Dooce And The Double Standard Of Being A Woman On The Internet

The original "mommy blogger" died by suicide last week.

woman with baby Budimir Jevtic/ Shutterstock

Trigger warning for suicide, alcoholism, and depression.

Heather B. Armstrong, the creator and writer of the website Dooce and an Internet pioneer credited with the advent of the "mommy blogger," died last week of depression at age 47.

She first rose to Internet notoriety in 2002 when her blog posts about her dot-com job got her fired from said job; she then became one of the earliest living memes, and getting fired because you bitched about certain aspects of your job online was turned into a verb: "dooced."


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Her writing career moved from strength to strength as she wrote in a raw, wry manner about her marriage, pregnancies, and raising her children; by 2012, however, cracks began to develop in her carefully curated online persona.


Much of her writing focused on her attempts to reconcile her former conservative Mormon lifestyle with her then-current life.

Her marriage ended in divorce, and she began detailing her fight with what would become her cruelest adversary, except for online trolls: treatment-resistant depression. Armstrong also struggled with alcoholism, which unfortunately usually accompanies depression and its close sibling — anxiety.

She was photogenic, tall, and very blonde; on early television appearances and Instagram, she looked slick and well-dressed.

Those on the outside during the initial flush of her fame probably thought that despite her often awkward travails, she appeared to epitomize Mommy Blogger "put-together-ness."


However, by 2017, her depression had become so severe and frankly untreatable that she took part in an experimental treatment that essentially put her in brief comas, simulating brain death. It was hoped that these treatments would "re-boot" the parts of her brain locked in a standstill by the black sludge of depression continuously enveloping it.

And for a while, it worked. Things seemed to get a little better.

She even wrote a book about her experience, titled The Valedictorian of Being Dead

There were hits and misses in the months before her death: she regrettably posted anti-trans sentiments on social media. She also posted about her continuing struggles with alcoholism but had sobered up during 2021 — a huge victory, considering the pandemic was still underway and causing continued anxiety worldwide.


As a recovering alcoholic, I know how difficult it is to remain sober during stressful times.

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However, all that came crashing down during her last few weeks. 

According to her boyfriend, she had fallen off the wagon spectacularly, which greatly distressed her. Now all her fans have are the memories of a unique creator who was among the first to blog about what it meant to be a woman during the new millennium, warts and all.

Alcoholism and depression aren’t new concepts for women creators.

Delia Derbyshire, the brilliant BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer credited with the arrangement of the iconic Doctor Who theme song, drank herself to death; so did Mary Blair, the Disney artist who designed dazzling landscapes for Uncle Walt’s movies, resorts, and theme parks.


One can’t help but think that these women — including Armstrong — would’ve fared better as men in what still is a man’s world, where they would be "allowed" to openly have flaws and struggles.

Lyz Lenz wrote in a Washington Post tribute to Armstrong, "The online backlash, criticism, and hate Heather received was overwhelming. These are topics that academics are researching now and that people now have tools to deal with. But in those earlier days, there was nothing. Although I can’t speak for Heather, I can say it’s sometimes hard to separate the voices of hate online from the voices in your head. When that happens, the world becomes a terrifying place to be."

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When a woman is messy as hell online, she is often vilified. 


Is she a good parent? Is she good at her job? Is she a bad person?

Every move to fans and detractors alike serves to divide the creator’s persona into only two areas: "good sister" and "bad sister." There are no areas in between.

In my experience as an online creator, it’s terrifyingly easy for others’ narratives to become dangerously close to your own negative self-talk. The misogyny even comes from inside the house; many of Armstrong’s most vociferous critics and "haters" were other women.

When a man like Elon Musk is relentlessly messy on, say, Twitter, he’s egged on by his millions of fans — and remains one of the wealthiest people in the world. 


A big difference is that messy men are still allowed to go on and be big earners, even if trolled and criticized. 

While no one will be able to figure out Armstrong’s final thoughts before she took her own life, the double standard — women being torn apart for their sometimes ugly humanity while men continue to be elevated, even celebrated — couldn’t have been too far from her mind.

At any rate, Armstrong’s Internet presence leaves resonances.


She started writing with no publisher and no promotional tools. Her popularity was indeed a grassroots effort bolstered by the newness of her voice.

Love her or hate her, she illuminated how an independent, "do-it-yourself" writer can gain a massive following. She launched a generation of other bloggers who identified with the rawness of existing as a woman during this century.

While not trying to sugarcoat the tragic manner of her death, let’s hope Heather B. Armstrong has found the peace that so eluded her during her too-short lifetime.

Drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly common. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that approximately 20.3 million people above the age of 12 have suffered from a substance use disorder in the past year. According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, close to 2 million people of the same age bracket have suffered from opioid use disorders and 14.8 million from alcohol use disorders.


If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.

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Emily Carney is a writer, space historian, and co-host of the Space and Things podcast.