by Madeline Iva
Yeah, it was mother’s day this weekend. A day of motherly love, and were was I? I went to a workshop where we discussed gender expectations in romances and how as an author you cross those readerly expectations at your own peril.
Virginia Kantra was the author who spoke to our group. She pointed out that while heroes we love can often be violent –and if they are vampires even kill people left and right–but god forbid a heroine be sexually aggressive or slightly bitchy.
Yet there were a lot of exceptions to this rule. Urban Fantasy heroines, for example, can be very kick-ass and aggressive. (I love you, paranormal readers. You like freaks and monsters–the misunderstood and the outsiders. In the words of Avril Lavrine: I’m with you.)
Also things are different in comedy. Characters who are expressing their core truths can get away with not conforming to ‘good girl’ rules. You can also bend the rules in mystery, where a woman is more likely to swallow her mistrust for humanity like a shot of whiskey with a loneliness chaser.
In the end, Kantra suggested that we off-set the less-than-compassionate behavior of our heroine with her love for lost pets, old people, and young children. Kantra related how one of her books had a particularly persnickety heroine, and said “you’ve never seen a book with so many stray cats and dogs in it.” ;>
Meanwhile, we never got around to discussing at the workshop how modern society is coining new terms for women. For instance, the topic of Cougars and how we write about them in romances never came up. (Is it because they’re mostly in erotic romances?)
What about M.I.L.F.’s? Even if the new terms for women are kind of derogatory, once there is a term that’s recognized you can stick that kind of a woman in a romance and your readers will recognize her and–I would argue–accept her.
We have terms for romance genres that we don’t even have equivalent terms for in real life. What about all those romances with secret baby themes? Those were around for a long time before the term ‘baby mama’ was coined.
I mean, this is what I love about romance– it’s all about gender 24/7 in all its permutations and weirdness and glory.
Meanwhile, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate BAD MOTHERS of three specific varieties.
First, my favorite: those amazing women on the small screen who rivet us with their selfishness, their style, and their relentless insistence that there is so much more to life than being a breeder.
Jennifer Saunders as Edina in Absolutely Fabulous: Edina is gloriously absorbed in the dream world of her inner fantasy life. Plunged into the work of staving off a thousand insecurities. Edina is friends for life with Patsy–a fashion plate so lacking in motherly genes that she was probably born without female genitalia. Edina is a genius at violating every ‘should’ in the book of how to raise your child and be a proper mum. Saunders is always so over the top that we recognize the spoiled child in all of us. We long to give that child free rein. We enjoy watching her do so because she is off yet again like a hound chasing fun and notoriety. That or she’s milking the facile teats of society like a mad dairy maid. Such is Saunder’s genius that when she does, she makes us love it.
Jessica Walters as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development: She’s another relentless example of how simmering sexuality, relentless glamour, and blind entitlement refuse to die just because a woman pops out a child or four. The fun of watching Lucille’s character is that she’s mastered the various faces of pious motherhood. They’re masks she wears and they fool no one, but still, she’ll put them on to get what she wants, if somewhat surprised and weary that her children still insist upon her wearing them. The tiny bit of every real mother that ruthlessly judges her children’s lives forever lives on in Lucille Bluth.
Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin in Weeds: Like Michael Correleone in The Godfather, Nancy, in order to save her family, ends up destroying them. In this case what she’s destroying is her children’s innocence. MLP is a great example of a woman who just isn’t that good at long range planning. Keeping her head above water day-to-day often consumes all the brain cells she’s got and when the slog becomes too much, her greatest character flaw is her distractability. Overpowered by an urge for a mocha-latte freeze and the need to bat her big M.I.L.F. bambi eyes at some muscled torso, Nancy forgets what her kids are up to, emerging from her caffeine daze to realize oh, her son’s just killed someone.
Next we have those moms who are examples that yes, despite evolution, some women are born without a maternal bone in their body.
Roseanne Barr in Roseanne: Her crime is that even though she has the capacity to love her children and be a good mother to them, she’s far more devoted to enjoying the dregs of discomfort caused by the twisted machinations of humanity. She’ll prioritize enjoying that discomfort over being a mother any day–even when the joke’s on her.
Betty Draper in Mad Men: The contrapuntal situation of a woman with no motherly instincts living at a time when all women were raised to take on the starring role of mommy bespeaks the jaded irony of the age. Kudos to the writers who had the courage to simply put that irony out there and let us watch, trusting that we’d get it.
Circe Lannister in Game of Thrones: She’s a fine example of how Having It All is so not having it all, when men rule the game and she wants to get out there with the big boys and play the game too. It’s frustrating enough to drive her into performing every bad behavior she can think of–in a small tiny way, she often has our sympathy.
Maggs Bennett in Justified: She’s a great example of the momma who eats some of her babies when under stress.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate those reality moms who lead by example. The examples is what you shouldn’t do every single moment of your life but it’s still an example. We witness and we learn. Their cautionary tales provide us with the soothing comfort of comparison–no matter how we’re raising our kids, we’re out-performing this lot.
Octo-mom. Sad. 🙁
Mama June of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo: In a way it’s not fair to include Mama June in this category. I would opine that Mama June is the red neck Kris Kardashian of reality TV world and she’s laughing hard enough to jiggle her three chins all the way to the bank. She started off the show with her exponentially fattening family, a baby daddy, a pregnant teenage daughter, and about two hundred pounds of excess flesh. The clever underlying theme of the show is that even if she has a bit of an addiction to bulk coupon shopping, and even if she is ignorant about almost everything, she IS a good mama. For instance, on a hot day when the family passes by a river that has signs posted about brain eating bacteria in the water, she suggests the children stay out of it.
All the young women in Teen Mom: the slide from reality show infamy to skeezy porn is a short sharp plunge for these girls who take pride in their bad choices. Who raised these girls?