MOTHERHOOD IN NOVELS
In her story, The Help, Kathryn Stockett transports her readers back to the 1960s, a time in when life for blacks in the south was still defined by servitude. As three very different women come together and take a chance in exposing what life is like for “the help”, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny express what being a mother, caregiver, and role model is all about.
The first mother figure in the novel is Constantine, Skeeter’s maid. Skeeter, is a young woman who struggles with making her sickly mother’s wishes come true by finding a husband. In the past, Skeeter always turned to her beloved Constantine for comfort, but when Skeeter returns home, Constantine is gone. Although Skeeter did grow up with her biological mother, she always felt a special connection with Constantine, who exemplified what being a mother is all about.
The second mother figure in the novel is Aibileen, Mae Mobley’s maid. Although Mae Mobley is Aibileen’s 17th white child, and even though she knows that she may have to leave her someday, she loves Mae Mobley like she is her own. The bond shared by these two, although not genetic, is very special to Aibileen, and she hopes that Mae Mobley will remember it long after she is gone.
The third mother figure in the novel is Minny, Miss Celia’s maid. After being fired for her sassy mouth and backtalk, Minny goes to work for Miss Celia. Celia does not know how to cook or clean house, so she hires Minny as their maid without her husband knowing, just so he can think that she can be a homemaker on her own. Celia finds comfort in having Minny there to help her because she feels like an outcast, just like Minny. Like a mother, Minny guides Celia, gives her the confidence and strength that she needs to grow in her own skin, and expresses that there is nothing wrong in being different from everybody else.
From the novel, The Help, the most important characteristic of motherhood I learned is the quality of the relationship that exists between the individual doing the mothering and the person being mothered. Although some may forget that a mother figure is often not an individual’s biological mother, it does not minimize the positive impact that the mother figure may have on a person.
MOTHERHOOD IN FILMS
Peter Pan, the story of the boy who never grew up, is a comical, lighthearted classic—one that makes us all feel like we are kids again. However, a deeper look into this story shows qualities of naivety, nurturance, and compassion in its multiple “mother” characters. Mrs. Darling, Wendy, and Nana are three characters that play different roles in the movie, but they all demonstrate these traits that represent the role of mothers played during the time in which it was set—the 1900s—and the time in which it was produced—the 1950s.
Peter Pan is set in 1900s London, when the separation of classes was very prevalent. The Darlings are upper class aristocrats, who live a very frivolous, decorative, and ethereal lifestyle rather than that of a deprived, vigorous, working class family. As during the 1950s, when the film was produced, upper and middle class women were considered to be second class citizens who stood by and “look pretty” as their husbands managed the finances and social circles.
Mr. and Mrs. Darling and their family emphasize this idea of a traditional household. While Mr. Darling is quick to anger, frustrated, and often overwhelmed by his children and their silly imaginations, Mrs. Darling is the calm, understanding, kind, loving, and wise mother who connects with her children on a personal level ad who always maintains a confident and presentable appearance.
Wendy is almost thirteen and is the eldest of the Darling children. Although she is in a transition period between child and young lady, Wendy always assumes the “protector” role when necessary. With a tame and accepting personality, Wendy recognizes the dangers that exist in questionable comments and behaviors, and she wants to help teach the other characters to recognize these social problems as well.
Nana, the housedog, cleans up after the Darling children and possesses a tolerant and nurturing personality. She helps watch after the Darling children when the parents are away for business or social events, as upper class couples often were during this time.
From the film, Peter Pan, I learned about the very traditional gender and socioeconomic roles that existed in the household during the 1900s and the 1950s. First, as with Mrs. Darling, mothers during this time were typically more connected with their daughters than their sons, as they were raising them to eventually take over the motherhood role that they currently occupied. Second, as with Wendy, the young boys of this story turn to her for guidance and approval, expressing the idea that all men during these time periods needed a female presence in their lives. Lastly, as with Nana, she is the low socioeconomic character that takes care of the children when their wealthy parents are unable to do so.
MOTHERHOOD IN TELEVISION
In 2015, on the television network, The CW, there are five shows that each portray motherhood differently: “Jane the Virgin”, “Supernatural”, “Reign”, “The 100”, and “iZombie”. From watching these five television shows and comparing and contrasting them, I can say that the way mothering occurs is certainly influenced by the time period and the cultural context the family exists within.
Xiomara Villanueva is the mother of Jane Villanueva, the protagonist of the show, “Jane the Virgin”. Xo is a carefree, stubborn, and rebellious young woman who got pregnant at 16 in the 1970s, and although the odds may be stacked against her, she has always presented herself as an independent Hispanic lady who stands up for herself, chases after her dreams, and supports her daughter wholeheartedly.
Mary Winchester is the mother of Sam and Dean Winchester, the two lead characters of the show, “Supernatural”. The series begins with her fiery death in the 1970s, and although she does not appear throughout the show, she is constantly referred to. Her death and her history of being a hunter drive her boys to carry on the family business, and the sacrifices she made for her family are symbolic to the Winchester boys as they selflessly protect people from all things supernatural.
Catherine de Medici is the mother of ten children and the widow of Henry II in the show, “Reign”, which takes place during the Renaissance era. Although Catherine comes off as cold and distant, this queen and mother is willing to do take any extreme measures to keep information out of the wrong hands, demonstrating her loyalty to her family, bloodline, and throne.
Abigail Griffin is the mother of Clarke Griffin and wife to her husband, Jake, in the futuristic show, “The 100”. While serving as an officer, chancellor, and leader to all, she has a difficult time balancing her responsibilities within and beyond her family. As a strong, determined, and intelligent woman, Dr. Griffin certainly does the “working mom” justice.
Eva Moore is the mother of Olivia Moore in the present-day science fiction show, “iZombie”. As an overbearing mother and intelligent working woman, Eva is disappointed in her lazy zombie daughter as she diverges from a path of success and breaks off her engagement to the perfect man. Although she does not see eye-to-eye with Liv, she tries her best to get her daughter back on track and only wants the best for her.
MOTHERS IN THE NEWS
Throughout the semester, there were four current news stories that I focused on involving mothers. Overall, these stories did an excellent job at highlighting both the heartbreaking and uplifting realities of motherhood today,
The first story I shared involved a mother who had escaped from her Houston apartment with her three children and survived after her previous partner had shot her multiple times in her face and body. This story depicts a protective mother who will do anything possible to save her children.
The second story was about a toddler who had been brutally beaten to death by the woman who had custody of her after being removed from her home because her father had admitted to using marijuana. This story explores the spectrum of parenting and confirms the claim that no parent is perfect, but it is clear that some are more fitting to raise children than others.
The third story I shared reported a Catholic mother and Jewish father raising their daughter as Catholic and their son as Jewish. There were many social and familial obstacles that these spouses experienced while raising their children, and many of the direct quotes from the article allowed me to put myself in the mother’s shoes and to think about the difficulties she must have faced. This story depicts a very real situation that individuals face whenever they merge families and values with their spouse.
The fourth story was about the first surviving set of quintuplets born since 1969. The reactions and emotions expressed by both parents, especially the mother, really touched me and allowed me think about all the fears and anxieties that come with being pregnant, delivering a baby (or babies), and then taking the next step in truly becoming a mother and raising a child.
MOTHERHOOD IN ADVERTISMENTS
For my Mothers in Advertisement project, I chose three different commercials that advertised basic household items: “Charmin” toilet paper, “Brawny” paper towels, and “Swiffer” dusting products. Overall, the three of the commercials portrayed mothers as homemakers, caretakers, nurturers, and cleaners, and they expressed other members of the family as messy, helpless, forgetful, careless, and dependent on mothers within the home.
The first commercial advertised Charmin toilet paper, and it showed three confused baby bears and a papa bear. Mama bear has the solution to their toilet paper needs, and she combines four regular rolls into one “mega roll”, portraying mothers as the problem solvers of the home.
The second commercial advertised Brawny paper towels as the “go-to product” for moms. It shows a mother cleaning up after her very messy children and training her husband to do the dishes, depicting her as the wise and all-knowing leader of the household.
The third commercial advertised Swiffer dusters. It showed that this product accomplishes household tasks in half the time, allowing moms to “never miss a thing”, and this scatterbrained mother becomes composed and collected after her motherly duties have been completed with the help of her Swiffer.
MOTHERHOOD IN MAGAZINES
The twelve editions of InStyle magazine from 2010 focused on four main areas the magazine devotes attention to: hair, beauty, fashion, and celebrities.
The first area that centered on hair explored the new edgy colors and cuts, specifically with short, choppy cuts and dark, unnatural colors. These new styles showed that women of any age, occupation, or background could explore this new style. An example was Rihanna’s trendsetting look, which included long bangs, buzzed sides, and a ruby red color. The second area of focus in InStyle was on beauty, specifically makeup. Different spreads, photos, and articles provided beauty tips to the everyday woman, encouraging her to love herself and to enhance her natural beauty. An example was a new tanning body makeup that would result in a nice, natural glow, similar to that of Jennifer Lopez. The purpose of this section was to promote confidence and self-acceptance of women and to remind mothers that they should be proud of their personal identities beyond that of a mom.
The third area of this magazine centered on fashion, and the fourth area focused on celebrities. These two sections were intertwined, as InStyle utilizes celebrities as the individuals that other women can turn to for inspiration. The magazine used these famous women to show what is stylish and fashionable at the time of publication, and they often provided alternatives that could form to a mother’s budget and lifestyle. An example of when the magazine highlighted fashion was the Vancouver Olympic Games and the attire provided to the American athletes by Ralph Lauren. Also, they often used photos of pregnant celebrities and famous moms, such as Amy Adams and Zoe Saldana, to reinforce the thought that everyday women were relatable to the faces they saw in the media.
THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was a novel that discussed “the problem that has no name”, the depression that existed among housewives and mothers during the 1960s. Although this book may seem irrelevant and unimportant to mothers in the 21st century, the stories told on its pages helped to solve a reoccurring problem 50 years ago, providing a turning point for the role of women within and beyond the home.
Some of the topics discussed in the novel included the following: the symptoms many women were facing because of “housewife fatigue”, including physical and emotional exhaustion; the limitations women experienced on social and economic levels; and the identity (or lack thereof) these women possessed, which had been formed based on societal and familial expectations. Many women during this time period felt that there was something wrong with them specifically, but The Feminine Mystique sparked a conversation among women and professionals, highlighting the prevalence of this problem and assuring housewives that there were other women who experienced the same feelings of emptiness, inadequacy, and entrapment.
This book gave women in the 1960s the courage and power to take their identities and fates out of the controlling hands of male-dominated society and into their own, serving as a monumental turning point for equal gender recognition and empowerment of women within and beyond their domestic domains.
MOTHERHOOD IN DISNEY STORIES
During the time we discussed mothers in Disney stories this semester, there were two major topics that stuck out to me significantly.
The first area of discussion I found interesting was the division in types of Disney mothers. The first type was the “nurturer”, as portrayed by the mother characters in Peter Pan and The Jungle Book, and they are incredibly loving and caring towards their family members and others in the stories. The second type was the “protector”, as depicted by the mothers in Tarzan and The Lion King, and these mothers are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect their loved ones from both physical and emotional harm. Also, many stories, such as Dumbo, depict mothers as both protectors and nurturers simultaneously.
The second area of discussion that I enjoyed was the effect of having a mother be absent from the Disney story, mainly because I had never before realized how frequently mother characters are not present. Often times, the mom has been killed or died tragically because if the mother’s existence within the story ends with her being portrayed positively, the image of this “good mother” can remain intact and idealized. The main reason for absent mothers in Disney stories is because a mother serves as a guide and teacher for her child throughout life, so if the mother’s influence is not present, the child is forced to learn how to live life on their own, face challenges that exist in the real world, and accept responsibility, driving the plot of the story. A cruel stepmother, alternative mother figure, or a good father who will fill the roles of both mother and father to the child often replaces these absent mothers.
MOTHERHOOD IN CHILD AND TEEN FICTION
There are two major areas for improvement in children’s books regarding the depiction of mothers. The first issue with children’s stories is that they are not representative of the national population regarding single-parent families, ethnically and racially diverse families, or two-income families, so the portrayal of the motherhood is unparallel to a realistic representation. The second issue involves the alternative characters presented in children’s stories, and this role could be further explored because there are multiple opportunities for individuals who are not biological mothers to take on influential mothering roles.
As for teen fiction, many of the mother characters are depicted as strong and courageous individuals, setting a strong example for the teen protagonist up to model himself/herself after. Personally, I found that teen stories were more relatable than were children’s stories and the Disney tales because the situations the characters face in these stories are similar to those that I have gone through in my recent teen years and still encounter now.