Representation of Motherhood
by Erin Hoelscher
The Feminine Mystique
After reading The Feminine Mystique, I quickly became aware of how segregated and stereotyped women were in the 1960s. Married women specifically were seen as only to become housewives and nothing more. Because of this fixed position in life, they often felt feelings of emptiness, boredom, and low self-esteem. These levels of severe depression lead many women to drinking or taking tranquilizers to numb the pain. The publication of this book was very important to society because it released a brushed aside secret of a struggling part of society. Housewives all had these feelings but did not know if others did, too. With the release of this book, they realized that they were not alone and that they could work together to overcome this problem and gain their true emotional independence.
In many earlier magazines that were focused on a female audience, men were usually the writers and editors. More specifically, in the 1930 editions of Redbook, many men were the editors, but many women wrote for the magazine. This magazine was more targeted toward entertainment in serial novels and short stories rather than editorials. Redbook, for its time, was very progressive and empowering for women with its reoccurring articles about influential women in the past and present. However, viewing other presentations showed a great shift in magazines over time and made it more obvious to me that magazine are now much more focused on housewife and motherly duties. There are more articles that focus on cooking, cleaning, and fun activities for your children. Today's magazines lack a lot of progressive, self-love focused articles.
In doing the music video project, I learned that there are not many songs focused on mothers. The majority of songs available to cover for the project were country songs – which caught my attention. I decided to do my project on Kanye West’s, a rapper’s, song “Hey Mama.” In this song he is saying thank you to his mother who went through many difficult times to give him the best life possible. In return, he offers to give his mom anything that she has ever wanted because she deserves it. In my project, I used pictures of my mom and I, but also included pictures of Kanye and his mom. There were times I was able to match my pictures to the lyrics, but other times using Kanye and his mom were far more appropriate. I learned that anyone who thanks their mother through song is always very appreciative of all the work their mom has done for them and their career. I think more artists should write songs for their moms, because without them, they would not be as successful as they are.
In many classic and current Disney movies, the mother of the main character either dies or is taken away from the main character very early on in the movie. Bruno Bettelheim argues that the child’s personality can develop quicker when the mother is missing. By killing the mother, you can preserve an all good mother and not endanger the image of the good mother. In return for removing the mother, today’s movies replace her with a good father. Another point on this problem is the fact that there is only 90 minutes to work with. There needs to be significant independent character development and not having a parent speeds up this process. Having a mother killed or removed in these films is harsh, but sometimes necessary for the main character to quickly mature.
In other films, mothers are shown as heroes who are struggling, but somehow succeeding, at motherhood. They also show dads as very incapable of almost everything a mom does on a daily basis. Because moms are seen as stressed in their everyday lives, they are portrayed as running around with their heads cut off. However, despite this general observation, mothers have been shown as care takers, practical, the perfect lady, highly resourceful, and the sacrificer. Mothers are usually portrayed in a good light in movies, but others are not. In Little Miss Sunshine, the mom is shown as incredibly supportive and one of the only held together members of the family. She is the one that keeps them grounded.
In Living Room: A Novel, I learned that almost all moms sacrifice for their families and their children. They will put on a good, happy face showing their children that everything is fine and that the children should not worry. The grandmother, Headie, in particular, married and stayed with men who she never fully loved, but who she knew would be able to provide for her son. She convinced men that they needed to be her son’s father so he would have a safe future. I learned that being a mother is more about doing what is best for your family than what is best for yourself. In my opinion, motherhood is difficult, but you should never sacrifice your sanity for a happy façade.
After all of the class lectures, my own research, and other presentations, I learned that there have been many influential mothers in television. Most mothers have come across as supportive stay at home moms within a traditional family. It is not until the 90s and more modern television that basic cable has shown moms in non-traditional families. More single moms and working moms have taken over major networks and they are succeeding. They are teaching women everywhere that they can be prosperous without a “regular” family and that they can feel fulfillment in their own lives however they want. I like this new take on motherhood because it is very empowering and different from the typical “perfect housewife” in a dress and pearls.
Children & Teens
When discussing this section of motherhood in media, I was quick to pick up on the fact that many children books do not have prominent mother figures. I find this kind of ironic since moms are usually the ones reading these books to their kids. The majority of books that did have mothers in them were told from the perspective of the mom and were about how much they loved their child. When looking at teen novels and movies, the moms ranged drastically from good to bad, strong to weak, and all the in between. Through observing all the mothers in various teen movies and television shows, I learned that every mother, no matter how “bad” they may seem, all have motherly instincts that show through in one way or another. No mom is portrayed as useless.
We got our first taste of advertising in women’s magazines at the beginning of the semester. I learned that a lot of ads focused on cleaning, cooking, and fashion. The ads came across quite sexist and stereotypical. Mothers were the only ones that dealt with the children, the house work, etc. Most ads are pointed towards those aspects of their everyday lives. Today, I learned that many ads take a different, more empowering approach to targeting moms. In my project, I had an ad that had other moms give testimonials on why they liked a product. Another ad exploited the emotional ties of a mother to her child to create an emotional tie with the product. The femininity of ads for mothers is still overly strong, but it works.
Many news stories that we viewed as a class this semester categorized moms into three categories: crazy, loving, and creative. There were many stories about "crazy" mothers that left their kid(s) unprotected, killed their kid(s), or put their kid(s) in dangerous situations. These kind of stories always put mothers in a negative light and make society view them as uncontrollable, bad parents. To fight this stigma, the news also shares stories of “loving” mothers who do something to save their child or to make them happier. These change the light and show that no matter what the circumstance, some mothers will do anything to make their kid(s) happy and healthy. Other articles showed mothers as “creative” and fun loving. Many mothers cope with the stress of raising children through laughing at themselves in videos, art work, or song. These moms show that even when they are stressed, they can still have a good time and put a smile on their face. Mothers ultimately do not get a lot of media attention, but when they do, it is usually very fun and loving.
Throughout all the surveys, I quickly learned that the demographic for mothers is not just other women like my mom. Many mothers were young, other old, some with only one child, some with many. Conducting these surveys really helped me see that there are many different opinions on mothering, but all with the same goal of giving the best to their kid(s). The various generations may have different tastes in TV shows and different opinions regarding Disney movies, but they all understand some things need to be done for the greater good of your child. I liked learning about this universal understanding that all mothers share. It is awesome to see all these moms unite even if they have differentiating responses to some questions.
Overall Learning Summary
I entered this class not expecting to come out with a changed perspective on mothers and motherhood. I quickly learned with The Feminine Mystique the importance of not limiting a woman to one roll in life and letting her find her own fulfilment as a mother, a working woman, both, or neither. Before this novel was published, the media was portraying mothers as stay at home moms who should only do the typical wife duties of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. However, ever since the late 60s and early 70s, the media has been more open to showing what it is really like being a mother. In particular, television shows had mothers that were successful women in the work force. Because of this real portrayal of the amount of sacrificing mothers do to provide a great life for their children, many artists and writers have created works of art, songs or novels, in honor of their mothers. I find this phenomenon very heartfelt and refreshing to have society see the importance of women, in particular mothers, in everyone’s lives. However, as society continues to progress, people are expecting to continue to see the "real" lives of mothers. I think things have started to take a little bit of a turn south with the inclusion of bad or power-hungry mothers in television, movies, and novels. Yes, this is still going along the path of showing the various types of real mothers there are in the world, but I think some are too extreme. I appreciate society’s effort to have no boundaries set on what mothers can be, but I believe there is a sense of integrity that needs to be held to the fact that everyone has a mom and they would not be where they are in this world without them. Through taking this class, I have really gown to appreciate the power and love my mom possesses.