Friday, April 6, 2007

Desperate Housewives and Motherhood

In today’s world Motherhood is a term that appears to hold little meaning to many celebrities whose pictures we see plastered on tabloids and on the news, performing some public display of irresponsibility. We’ve seen some holding their babies off of balconies and others driving with their children on their laps. TV shows seem to challenge these outward displays of misconduct by creating strong emotional bonds between mothers and children in numerous series, including Desperate Housewives. Although Desperate Housewives doesn’t portray idealistic families, it accurately depicts compassionate mothers with apparent love towards their children.

It appears that the character Lynette Scavo played by Felicity Huffman, seems to have the closest grasp to an idealistic family out of the four main women of Desperate Housewives. Although she does not represent the idealistic “most extreme conclusion that Mother should stay at home all of the time, providing a stable and safe haven for her child, and embodiment of conservative family values” (Ladd-Taylor, Umansky). She is a mother of four and has a loving and trustworthy husband named Tom. She put her career on hold to care for her family as Tom continued working. However tensions rose between Tom and Lynette when Lynette decided to get back into the workplace and began working at the same company as Tom. Their kids were placed in the daycare facility for working parents at their company, an idea becoming more popular as companies and businesses jump on the “mommy track” and become family friendly workplaces. Lynette was promoted making her Tom’s boss, an event which led to him quitting the company. Tom lost power at the workplace and felt subjected to his wife as she gained authority over him. Tom stayed home with the kids while his wife went to work, allowing him to create the type bond with his children that Lynette has.

Lynette took on her role in motherhood by providing for her family financially while at the same time maintaining her motherly role as a caregiver. In this case there is no “primary” caregiver which is usually associated with the mother. Tom decides to open a pizzeria, an idea which he only dreamt about before quitting his job. Lynette is very concerned about this risky endeavor and the effect it could have on their family’s future financial stability. Tom acts carelessly and seems unconcerned about the risk he is about to take while Lynette raises awareness about paying for their children to go to college. Lynette’s natural instinct as a mother is apparent in her concern for her children’s future well being.

Lynette decides to support her husband and quits her job to be there for him and their family. She feels she can’t stop him from following his dream so she gives up her job to make sure he does it right and to protect their money. By quitting her job she’s losing power and is falling into the stereotype of women being controlled by their husbands. She had a successful profession and she threw it away protect her children’s future due to the selfishness of their father. I think Lynette takes motherhood to an entire different level through maintaining a career and a family and especially through sacrificing her career for the benefit of her children.

Ladd-Taylor, Molly and Umansky, Lauri. “Bad” Mothers. The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America. 1998.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Perhaps the use of moms as tabloid fodder points toward the power that motherhood (as a concept and a lived social category/group) actually does still hold in contemp US society.
The practice of leaving one's job to be with the family is an action that is almost exclusive to women who are mothers (i.e. the character's chosen job left for her husband's pizzeria).
What do you think it means to see mothers as controversial characters on TV and in popular magazines? Do mothers have a choice to step outside the path toward the idealistic norm you so appropriately cited from Umanski? The idea that there is this unrealistically high bar set for women with the goal of an "ideal" family is very powerful. The women in the show you've chosen to analyze seem to be pursuing this norm in their own ways, and those who deviate from this path are portrayed (or the characters react in such a way) as though they are pathological. It's not quite acceptable, even in 2007, to state "I'm a mom. I have no desire to be perfect because it's unrealistic and unattainable! I'll be happy with the 'good enough family' that I have and I'll never be that 'good mother."

You've touched on important points and important examples of these points; however, I would urge you to rethink the idea that you've expressed in your intro and instead look at these images as emblematic of the power that motherhood holds in US society, and in the lives of women.