[DWJ] Bad Mothers (was HP)

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed May 16 07:38:53 EDT 2007


>> Can you have a not-very-frequently-used but still stereotypical
>> stereotype? Looking at a specific of relevance here - I found the
>> feminist, neglectful mother in *Conrad's Fate* quite offensive.  But
>> is this warranted?  Does it make a difference that in over 40 books,
>> she's the only self-proclaimed feminist character?  I know it doesn't
>> make any difference that she was based on a real person.  But for all
>> the many, many times I've heard people dismiss feminists as merely
>> men-haters (sometimes bitter because unattractive ones at that), I
>> haven't come across that many saying that all feminists are rotten
>> mothers. Only other one that comes to mind immediately is Mrs Banks in
>> the film version of Mary Poppins, and she's sweet and silly, which
>> isn't quite the same. Yet it still seems a very cheap use of something
>> *like* a stereotype.


>Well, I didn't think of her feminism as being the main issue in her
>rottenness, because she is very like my mother. :-P
>But thinking about it more, there is a stereotype in older books about
>mothers who are neglectful because they have a particular passion or
>interest (in older books is also about mothers who work), and this leads
>them to neglect their children. Look at James, James, Morrison's mother
>in the A. A. Milne poem.

(I thought Mrs. Morrison was just a sweet silly creature who ought not to
be allowed out without a keeper, rather than neglectful of her child
through being preoccupied with some passionate interest all her own.  She
just went shopping and got lost, and was "last seen wandering aimlessly",
which doesn't imply any over-riding purpose to me, just vague witlessness.)

>In girls' school stories (I'm thinking
>particularly of Chalet School), there are mothers, and other female
>caregivers, who neglect their children for particular passions they have
>for things like vegetarianism, or who bring their children up poorly
>because they have Ideas. I don't know if all this qualifies as a
>stereotype, but it is a fairly common thing.

You're right, in fiction written before the present generation mothers are
not supposed to have interests apart from their children because that makes
them Bad Mothers.  Fathers on the other hand are expected to have interests
apart from their children without that making them Bad Fathers; in fact, if
they *don't* have interests apart from their children they are likely to be
Bad Fathers, because if they don't go out and spend their time at work for
eight hours every day, the family will starve.

I think this is just straightforward sexual stereotyping, isn't it, with a
side-order of "a woman's place is in the home" and a dash of "barefoot in
the kitchen"?

It goes along with a very negative depiction of childless women, too: dried
up old spinsters and barren wives get a lousy press, as if they had
deliberately set out to be Wicked.  Unmarried Aunts are very often odious
in fiction for children -- yes, there are terrific unmarried aunts around,
but the ones into whose charge idiot parents put their children before
bombing off to India or on holiday somewhere are generally pretty
loathesome, and Do Not Understand Children, and so on.


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