Working Moms: Representing Motherhood in the Media

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Motherhood in the media, a subject all too familiar with moms. Career women are shown trying to have it all, but seemingly at the expense of their families, children, and sanity. The working mother is often portrayed as cold, selfish, career-obsessed and struggling. The popular culture surrounding motherhood has created the so-called “Mommy Wars” in the last few decades, an environment where everything you do is under intense scrutiny and you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There are always new reports on what new ways we are irreparably damaging our children, and often it’s conflicting with the next. This has left modern mothers feeling inadequate and alone.

All too often we hear about the “choice” mothers make. To work or not to work? If so for how long? This is presented to us as a choice but in actuality, it is not realistic for most families in modern-day America to have one sole breadwinner. With very few incentives and financial help, coupled with the astronomical cost of living, mothers generally do not have a choice to go back to work. Yet, we are constantly bombarded with articles and media saying that daycare will damage our children. That we are selfish for not making them our absolute priority at the expense of ourselves.

When we think about the “traditional family” we tend to think about the 1950s representation of the perfect family. We assume this is the way it has always been, when in fact the nuclear family is a fairly modern concept. “The way parenting has been reported in the media has had a long and turbulent history with notions of the “ideal” family changing from one era to the next.” (Akass 49).

According to journalist Judith Warner, “this family in which the father is the authoritarian breadwinner and the mother, a saint, and angel of domestic bliss did not start to evolve until the industrial revolution when men began working outside the home.” (Qtd. In Akass 49) Suddenly there was a focus on motherhood and the well-being of children in ways there never had been before. Women took on this new role as the sole responsible party for their children’s upbringing. There was an immense pressure on women to provide everything for their children, to make the raising of them their only priority.

The mother, under incredible pressure to be the “angel of the house” (Akass 49) was reserved only to the privileged. It took many hands to complete the household work, the mid to upper-class white families having a large increase in the amount of hired help during this time. This attitude shifted as World War II began. According to Amram Sheinfeld, Army phycologists studied the “smother love” model pushed in earlier years and formulated a very different view. “Are American Mothers a Menace?” an article published in a 1945 edition of Ladies home Journal.

According to its author, Amram Sheinfeld, mothers were a threat to national security “mom is often a dangerous influence on her sons and a threat to our national existence” (qtd. in Warner 74).” The media skewered women for emotionally stunting their children with love, the exact thing they had been pressured to do by the same media just a few years earlier. This is a major finding in my research, the media force-feeds the public with an idea of what the mother should be and demonizes her when she isn’t that perfect picture. However, it then blames them for doing exactly what they were told. The mother is perpetually to blame. You should hold your children tight; you should let them go; we are constantly presented with conflicting opinions of what is right.

After World War 2 is when we were to see the shift into the “traditional family” as we think of it today. The mother only having an identity as it relates to her children and being a background character in her own life. Many women in this era were forced out of the jobs they held in wartime, and the freedom that came with it, to run the “perfect household” The media became a propaganda machine pumping out magazine article after magazine article about the mother’s role in family life. She should get her fulfillment from her family, baking pies and cleaning. During this era, countless phycologists put out books on how best to raise your families, and the public ate them up.

The media’s representation of mothers changed again as the 1990s began. The focus on mothers in the media was on the difficulties they faced both at work and home. First, the problems with raising their children because of their jobs and then later in the decade on problems at work because they had families. According to Motro and Vanneman, the theme was once again that working was a choice and that women were neglecting their children’s well-being and futures for their selfish careers. In their Article, Motro and Vanneman cataloged articles written by The New York and how it represented mothers in it’s publications and 3 times more than anything else the articles centered on the difficulties of being a mother. The theme of the distressed, stressed and depressed mother was here to stay.

In modern Tv, mothers tend to be shown in a few ways, the child growing up alongside her children like Lorelai in Gilmore girls. She is more friend than parent to her children and they raise her as she raises them. In Desperate Housewives Lynette Scavo shows the struggle that moms can go through trying to enter back into the workforce with children. After being a stay at home mom for several years, she is faced with a return to a corporate world that will not accommodate her. Her husband and children are seen to struggle immensely without her guidance, an example of the guilt mothers are made to feel for working outside the home.

And Working Moms, a newer show in which mothers of all kinds are followed on their journey to navigate work while raising children. One of the main characters Kate Foster, is a high-profile executive and upon her return to work has the expectation that everything will return to normal. She is faced with a very different reality. A new person, a man, is vying for her job and she is pushed to give more and more and more, at the expense of her young family, just to keep her head above water. She goes as far as to work in another city for several months, a choice in which she is judged for and taunted by her peers. The women are part of a mommy group where from their point of view the stay at home moms appear dumb and lazy but in turn, they judge the working moms for being career obsessed and “missing out”.

We are constantly shown celebrity moms on social media, seemingly “having it all”. This reminds us of the Victorians where there were many more hands involved in the domestic bliss than was shown. Yet, regular women are pressured to be everything to everyone, the same as the rich and famous are, with their teams of nannies and housekeepers, but without any of those resources and support. They are the primary force behind the running of the home and raising the children. In current economic climates, it simply is not possible for most families to have mom stay home full time, even though it is presented about as a choice that women are expected to feel bad about making.

Mothers are and have been for many decades, an easy target for the media to pin everything they deem wrong with society on. They carry an unfair share of the burden in child-rearing and are perpetually damned if they do, damned if they don’t in the media and pop culture. Working or not is lauded as a choice they make, and yet they are wrong if they work, and wrong if they don’t. I believe this representation in media is a huge contributing factor to unhappiness of the modern mother.

Works Cited

  1. Hadfield, L., et al. “Motherhood, Choice and the British Media: A Time to Reflect.” Gender & Education, vol. 19, no. 2, Mar. 2007, pp. 255–263. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/09540250601166100.
  2. Motro, Joanna, and Reeve Vanneman. “The 1990s Shift in the Media Portrayal of Working Mothers.” Sociological Forum, vol. 30, no. 4, Dec. 2015, pp. 1017–1037. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/socf.12206.
  3. Demarest, Jack and Jeanette Garner. 1992. “ The Representation of Women’s Roles in Women’s Magazines Over the Past 30 Years.” Journal of Psychology 126 : 4 : 357 – 368.
  4. AKASS, KIM. “Motherhood and the Media under the Microscope.” Imaginations Journal, vol. 4, no. 2, Sept. 2013, pp. 47–69. EBSCOhost, doi:10.17742/IMAGE.mother.4-2.3.

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Working Moms: Representing Motherhood in the Media. (2021, Nov 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/working-moms-representing-motherhood-in-the-media/

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