[DWJ] Bad Mothers (was HP)

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Thu May 17 05:29:09 EDT 2007


>Come to that, is she a feminist?
>That's a serious question.  She might claim to be one if asked, but merely
>making a claim for oneself does not make it so; plenty of people in DWJ
>claim to be things they are not, one way and another.  (See "brilliant and

It is a serious question, but surely not one which is presented in 
such a way as to encourage the reader to consider it.  As is all too 
true with the many other stereotypes we've considered in other cases.

>She might equally be described as an unsuccessful author.  Her books don't
>sell, for all their snappy titles, so she isn't exactly furthering the
>feminist cause very much, and it doesn't seem that she is doing anything
>except sit in her attic writing, which doesn't seem particularly feminist
>to me.  Merely talking about "the exploitation of women" and refusing to do
>anything for one's family doesn't make one a feminist, though it may make
>one a bore and a parasite.  I think DWJ was presenting the idea that
>feminism may be used as an excuse for not doing housework, just as
>proclaiming oneself to be of a particular religion may be an excuse for
>being nasty to people of a different religion, or being an animal
>liberationist may be an excuse for being nasty to people full stop.
>There's nothing like a good cause for hiding behind and doing what one
>wants to, or not doing what one doesn't want to.

Well, quite.  But as with other stereotypes, the problem is that the 
'space' that might be needed isn't given to the investigation of the 
idea you've mentioned.  If the mother were a more developed 
character, or if she were balanced by someone who has a *related* 
cause and isn't led to neglect her children (to pick two of many 
possibilities) then this could be a very useful and interesting 
presentation of the personality that can only care about people in 
the abstract.  (For example.)

I'm certainly not saying that DWJ is guilty of lazy writing (!) but I 
don't see that the effect on the reader is all that different from 
the fat kid = lazy, the victim asks for it in some way, the Islamic = 
a terrorist etc.  The author who writes those characters/stereotypes 
may have had many ideas about what underlies the presentation of 
same, but the reader can only be expected to intuit a certain amount, 
and there should be something to suggest it needs intuiting.  And in 
this case, expecting a child especially, to think through how the 
mother, more peripheral than many mothers in children's books, might 
or might not represent the real-life group to which she proclaims to 
belong, is a very big task.  Add to that the fact that many kids may 
well have only heard of feminists as risible or worse and it seems 
too much to expect.  (And I'm sadly not thinking only of feminist 
bashing from back in the dark ages of my youth.  I've heard a lot of 
it recently, some coming from people with children of the age of CF's 
target audience, and some passed on by university friends who've been 
talking for years about how many of their students have contempt for 

Hallie (who neglected her *own daughter* this morning while writing 
to Deborah's friend about fat characters in books!  Mind you, the 
daughter is 17 and more than capable of getting her lunch together, 
even though the lid of the food container was missing...  ) 
(Neglectful AND smothering mother.) (I've just located said lid.  One 
or other daughter clearly used it as a plate and then left it beside 
the computer.)  (More fascinating domestic minutiae of the 
O'Donovan-De La Rosa household may be supplied  - without warning.)

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