Bad Mama

Image via BuzzFeed

Anna North recently reported on data analysis that looked at which adjectives were most often paired with “mom”/”mother” and “dad”/ “father” in headlines from over 200 BuzzFeed partner sites in 2012.

From the data gathered, the top ten words to describe mothers were: new, old, free, bad, best, full, happy, naked, good, and real. Fathers, meanwhile were labeled these ten adjectives most often: American, free, old, new, full, big, best, happy, greatest, and real. So, apparently we can all agree that parents in general are both real (phew!), full (of…?), free (as opposed to costing $19.99?), new and old, and happy.

However, the fourth most common identifier for moms, “bad,” didn’t even make the top ten for fathers. Also curious is “naked,” which is also nowhere near the top ten for dads. Disregarding all the potential porn-related headlines that naked could have been connected with, odds are the majority of articles that include both “mom” and “naked” have to do with postpartum bodies and how we (and society) views them – and more significantly – the desire to get back into that “pre-baby bod.” (If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about, you only have to go as far as Jessica Simpson to understand the insurmountable pressure many women feel in relation to their bodies post-pregnancy).

As for “bad?” BuzzFeed found that mothers were almost 6 times more likely to be described as bad than fathers, further lending proof to my rants over the way mainstream media keeps stoking the “mommy war” fires.

While BuzzFeed analyzed a good number of sources, this is still only a small sampling. My own absolutely non-scientific Googling of “bad mother” netted 1,980,000 results in .33 seconds, while “bad father” only snagged 370,000 results in .32 seconds. Not conclusive in any way, yet still steeped in meaning. North sums up my own thoughts about the results of BuzzFeed’s data at the end of her piece (bolding mine):

Despite some changes, our analysis bears out what recent magazine covers have suggested: in our culture, motherhood is far more examined — and judged — than fatherhood.

I don’t think this is any groundbreaking news – at least to mothers with even somewhat of a finger on the pulse of pop culture. But it’s absolutely depressing when the data backs up what we’ve been thinking and speaking out against for quite some time. It doesn’t help that society as a whole continues to worship at the alter of the “good mother,” making it that much easier for folks to call out women who don’t fit into that ever-impossible mold as “bad moms.”

The “good mother myth” is real and certainly contributes to data found in BuzzFeed’s analysis. If we didn’t set such unrealistic, one-size-fits-none standards of motherhood, we wouldn’t be as quick to jump to judgement, labeling mothers as “bad” at rates far beyond what we label fathers. This topic is one that I’ve been focusing on a lot lately. Not only am I almost forced to focus on it daily as a result of the way mainstream media shapes the narrative of motherhood, but my own curiosity propels me to understand why we’re so obsessed with this certain myth of the good mother (that nobody ever seems to be able to attain, but that many set as a much desired goal). On that end, I’m currently working on an anthology of essays (set to be published Fall 2013) that looks to dismantle this “good mother myth.” Perhaps in breaking the myth down, we’ll also slow down the rate at which mothers are called out for being “bad.”

One can hope, anyway.

14 thoughts on “Bad Mama

  1. Possibly one reason “bad father” doesn’t show up more is that so many men abandon their families, either emotionally or geographically, that many people just assume a man is a bad father. Just speaking for myself, I’m always surprised when I encounter a “good dad”. I’m a grandparent. My son-in-law is a good dad, and I make sure he knows how much I appreciate that.

  2. The bar is so much lower for men I think. I think ANY involvement from men gets them a “good father” badge, whereas that same behavior in women is expected. It also seems to me that there doesn’t exist room for BOTH parents to be good. Like, if my husband takes my son out he’s “helping mommy,” and people actually ASK HIM, “Oh, where’s his mother?” As if I’m supposed to be with my son 25hours out of the day. So, if dad get’s painted as good, I therefore must be painted as bad.

    I haven’t thought that last theory out much, so that’s a rough version.

      • I think we are taught that bad and good are opposites, and must exist as opposite and if there is good there MUST be bad. So when we start to classify things in those ways we look for the opposite of whichever adjective we are using. Since the words exist in a dichotomy, the relationship must also exist in a dichotomy.

  3. Pingback: Why is Motherhood More Scrutinized Than Fatherhood? « Clarissa's Blog

  4. I have fallen into it myself, saying things like “oh what a bad mummy, I forgot to cut your nails” or something equally benign, to justify the apparent slip in my parenting. And I noticed my brand new mum friend do the same, which made me so sad because she is so obviously NOT a bad mum. We’ve got to stop putting ourselves down like this!

    • Totally, Michelle. These thoughts/words seep into our own subconscious and we sometimes end up sabotaging ourselves with these thoughts. We just need to keep reminding ourselves and each other that we’re *not* bad moms and that the standards that have been propped up for so long are not only unrealistic in today’s society, but maybe were never all taht top notch to begin with!

  5. Maybe some of the counts came from self critical posts like mine over here…
    http://sofiasfirst.blogspot.co.at/2012/08/help-i-am-bad-mother.html
    Your thought on how we moms sabotage ourselves really triggered something in me! It’s so obvious that we are the ones responsible for a big deal of the reputation… In my post I needed to be really honest and speak from my heart. However, I admit I judge myself too often as a mom. I am sure this is a typical thing for us women and I wish we and society in general could deal with this judgement differentely.
    Great blog! I’ll be following you.

      • Sure, it’s a pleasure coming by and engaging in this kind of conversation with you and the other authors here! Also the topic “Let’s talk” has been great to follow! See you around!

  6. Pingback: The Language Of Motherhood | The Mamafesto

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