The pleasures of Netflix’s Stranger Things are many, I’m likely not the smartest or most articulate person praising or analyzing the show. But because I think on Momness (Momlichkiet? Momheit?), it would be unfair not to give a shout out for the rightness of mom as depicted in the show. Women and their hysteria have been bent and used all over the place, we use it as we like in entertainment. There’s a lot of dead mothers, evil mothers, drunk mothers. Perfect mothers, or usually a refutation of a/the perfect mother. And this happens in Stranger Things “The Acrobat and the Flea” episode: Nancy Wheeler explains that her mom, the suburban woman with nice hair who keeps trying to tell everyone she is there for them, was never in love with the father, married young to an older man with a comfy job. And then she executes a perfect shot at a tin can. The idea, reiterated time and time again, is that this image or idea of the perfect mother is *not*. It exists in our heads, possibly the byproduct of commercials or television shows. Or possibly something we just made up, just (as my son says) “’cause.” ‘Cause we wanted it. ‘Cause we needed it. Or maybe someone just told us that we did. It’s Our Lady of Commodification ;think the intro to Mad Men. Postwar Tupperware parties and perfect lipstick.
As a white woman, as a white woman with white kids, you’re always getting a little kicked in the head by the Thundering Expectation of Your Own Indulgences & Entitlements. No one has it quite as easy white women, and a stay-at-home white mother is the worst of the worst. Our idea of her (let me be clear, this is mine as well) is someone pampered. We can make her more sympathetic if we make her poor, and definitely if we make her single. But a white, married woman, a white, married mother that does not work? What a lazy, unimaginative, uninspired, [and worse] unambitious cunt. Which is kind of another way of saying that she’s outside the capitalist system–but unlike the [idea of the] Artist, who we worship for being outside the system, the stay-at-home mom is hideous. She uses the system via her husband. She’s the inverse of the hated Welfare Queen; she is not a political entity, not even a pawn. But she exists in our psychic space, she exists in our media and entertainment.
Let me be unequivocal and very fucking clear: I am NOT saying “poor white moms.” 2016 was an ugly year for what it revealed, so I need to make sure that I am not misunderstood here: I am not out to advocate that white women who stay home somehow have rough, too. My intention with this post to examine whiteness and motherhood and their combination. I am not saying oh, poor white women. In the battle that is raging now, I am not on the side that believes in white genocide. If this post is to be understood in the current political clime, it is that:
- feminism failed
- smarter people than me have pointed out that we allow whiteness (and particularly, white maleness) to be a default, and black, of color, non-Christian religious identity etc to be the examined.
So what is the vilification of white mothers about? And when they’re not vilified, why do we flatten the identity, compress it into a caricature? Ei, if you are not guilty of being sick, or destroying your kids, or being battered or abused, you likely lack complexity. Your story is boring. You have conformed to a historical expectation. You are a dead thing.
I mean really: how many stories unfold in a day care? [No. Don’t say Kindergarten Cop, because, after all, that’s a man at the center of that.] We just don’t like childcare, we cannot conceive of it as anything other than light comedy. If there is a pathos, it is only in retrospect, as the adult looks back on the childhood warped by the mother.
Or maybe: why am I only aware of this side of it? Surely there are actually portraits of another sort. Hmm. Not without my daughter, We need to talk about kevin. what else?
The other portrait of a mother in Stranger Things is Winona Ryder as the agitated mother. But in a depiction that, at least to my memory, is new. She is right, and her rightness relies on this connection to her child.