The internet has become a much-vaunted battleground in the modern “mommy wars” — blogs, news sites, and the comments on both are oft-cited as hotbeds of mommy-blaming. Feminist author Jessica Valenti quotes on commenter in her new book, Why Have Kids: “I get so annoyed with people who choose to plop their kids with someone else […]. Do your time, ladies!” And headlines like AOL’s “Bad News for Working Moms: Your Kids Are More Likely to Be Large” are still pretty much par for the course. The internet can feel like a harsh place for moms — and a systematic look at the words sites use can give us a clearer picture of what messages moms are getting online.
BuzzFeed’s data team looked at headlines from over 200 BuzzFeed partner sites — a pretty wide swath including major news, sports, gossip, politics, and fashion sites — from 2012 so far. First, they looked at which adjectives were most likely to be paired with “mom” or “mother.” The top 10: new, old, free, bad, best, full, happy, naked, good, and real. Below, the number of times each adjective appeared in connection with “mom” or “mother” so far in 2012.
The top 10 adjectives paired with “dad” or “father” during the same period: American, free, old, new, full, big, best, happy, greatest, and real.
Some of these terms are more revealing than others — the popularity of “American,” for instance, is probably a result of the show American Dad. But note that “bad” was the fourth most-common adjective for moms, while it didn’t even make the top 10 for dads. Also noteworthy is the popularity of “naked” for moms — none of the sites indexed were porn sites, but tips for looking good naked may be more common for moms than dads.
Next the data team compared the incidence of a few key adjectives: bad, good, lazy, and absent.
Moms were way more likely to be described as “bad” than dads were — just under 6 times more likely. Interestingly, they were also more likely to be described as “good,” though the difference was less stark (about a factor of 2). It appears that at least as far as headlines go, moms were more likely be evaluated, whether those evaluations were positive and negative. In fact, moms just got more mentions, period: 11,173 to dads’ 7,506, or about twice as many. What this suggests is that, at least on the sites we looked at, people are just talking about moms a lot more than they’re talking about dads.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. While stay-at-home dads are getting more coverage lately, the phrase “daddy wars” has yet to enter the mainstream. And though the finding that older dads could increase their kids’ risk of autism recently caused a stir, it’s still moms (or women who hope to be moms) who find themselves at the center of debates on fertility, work-life balance, and childcare. Despite some changes, our analysis bears out what recent magazine covers have suggested: in our culture, motherhood is far more examined — and judged — than fatherhood.