The Power of “Mom”

Hello, Friend.

A young woman wearing a frilly dress and apron rolls out dough with a smile

I’m so glad my favorite baking gown was back from the cleaners!

Sit down. We need to talk. I only bring this up because you’re being severely manipulated by such subtle, little things that you may be unaware of it. The one that caught my bright eye today is the use of motherhood in media.

Now, there are the obvious stories, such as Wendy Davis’s political opponents questioning her abilities as a mother. Riley even says at the end, “Americans will forgive a lot in a politician. But a woman who leaves her kids is just beyond the pale.”

Why?

Because women in American society serve two important functions. The first is to make themselves sexually attractive, but the second is to be a GOOD MOTHER. Yes, this is a double-standard because there is plenty of slack in the leash for a man (in politics or otherwise) to be a disengaged or absent father. In fact, many male American politicians have less-than-stellar track records when it comes to their commitment to family.

But this type of verbal thwacking to reinforce societal gender standards is obvious. Less obvious is the subtle use of the word “Mom” in mainstream media.

See, the word “Mom” conjures thoughts of frilly aprons, apple pies, a string of pearls and the delicate scent of Chanel No. 5. What? Your mom smoked a pack a day of Marlboro Reds, never wore a heel higher than one inch in her life and worked the night shift at the distribution warehouse? Well, picture the other lady. That’s the real American Mom.

This lady is a saint and everyone knows it. She loves her kids. If she works outside the home, she doesn’t let them know it. She sacrifices even the least of her personal needs for the sake of her husband and children and her fierce mamma bear nature means that if anyone including her husband got in the way of her taking care of her children, that person would be sorry he or she had been born. If you are a woman, this is what you are supposed to be (or want to be).

This lady is as fictitious as Santa Claus (sorry, kids), but the Good Mother an important tool of propaganda. This isn’t to say there are not good mothers. Most probably are, but very few of them are June Cleaver, especially in a society where only 1/4 of married mothers of children under 15 stay at home (5 million out of the total US population female population of circa 160 million).

The Good Mother means a lot. According to US Census Data, “About 1 in 6 custodial parents were fathers (17.8 percent).” Advice for divorcing parents does not paint a nicer picture. [1], [2] Now, the legal system is what it is an every civilization must continue to evolve and strive for justice. But the facts are that there is a perceptual bias that says women are, by nature, better caregivers.

This perceptual bias, like all perceptual biases, is man-made, not nature-made. The media in America and Britain constantly and carefully reinforce the idea that mothers are the better and primary caregivers to children and have a unique access to a child’s needs. They do this through terminology. Just a few examples:

  • “One group of mothers from Connecticut gathered for a group interview with Pelley and told him that the stigma is one of the most difficult parts of raising a child with mental illness.” [CBS 60 Minutes] Why just interview mothers? Did the fathers refuse to appear on camera? Are all the fathers absent? One father in a hospital was briefly interviewed at the beginning of the piece.
  • The morning news and information show, has a parenting subdomain called Today Moms. Today Dads? Not a thing.
  • Headline: Family of murdered Newport News mom: ‘We just want justice served for our sister’ [WTKR] This is extremely typical for headlines. If a woman does something, or if something happens to her, she is listed as a “mom” or “mother” and not more generically as a “woman”. Given that 81% of women have had at least one child by the age of 44 [1], the only purpose for headlining the title of “mom” is to garner an emotional reaction. (Compare this to just one of a plethora of headlines about men: Cops: Man killed daughters because he didn’t have car seats” [CBS] He’s obviously a father, why not say, “Dad killed daughters…”? Perhaps because men are not defined in our culture by their reproductive status?)

None of this is mean to be Mom-bashing, as if such a thing exists. Rather, it is meant to highlight the ways in which media outlets use “Mom” to establish cultural norms. The media could do better showing parents equally and reinforcing that men are, can, and should be equally willing and able to provide child care and that women are not defined primarily by their reproductive status. Headlines about women should be about women, not “Moms”. “Local mom to run for Congress” is irrelevant. “Mom rescues her baby from fire” could just as easily read, “Woman rescues her baby from fire”. “Today Moms” should be “Today Parents” because, well, that’s just embarrassing.

Next time you read a news article or watch a news show, pay attention to how men and women are portrayed and discussed vis-à-vis their reproductive status.

The news will never be the same.