Representations of Motherhood
By reading and analyzing the relationship between mother-daughter pair Cassie and Laura in Carolyn Parkhurst’s novel Lost and Found, I learned that it is not necessary to be a perfect mother in order to be a likeable character. Laura makes mistakes as a mother but relentlessly attempts to mend her broken relationship with her daughter, and I enjoyed observing the healing process of what is arguably the deepest connection that exists - that of a mother and her child. This assignment showed me that contemporary literature has moved away from representing mother characters as infallible as they appeared in the 1950’s era and has instead moved towards representing mothers as the human beings that they are who just try to do the best that they can.
I was excited to have the opportunity to rewatch one of my favorite films, the Titanic, and focus specifically on the way Rose’s mother, Ruth, is presented. This assignment, much like the novel assignment, reinforced my view that mothers in contemporary entertainment are no longer being presented as perfect, wonderful mothers. For instance, Ruth is cold towards her daughter and appears to only care about social standing and money, despite what that obsession does to her daughter’s happiness. In fact, she puts so much pressure on Rose that she considers committing suicide just to escape the marriage her mother is forcing on her. This movie shows that, while some mothers are presented as saints, the mother figure can also be a villain.
For my television project, I chose to focus on the way teenage mothers are presented in contemporary TV shows. By looking at One Tree Hill, 90210, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, 16 and Pregnant, and Teen Mom, I learned that the rate of teen pregnancies in the U.S. could be in part due to the over-glorification of teen parenting on TV. It is difficult for television shows to capture the true difficulty of being a teen parent and it is my personal belief that these shows contribute to a false image of what mothering while still in high school is like that is being promulgated throughout our society.
Throughout these presentations as well as my own four articles, I observed that about half of the stories presented a mom positively while the other half were presented negatively. It is my contention that the stories that appear in the news and become the most talked about are those that entertain the audience, either by making them feel disgusted and shocked or by making them feel emotional and sympathetic. I believe that mothers are presented so intensely in the media because those are the stories that sell the best. I learned that news articles do not present an accurate representation of what the average mother is like.
Through this project, I learned that moms are sentimentalized, sexualized, and/or idealized in ads. The Cool Whip ad I chose shows a diverse group of mothers in terms of ethnicity, but not body type. They are idealized by having the appearance of perfection and this sends the message that moms should be ready to whip up a snack at any time, but that they should not indulge in that treat themselves. My second ad was for a type of formula and in it the mother is sentimentalized as she lovingly gazes at her newborn baby. Interestingly, this ad, from what I understand, presents false information regarding breastfeeding. In the ad for non-alcoholic beer, a very pregnant woman is extremely sexualized, much to the disgust of the moms I surveyed and myself.
For the magazine assignment, my partner and I used the 1998 edition of Martha Stewart Living. As this magazine is directed towards housewives, there were many articles regarding decorations/craft projects, cooking, housekeeping, gardening, and healthy living. While the magazine does seem to propagate a 1950’s perfect housewife image, Kia and I felt that this was not a reflection on current society’s views of women; rather, we believe that this brand is meant to imitate that image and target a particular audience – that of the stay at home mom. From my analysis, I learned that housewives are still being largely targeted by magazines, despite the rising rate of working mothers in the U.S.
The Feminine Mystique
For a long time I had intended to reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, so I was glad to be given the opportunity to read it in this class. Her interviews of housewives are fascinating and I feel that I learned a lot about the viewpoints of women during the 1950’s and 1960’s regarding their position in society. The book explored the expectations of women during that time, which included marriage, having children, and maintaining the home, and the feelings that resulted from that lifestyle. By learning about the feminine mystique – that is, the depression that affected housewives whose sole purpose was to be a mom and a wife, I am able to see how women’s roles have progressed in American society since that time.
Through our study of Disney films, I learned that many mothers are absent from these movies and that this could affect the way child viewers think of their own mothers. It is possible that the Disney films that show a mother’s death, which is often sacrificial to save her child, such as Bambi and Kung Fu Panda, instill a fear in the child watching that he/she, too, could lose his/her mother. While it seems necessary to keep the mother figure somewhat out of the way in order for the main character to mature and develop into an adult, the importance of the mother in that process is completely left out of the majority of these films.
Children and Teens
Through our discussion of novels and movies targeted towards children and teens, I learned that the ways in which mothers are presented in children’s books and films differs quite significantly from the ways in which they are presented in books and films made for adolescents. Most children’s books sentimentalize mothers, presenting them as extremely loving, nurturing, and gentle. On the other hand, mothers in the teen books and films are presented in many different ways, some as strong and capable (such as the mother in the “Divergent” series) and others as weak and needing to be cared for (such as the mother in the “Hunger Games” series). This may affect the views children and teenagers have of their own mothers.
The results of the four surveys I distributed to a group of 20 moms provided me with insight into the ways these moms view and think about motherhood. The questions that were asked regarded moms in Disney films, moms in television, and motherhood in general and revealed interesting viewpoints. The variety of responses I received indicate that there are many different ways to think about motherhood and that there is not only one way to be a good mother; rather, mothering comes in all different shapes and sizes, so to speak, and there is no single “right” way to do the hardest job in the world.
For the music project, I worked with the song “Mama” by The Lonely Island. This band is known for singing ridiculous songs for amusement, and this was one of those songs. The mother is presented as loving and the sons are abusive towards her, yelling curse words at her every time she enters the room. Since it is a joke, I do not believe it is an accurate example of how mothers are typically represented in songs. From the presentations of my peers, I noticed that most songs about mothers are sentimental and written as a tribute to the musician’s own mom. Through this, I learned that music can be a beautiful mode of expressing a person’s gratitude towards his/her mother.
A Letter to my Future Child
To my child,
I love you so much, and I don’t even know you yet. I have worked so hard to become accomplished because I want to be able to provide you with everything you deserve in life and I want to be a strong role model for you to follow. Right now I am two weeks away from finishing graduate school and beginning my career, bringing me one step closer to reaching a point in my life where I feel ready to bring you into this world. So far I have travelled to 33 countries and have done so many amazing things, such as sky diving, bungy jumping, mountain climbing, scuba diving, zip lining, etc., and it’s all because I want to discover myself and grow as a person so that I can be a better mother to you when the time comes. I hope that you, too, will travel like this someday when you are entering into adulthood, and I plan to take you on as many trips as possible during your childhood. I will always be there for you, and I will love you no matter what happens and no matter who you choose to be.
A Letter to my Mother
Thank you for always being there for me and for everything you have done for me. You have supported me when I have struggled through the hardest times of my life and helped me back up when I was in intense pain. I could not have accomplished any of the things that I have done without you and dad’s emotional and financial help and I will forever be grateful to both of you for that. I am so sorry for all the horrible things I have ever said to you and the ways I have hurt you, particularly when I was a teenager. I know that you have always tried to do what's best for me. When I have children someday, I will strive to be as amazing a mother as you are and have always been to the four of us. Thank you for giving me a beautiful childhood and for giving me a wonderful example to live up to for my future children.
Love you forever,