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):
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.