What do you think when you read that word? Do you think of support, information, webchats? Or do you immediately think of bitchiness, rudeness and cliques?
I first joined up for Mumsnet in 2011. They had just started their blogger forum, I had heard the rumors about nastiness. I had been at the Cybermummy conference when Justine, the sites founder, did little to attract non-middle class Guardian reading Mums to the fold by an ill thought out speech.
You know me though, readers. I am willing to give anyone a chance to prove themselves different. I like to make up my own mind.
The first thread I ever saw or commented on was the very well known in blogging circles post which Typecast made when she joined. She was given a right battering by these women as an outsider, up her own arse, and called much worse. For saying hi and being sarcastic.
It was then I actually found out that someone had been knowingly using my previous blog name to stir trouble on there. I thought, well, that's OK, Mumsnet will deal with it, of course.
They didn't care really. They banned the person after taking 3 days to respond, but never made it clear that the other poster wasn't me. They also knew the name and address of the person responsible, but refused to divulge that to me. As Mumsnetters would say [hmm].
So, I kind of kept my distance. Had a nose round on there from time to time. Started to post the odd time too. I didn't use my blog or real name, making up another nickname on there.
I was kind, jokey, and fitted in. I felt perhaps the original post where Typecast got such a awful response was perhaps a one off, a mis-understanding.
As Grace Dent once said to me (funnily enough at an Oxfam event I attended on behalf of Mumsnet), the Am I Being Unreasonable (aibu) Threads do nothing but show how genuinely nasty women can be to each other.
I first posted on one of these when Mini cut a huge lump of her hair off. I was beside myself that she had done it. I wanted to hear I wasn't alone.
One of the first posts told me I was obviously "a shit mother" as I let her near scissors. I was told I was useless, irresponsible, weak and overly precious of my daughter.
I had been flamed.
And no matter how many times I reiterated that I hadn't left massive sharp scissors where she could reach, she had done it with kids safety scissors (supposedly blunt), it didn't matter.
Its a re-occuring theme of Mumsnet users that, should anyone show any love or worry or concern for their child, (despite us being Mothers) they are flamed. Its as if the majority female membership has decided this is a weakness, something you should treat with scorn. Why? Well, that was never made clear.
I made some friends though, joining in with the X Factor threads, having a laugh with two specific posters about all sorts, there are some who are absolute stars on the site.
Everything had been fine until Saturday. You grow a thick skin, and although I saw others be downright rude and abusive to others, these posts stood. The "f" word is thrown around constantly. It promotes itself as a grown up site. It takes the mickey out of Netmums and Bounty for being "full of chavs and thick bitches" ( that's a direct quote from one poster) who don't allow its members to swear.
Back to Saturday. I joined a rather sarcastic and jokey thread about the programme Sixteen Kids and Counting. It was done in good humor, with lots of posters suggesting they wouldn't dream of having that many kids and the effect it would have on the pelvic floor. It was going along nicely, until an old time poster I'd not encountered came on.
Despite there being 130 other messages, she took offense to mine. I explained I was being sarcastic, and thought she'd move on. Other posters also pointed out it was clearly a joke.
Perhaps the poster was embarrassed by not getting the joke. Perhaps she really didn't get my saying "I wonder if she's ever forgotten any of their names" or found it, bafflingly, offensive.
But she then turned nasty. Explaining she did get I was joking but I was a misogynist and it was an obvious joke to make. So were the 130 other jokes likening her downstairs to a wizards pocket, as one nicer poster suggested, amongst other names, but it seemed I was going to get the sharp end of her tongue.
So, I sarcastically told her to F off. I'm not proud of it, but when faced with someone who clearly just decides to take offense for no reason, that's generally the accepted Mumsnet response.
My post was removed. They didn't contact me to tell me why.
I did, however start getting increasingly abusive messages directed at me on the thread, between 4pm and 11 at night. Mumsnet did nothing. The posts which were disgusting towards me I answered- its not in my nature to slink off and let someone bully you. But these women got increasingly abusive to me and it was beyond a joke. With every message I answered, I was called "hysterical" "over the top" and of "throwing my toys out the pram". For standing up for myself against someone who didn't get a joke and got, well hysterical, over it.
I reported these messages but they remained in the large part.
There is no real distinction in what MNHQ, the self styled Gods of the site (also fond of swearing) finds to be "breaking guidlines". There are guidelines on the site, but I saw every single one broken. Some were deleted (mainly posts about race and obvious posts from outside trolls). Most remained.
I witnessed one woman rant about her bank leaving her with no money. She was given nothing but anger, with posters declaring she was after donations, and was clearly a banned poster using a different login. She kept explaining she wanted advice. She got nothing but hatred. The thread was deleted after a moderator came on and told her off for posting. They didn't ask for her side, didn't reprimand anyone else.
It became clear the bitch invasion was well and truly on. Someone who I got alone with well had recently been witch hunted as an ex-poster just because one of these women had decided she must be her. Two others had left due to bullying and harassment.
I started a thread suggesting Mumsnet was suddenly being taken over by people with no sense of humor. At first, many posters agreed that there were a bunch of miserable cows on the boards an awful lot. Then the other lot twigged and came over to be nasty.
I was reprimanded for starting a Thread About a Thread. Which I hadn't done.
So, I changed my nickname and thought, sod it, I enjoy some of the posters on here's humor, why should I let a small bunch make me miserable? I realised that Mumnet HQ aren't interested in bullying or abuse unless it suits them.
I started a thread voicing that I feel swimming when you are 5 is a bad idea in the winter, as Mini was off today. At the time, it was minus 5, snowing, and I felt, as I still do, that school swimming is much better in the summer.
You'd thought I'd suggested, well, something pretty horrific.
I was called a "shit, lazy parent". Told I was "hysterical and assuming she'd drown" (never mentioned this, I said I was worried she would get cold). Told I was going to turn my daughter into an "entitled adult who does nothing for them self".
It didn't matter how many times I tried to reiterate that they had the wrong impression, I was abused. It got worse and worse. I was called a dog. I was called a c**t. I was told to F Off and die (funnily enough that wasn't removed). I realised that those being nasty were the same group as on Saturday. I also realised that other posters stuck up for me, some even agreeing about swimming that young in winter, and they came under attack too.
So I messaged the ring leader. Privately. Bear in mind this women had called me some truly appalling things, on a public forum. One of the Mumsnet HQ came on the thread, and dictated peace and love. But the posts still remained.
I will quote what I said:
'Back offNothing offensive about that. Just a plea to leave me alone. I didn't swear at her (like she'd done to me). I didn't shout or be abusive.
I'd rather if you didn't comment on my threads or posts anymore.You add nothing to discussions, mine or others I've seen you on where you just belittle the first available person you see and wont let it go. Which, frankly, is childish and shows what a truly nasty person you are. I have namechanged but this isn't the first time you've done nothing but be unnecessarily catty to me. Now you are being rude about my daughter. I take it your kids are bloody perfect then, never get sidetracked, never get frightened by anything? SHE IS 5. Not everyone wants their kids to be old before they are ready. Just leave me alone OK. I nearly left MN because of you and a couple of others over the weekend. I wont be bitched into leaving by someone like you who seems to hang round AIBU just so you can mock. Here's a tip- get a new hobby.'
I tried to go back to the thread after dinner. And couldn't.
I'd been banned.
I expected an email. I expected a reason for this. I had someone go to the thread to see and they were still being abusive to me. Mumsnet now say that I was as they childishly call it "sock puppeting" or posting as someone else. This is not true. It is, however the standard Mumsnet member excuse if you get the worng end of a stick and look foolish. As I say, I knew of two others this had happened to in as many weeks.
I emailed them twice. No response.
I emailed again this morning to find no response.
I tweeted them. And then I found my Mumsnet member badges had disappeared from my blog.
I realised that, not only had I been slapped in the face by being removed yet these other appalling women remained and continued to belittle and swear about me with the full support of MNHQ, but they couldn't have the decency to contact me to explain, let me put my side across, or anything else. They had been quick to erase me though (again, they deny this. But badges don't magically remove themselves).
So, I took my anger to Facebook and publicly asked them to explain their disgraceful behaviour. In the meantime, I'd been tracked down by I assume the group of women and had been hounded via Twitter, and this blog. One anonymous (and we all know what I think of those) comment on here today was to gloat at my removal and to again call me a "c**t"
Suddenly, they did respond. But they blamed me and a "abusive message" sent to another member. They also denied at first having received an email from me, then changed tack and said they'd been "busy" and it was"late" and they'd wanted to "look into it" (yeah right).
I finally got an email in private which the tone of upset me more. It didn't surprise me- no wonder there are a group of members who feel its fully justified to call me the c word if the tone of the moderator is sneering in its entirety.
Again, she blamed me, said I was using two accounts (simply not true) and quoted the above message as "abusive language" in the message.
So, again readers, the names called to me are not abusive. They didn't break talk guidelines as a personal attack Yet asking someone to leave me alone as they are catty and nasty to me constantly is abusive and a personal attack.
There's not much I can do. Frankly, my 18 months at Mumsnet isn't something I'll look back fondly on.
However, is it any wonder the site is constantly being talked about in the press as everything that is wrong with online forums if the moderators are more than happy to pick and choose who they allow to be bullied and who they wont allow to be pointed out in private as a vicious and catty bully?
I would advise you all not to bother. I've never had any traffic from their site until today, and it was the type I could do without. I'd advise you to leave them to their childish playground antics, and hope, one day, the site is banned.
Trust me, unless you like playground gangs and bullying, you wont miss much.