May 5, 2010

Monster Mommies

Despite our culture’s supposed reverence for mothering, “mother blame,” monster moms and the consequences of “bad mothering” are staple features in our society.  We’re a society fixated on the “mommy myth,” the idealization of mothering as an extension of the cultural notion of  “true” femininity. This cultural ideal, known as emphasized femininity (the counter to hegemonic masculinity, socially constructed definitions of “real” manhood) includes the assignment of emotional work, the responsibility for maintaining and nurturing relationships and raising “morally sound” children.

Because we continue to relegate women the domestic sphere, the domain assigned to women after the introduction of the public-private split, and assign primary responsibility for the emotional and moral development of their children, mother blaming becomes inevitable. In fact, “bad mothers” or monster mommies have been blamed for: creating homosexual or womanizing men, pedophilia, autism, the glass-ceiling, alcoholism and violence.

Hey, I had my own issues with my mother growing up. But as soon as I had my son, all my mommy issues disappeared. Within hours, I realized how tough it is to be a mother, how much pressure and how many expectations are plopped on moms. I could relate to the frustration, stress, and loss of identity mothers face but feel ashamed to speak about. If we admit that we don’t always enjoy mothering, are exhausted, angry or taxed, we run the risk of being accused of being a bad mother.

Hollywood has a long list of films that portray the monster mommy to blame from Mommy Dearest (who doesn’t know the “no more wire hangers” reference?) and White Oleander to Monster-in-Law.

But mother-blame doesn’t end with films, the current mom that people seem to love to hate is Kate Gosselin. Feeling the “Kate-hate,” Kate is featured on the cover of last week’s In Touch crying, “I’m not a monster.”

That’s why episode 620, Epiphany, of Desperate Housewives (which aired on April 25, 2010) bothered me so much (besides the fact that the show just sucks on multiple levels). The Fairview strangler’s past is revealed and offered as an explanation for his serial murder ways. So, what’s the explanation offered, the “epiphany?”

His monster mommy.

The episode starts with a young Eddie sitting outside as his parents argue. His father storms out, suitcase in hand, with his mother at his heels sobbing uncontrollably. She begs him to stay. Without one look at his son, he drives off, never to return.

The episode continues by depicting Eddie’s mother as the stereotypical monster mommy. She wants to go out, have drinks, meet men, have some autonomy and independence. Hey, I can understand that. I’m not a single mother, have a partner that is devoted and actively involved in every stage of our son’s development, and I still have moments wherein I fantasize about being a single woman sans baby. I think it’s normal and we should be able to discuss and vent freely without guilt or sanction. While I don’t condone child abuse in the form of emotional neglect or physical violence and love my child, I can relate to the desire of freedom and independence, the frustrations and heartaches that accompany motherhood and parenting, in general

But there is no mention of the complexities of single motherhood, of the enormous responsibilities of providing for and raising a child by yourself, emotionally and financially. Mothering is hard work that is expected and is often devalued. There is no mention of the father that abandoned them without  remorse or a glance back at his young son.

Essentialism assumes that all women want to become mothers, know how to mother, enjoy all aspects of mothering and are naturally willing to abandon all concerns for themselves as a sign of good mothering. And, good mothering is a sign of femininity itself. Eddie’s mother is depicted as unnatural, a monster responsible for creating the Fairview strangler.

The final line of the episode is: What makes monsters? Monsters are created by other monsters.

And that right there, reinforces the myths and stereotypes about mothers and skimps on any other explanation that could explain serial murder.


  1. Yes! I’m so glad you wrote this. Thank you. This mother blaming stuff is everywhere. Abused by mother? She’s a monster. Abused by father? Mother is a monster for not protecting. Mother is always to blame for every bad behavior. Not to mention the next episode of Desperate Housewives where it becomes clear that nearly all the women are being terrorized by sneaky killers. There also seems to be a father’s rights undercurrent (which goes oh-so-well with mother blaming) as the blonde is being pursued by the man who is after the woman who “stole his baby,” and when Gabi was thinking about having a baby for the gay neighbors Carlos said something like, “we’re married so anything that comes out of that uterus is half mine.” It all seems to reflect a national shift in policy for father’s rights in the family court system which often results in “punishing women” for being protective of their children by pathologizing and blaming them and by giving (even abusive and absent fathers) extensive custody and visitation. So much hatred.

    Comment by Petra — May 14, 2010 @ 1:09 am

  2. Please be careful with your dismissals.

    Don’t try to tell a person who grew up with a violent, bipolar, schizophrenic parent (or parents) that a “monster mommy” is just a myth.

    And I hope you’re not implying that a parent abandoning a child and leaving him or her with one of these monsters has no serious effects and is unlikely to result in disturbed behaviour in the future.

    Do you believe in the random “evil gene” theory?

    You wrote:

    “I fantasize about being a single woman sans baby. I think it’s normal and we should be able to discuss and vent freely without guilt or sanction.”

    I totally agree, but isn’t there a big difference between what you’re advocating (being honest and admitting that the above fantasy occurs) and acting it out?

    I think so.

    You may be interested in reading a book titled, “For Your Own Good” by psychologist Dr. Alice Miller. It’s available in its entirety for free online.

    Comment by Len — July 21, 2010 @ 5:37 am

  3. I think I fell in love with this post. I am a single mother of two beautiful girls and I act nowhere near to the type of “monster moms” being described. I too have to struggle to keep sane. I go to school, once in a blue moon go out with friends, and evening walks are a way for me to vent. And in response to Len’s comment, I don’t think Melanie is saying that it’s ok in venting your frustration and beating up you kids. I believe that Melanie is trying to say that the media has carved in our mind that the only way for us women to be happy is to have a man, as most Disney movies portray. So the real thing is that monsters moms are created thanks to the media telling us that if we don’t end up with a prince charming, we will never be happy.
    I personally don’t feel the need to live with a partner to be completely happy, but that is because my parents taught me better and I know how to defferintiate between fantasy and real life (something not many women are capable of, sans the “monster moms”). But the media also forgets to say that the absense of a father who just bails out is also to blame, but of course, it’s always easier to blame the mother (Adam and Eve anyone?).

    Comment by ElizabethP — October 15, 2010 @ 10:21 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment