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Everyday Acts of Resistance

An Interview with Ann Allen,
founder of the Feminist Mothers At Home newsgroup

In 1995, Ann Allen launched an Internet newsgroup for Feminist Mothers At Home. The MMO talks with Ann about the project and how it has evolved over the years.

MMO: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Ann Allen: I am the mother of three daughters... estrogen rich environment at my house! They are ages 15, 13 and 9. I have been married to a wonderful husband for nearly 18 years and we complement each other well!

I am a self taught artist and, for the past 6 years, I have run my own art business called Flying Woman Designs out of my home. (www.flyingwomandesigns.com).

MMO: When did you start up FMAH discussion? Was there a particular event that influenced your decision to launch it?

Ann Allen: I began FMAH in 1995 -- that means that next year we'll be TEN years old. That seems impossible!

I began the discussion list because I was feeling quite isolated with my third baby at home and my best friend had just moved out of town. The Internet was a very new entity at the time and I searched all over it for like-minded women who were raising their children at home but staying connected in the world.

I looked into several different newsgroups for parents but either found lots of flaming or lots of recipe sharing. Neither was what I was looking for.

So I put the word out that I was interested in starting a listserv for Feminist Mothers at Home. I did’t have a hard and fast definition of what the list would be but I knew that I just wanted it to be for women who were at home who continued to think and stay involved in the world. Women who didn’t always fit the mainstream motherhood “movement” at the time. I immediately had a response from others who were interested. Then all that was left was to find out how, indeed, to run a listserv and get things started.

Some of those charter members from 1995 are still on the list and have become some of my dearest friends.

MMO: Is the discussion still active?

Ann Allen: Oh yes. A little less traffic now than a few years ago but the list has evolved into a very comfortable community of really amazing women.

A lot of the women see each other in person as well. The list has evolved into really a big group of women friends all over the globe. From annual “retreat” weekends for whoever can attend to just the impromptu get together with a few list members -- some very important friendships have solidified.

MMO: How many mothers, on average, have participated in the FMAH discussion over the course of time?

Ann Allen: The most we ever had at one time was 125. Now we have between 85 and 90.

MMO: What topics are popular in the discussion? How does the feminist framework influence the ongoing dialog?

Ann Allen: In the early days the discussions were often very political and world-event charged. We still discuss current events, politics and feminist/women’s issues, but we also discuss each other's joys and concerns about motherhood and our families.

It really has been great to see our children grow— many of us started with little ones who are embarking on teenager-hood. We've watched one member's daughter graduate high school and college.

A number of the women have entered the paid workforce either full or part time but still have so much to offer to those who are still in the trenches changing diapers or dealing with temper tantrumming two year olds at home.

MMO: What have been some of the hottest topics of the FMAH discussion?

Anne Allen: Some of the hottest topics have been those that are emotionally charged. Abortion. Breastfeeding. Those kind of issues that are very personal and emotional have become heated in the past.

MMO: Do you ever discuss political activism? If so, what kind of issues are participants interested in?

Ann Allen: A number of women are politically active in various aspects of women's issues and working on campaigns.

MMO: Has there been any downside to operating the FMAH discussion?

Ann Allen: No, not really. I can't begin to say how much this community has enriched my life. Any small problem I've had to deal with has been outweighed by how much I have come to depend on having this “family” online.

MMO: With free group discussion services like YahooGroups and Topica now available, have you ever considered switching the venue so more women could join the discussion?

Ann Allen: We use a free service at the moment and that has no bearing on the decision to keep the group small. The size of the group has been as high as 125— but we found that the volume of postings would just get too great with our subscriber list that high. Since I have closed down the list to new subscribers, we have settled in to being a pretty tight-knit group and we like it the way it is. Occassionally I will let a new person in— especially if they send me a particularly appealing email or if they know a current member.

MMO: Do you have any sage advice for other feminist mothers who would like to start an online discussion group?

Ann Allen: Set ground rules. I have a few— not many— that aren’t negotiable. They range from absolute list privacy and respect for all to no recipe sharing. I also think it is good to have some control on the list rather than just opening it up to the general public. Because we have always been a closed list, FMAH hasn't been taken over by flamers or spammers. It has kept a really nice community feel.

mmo :  February 2004

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