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.