• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Motherhood and Media

A year in review.

May 11, 2016

Last week, in advance of Mother’s Day, I gave the keynote address at the Museum of Motherhood’s Annual Conference. In the talk, I looked at the representation of motherhood and feminism in popular culture over the past year. I thought I would use this column to share some of what I have found.

The helicopter mom continues to be a major motherhood stereotype represented in the media. In some ways, the Helicopter Mom is an extreme response to the New Momism, identified years ago by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. However, we also are starting to see the emergence of a backlash to the helicopter mom in the form of jokes and posts from mothers who recognize the toll it takes to live up to the ideal of the perfect mom. At the same time, newer studies have come out warning of the dangers of helicopter parenting.

Attempts to achieve a successful work/life balance have continued to occupy media time, with attention this year focused on the role of corporations in providing incentives and policies for more flexible parental leave. Yet, the complicated picture of actually convincing parents to take this leave still seems to be problematic: the worry of losing a promotion or being downsized often prevents employees from taking advantage of these benefits.

In continuing the conversation of all of the extra work demands placed on mom, Melinda Gates launched the Time Poverty movement. This seems an extension of The Second Shift, first explored in great detail by Arlie Hochschild. Gates differentiates her program by examining how the demands of work change based on location and access to resources. Therefore, she puts forward the idea that the solution to time poverty will be different for different women.

While the physical labor of women was recognized, this year the popular press also began to explore the emotional labor of women. They face the burden of the mental anxiety and energy that raising children demands. In the academy, The Slow Professor argued for a radical shift in how we frame work as faculty members.

Fathers were acknowledged this year in a new Super Bowl campaign featuring famous sports dads doing their daughter’s hair.

White privileged was explored by some, but when a women of color was arrested for leaving her children in a food court (though she could still see them) so she could go on a much-needed job interview, she was widely criticized.

Finally, Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that Leaning In was harder than she thought, particularly as a single mom.

This year-in-review made me think about the areas where issues surrounding motherhood and work-life balance received recognition and where it still remains hidden. The ability of personal stories to take the place of examining deeper structural issues continues to be a problem. Motherhood and fatherhood also remain the focus of much of the “light news,” so stories about NFL players doing their daughters’ hair takes up more room than more complex stories about race, fatherhood, and privilege. What were your “favorite” stories of Motherhood in the media this past year?


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