretty damned tough for me before I started thinking about sharing my personal problems with strangers on the internet... and by that stage LTB was the appropriate advice.'
But my favourite part of the site, the Am I Being Unreasonable (or ‘AIBU’) forum, seems to have feminist principles at heart - one of the many justifications I use to stop myself feeling like a weird lurker on there as I scroll through its ‘mumlemmas’.
The principle of an AIBU thread is that some lone Mumsnet member has been hard done by, and can’t rationalise the outcome of a particular encounter.
By sharing it in a thread, she opens herself up to frank and often faceless judgement , but much as you’d think this would be a prime waterhole for trolls and judgey grandmas, it’s actually pretty fair scrapping. Plus, it beats asking an agony aunt - when you’re hit with a volley of harsh truths rather than one lone voice of reason, it’s much harder to ignore the advice.
Take the following, for instance. One original poster (OP) wants to know whether to shave her fanny: ‘I know loads [sic] off women shave, wax , pluck , etc. But what if i just dont [sic] want to anymore?’ She gets a few kind replies, but the overwhelming tone of the responses are drier than Anthea Turner’s hoo-ha.
Helpful responses included ‘just shave one side and see which you prefer’; also, ‘freedom for fanny shavers’. A more empathetic soul shared that as she’d aged her ‘downstairs area’ had gotten so out of hand she could no longer be bothered to tackle it. Even bolder, one poster admits ‘I got DP to do it for me once about 20 years ago, but that's only because I'd read about it in Jilly Cooper’.
At the moment I’m lucky enough to have good close friends who are happy to advise on the best way to prune a ladygarden - how to avoid serrating your labia with nail scissors, for instance, and whether or not to condition your pubes. More importantly, I can trust my friends with the serious emotional stuff too. They can tell me to my face if I’m being a dick, for which I feel quite thankful.
But I’ve been in circles before where I and everyone around me just endlessly fangirled one another, leading ultimately to an almighty stink of bullshit strong enough to kill off even the most narcissistic of friendships. These are the same situations where the only way to get a straight answer about whether you’re being an arse or not, was to ask strangers.
Much as I love the ‘cuddly, tub-of-icecream’ sisterhood, I also want us to have the self-esteem to ask for honest advice when we really need it. And I would fight to the death for every woman’s right to honest counsel.
Thanks to you, women of AIBU: I found my feminist icons the last place anyone would expect to.