In prime-time TV and in real life, America's working-class mothers find it tough to keep their heads above water while juggling their professional and personal lives.
Two current shows—Switched at Birth and The New Normal—show the paternalistic attitudes working mothers often face.
For Switched at Birth's working class single mom Regina Vasquez (Constance Marie), money is a particularly fraught issue. As the show's title suggests, her daughter was switched at birth with another. So though she has been raising teenage Daphne (who is deaf), her biological daughter Bay is being raised by the much wealthier Kathryn and John Kennish. Regina and Daphne had been scraping by for years, but once they accept help from the upper middle class Kennishes (including their guest home and a job opportunity for Daphne), they both start to bristle.
While I ended my last post by snarkily suggesting that pop culture’s fascination with fathers might give way to an interest in motherhood, the truth is a lot of messages about moms are already encoded in these male-centric narratives.
If you’d asked me a couple of months ago when the pop cultural trend of dads as primary caregivers began, I might have guessed the 1970s (when we saw an increase in single moms on TV). Turns out I’d have been off by a couple of decades.
Like many people, I associate the 1950s with nuclear families like those on Leave it to Beaver, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and I Love Lucy. But the ‘50s also brought an avalanche of shows about single fathers, most of whom were widowers. The earliest example, My Little Margie, was about the relationship between a dad and his daughter, who was 21 but still lived at home (and would always be his little girl, etc).
There are lots of films where single men act as surrogate fathers, from the John Wayne flick 3 Godfathers to Annie, Curly Sue, Fred Claus, About a Boy, Role Models, Happythankyoumoreplease [yep], Kindergarten Cop, Big Daddy, and (kinda) True Grit. It’s also a common trope on TV, in shows where the non-dad “dad” is related to the children in question, like Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Party of Five, Full House, or Gilmore Girls, and also where a lone man rescues a needy stranger (and himself in the process), as in Punky Brewster.
In the 2005 Disney movie The Pacifier, Vin Diesel plays Shane Wolfe, a Navy Seal–turned–temporary child minder. After failing to protect a government scientist working on a top-secret program that prevents other countries from deploying nuclear weapons, he’s sent to protect the man’s family as they’ve experienced some attempted break-ins, presumably in search of the secret program (which Wolfe needs to find before they do). After the scientist’s widow leaves for Switzerland to open a newly discovered safety-deposit box belonging to her husband and the hopelessly negligent nanny quits, Wolfe is left in sole control of five children aged from baby to teenager. Hijinks ensue.
In comparison to single moms elsewhere, on Gilmore Girls, they’re heroes. In fact, when it comes to parenting on the show, there’s a recurring theme: Men! Not quite as good as women, are they?
They’re certainly inferior to Lorelai Gilmore, the bright, witty firebrand who single-handedlyraised the cleverest girl in Stars Hollow while working her way from chambermaid to manager of a local inn, gaining a business degree in the process. Sure, at times she’s a little over-invested in her daughter Rory’s life (like when she sleeps over during Rory’s first night at college), and she can be rude and selfish, especially when it comes to her own parents (although not entirely without reason). But she’s also the fun mom who'll take you to concerts and and sneak you into her bachelorette party by pretending you’re an international supermodel.
No wonder, then, that her parenting prowess doesn’t only extend to her own child, but to those of the men she knows and dates, as well.
Though it may seem like old news now, Ann Romney’s positioning by the GOP as the epitome of womanly motherhood is important here. It is no secret that the Romney family is out-of-this-world wealthy. Ann Romney’s stayed-at-home child-rearing therefore brings up many issues, including nutrition access for the less-than-wealthy and what it is to be a mother raising children in poverty today. If “all mothers are working mothers,” as Mitt Romney would have us believe, does that include ones who are much poorer, and ones who are of in need of government assistance and better nutrition?
This week’s shiny golden douchebag statuette goes to Robert
Rector of the Heritage Foundation. A recent article published in The New York
Times reported that the number of people living in households lacking
consistent access to adequate food his risen to 49 million Americans. In the 14
years that the Department of Agriculture has been collecting these statistics,
these are the highest ever.
A bit more data from the survey to put this in perspective:
of those 49 million, one third of respondents reported that they are "outright
hungry" meaning they experience frequent hunger pains, are forced to skip meals
or reduce portion sizes.
The households facing the most dramatic food shortages are
usually headed by single mothers. In the last year, the numbers of households
reporting severe food insecurity that also contain children has swelled by
almost 200,000 to top out at 506,000. Of those 506,000 households, 37% were
headed by single mothers as opposed to 14% that reported married, two-parent
Now this is where the d-bag factor increases exponentially
in relation to the food insecurity data.