[DWJ] Bad Mothers (was HP)

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu May 17 11:55:25 EDT 2007

I had a sudden thought

>> It occurs to me suddenly that we wouldn't be having this discussion if the
>> parent in question were male rather than female.  The adult male of the
>> household equally doesn't do any housework, after all.  Shame upon us, eh?
>> Gender stereotypists that we are!

and the Knowledge Pika took and ran with it:

>What's interesting is that we're obsessing over a single example,
>because it fits a cultural stereotype. Logically, of course, some
>people in a given group are going to fit the stereotype, and some of
>them will be nasty. In this case, the failed feminist writer. Is it
>possible for someone to  include a negative character who fits a
>stereotype safely? How?

I would guess that the simple answer would be by making it so that the
negative cultural stereotype isn't the only defining feature of the
character.  So if mention were also made of a good figure but she never
wears anything but dungarees because they don't need ironing and she can
buy them by mail-order without having to waste time shopping, then that
alters the emphasis from "lazy *feminist*" into "*lazy* feminist", or even
"consistent feminist" (not interested in feminine fripperies).

(hunts for an example of different negatives, fixes on the one deborah did)

Maybe Heinlein.  There's a character in *Podkayne of Mars* who is initially
presented as a jolly, fat lady who is good fun and so forth; she later
turns out to be a villain of the deepest dye (OMT).  It isn't the fatness
that gives her away to the prococious brat character as a Bad Lot; it is
[1] that she laughs all the time even when there is no reason to and [2]
that she *cheats at patience*.  That's not a very good example, because the
fatness isn't a negative stereotype, as it were, but off the top of my head
it's better than nothing.  Her being fat moves from "jolly" to "slob"
because of other factors.

Perhaps we are obsessing about Conrad's Ma because we are not given much in
the way of other information (she's not a major character, after all)
beyond the "failed feminist writer who is using feminism as an excuse not
to look after her children".  But honestly, I don't know how much room
there is in the book for all that much more in-depth characterisation of
somebody who is so peripheral.

She reminds me more of Mum in *Black Maria* than of any of DWJ's other
not-very-successful-mother figures: she isn't malicious, and when she
finally notices what is going on she isn't completely useless, she's just
been pushed (by magic and somewhat by circumstances) into following a
course of least resistance and thereby into ignoring what doesn't happen to
fit what has become her world-view.  In fact, one might almost suggest that
Conrad's mother has bought into the stereotype (but without following
through on most of what it involves) rather like young Byronic poets buying
into the Byronic image (but without the poetic genius).

I *think* that makes sense?

Oooh, another DWJ woman who is totally preoccupied and fails to notice what
is bothering children: not a mother, so doesn't really count, but the
artist-aunt in *Wilkins' Tooth* is never going to pay attention if she is


More information about the Dwj mailing list