Sexualized Saturdays: Motherhood vs. Fatherhood in Geek Media

I don’t know if I would say that Saga is my favorite comic, but that’s probably because it’s just so good, and so consistently so, that it’d be like saying that I like breathing air. I take it for granted that Saga is going to be one of the best comics out there every time I pick up a trade. The fifth trade collection just debuted this week and it got me thinking about motherhood and characterization. The main characters of the story are Alana and Marko, the parents of our narrator, Hazel. Alana and Marko are from Landfall and Wreath, respectively, a planet and its moon that have been at war for as long as anyone can remember. The fact that they’ve fallen in love and had a baby has put them at the top of both their homelands’ hit lists, and they’ve been on the run for the entirety of the story, trying (and failing spectacularly) to find somewhere safe to raise their child.

Alana-Saga One of the things that I love about Alana is that, while she is absolutely and fiercely dedicated to her daughter, it shows in a way that is consistent with her character. She will fuck up anyone who threatens to lay a hand on Hazel, but she’s not the best at motherhood or at being a decent person, and her best-laid plans too often go awry. She’s also still got interests and desires outside of simply raising her daughter; she didn’t stop being a person when she started being a mother. She loves the trashy romance novels that helped her bond with Marko when they first met. She developed a drug problem while trying to support her family on the run. She felt miserable and unsexy when she and Marko tried to have sex while she was pregnant. She can fire a rifle and curse a blue streak but still struggles to get along with her in-laws. In fact, Alana as a character is more in line with what we usually see of fathers in pop culture.

Most of the time, mothers in pop culture are nothing more than that. They exhibit maternal affection if they’re a good character and alive, provide motivation to the protagonist if they’re a good character and dead, and supply a villain if they’re evil, because nothing is worse than a bad mother. It’s the fathers who get to be interesting and do things and have characters and interests and skills outside of their children. Look at the Weasley parents. Arthur is a goofball, obsessed with Muggle artifacts; he tinkers in his shed and complains about the office. He is a father and he clearly enjoys being one, but his fatherhood is not the be-all, end-all of his character. Molly, on the other hand, as much as I love her, is utterly a mother and nothing else. We very rarely see any aspect of her character that isn’t related to childcare or housework; even her crowning moment of badass is one of motherly vitriol—”Not my daughter, you bitch!” As Mikely said in a previous post on motherhood, she passes out sweaters and hugs, mostly.

molly weasley dhAnd… not to pick on good ol’ J.K., but Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy exhibit the same problem. Lucius is motivated by a ton of different things and we learn lots about him outside his fatherhood of Draco, but Narcissa’s only ever looking out for her family—to the point where her love of her son is what saves the world in the end.

The most personally disappointing example of this for me was the sad case of Nana Sawada. In the manga Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, protag Tsuna is training to be a mob boss with a tutor who lives in his house, and people are constantly attacking him. His father is the head of the mafia family’s advisory group, and appears after years of being away to help train and coach his son, but often must deal with other mob stuff.Nana_Sawada_Anime Nana, his mother… is his mom. She takes care of everyone who comes into the house (and Tsuna collects a lot of homeless friends), she is good-naturedly surprised when bad stuff happens to the property, and we never learn anything else about her. I was desperate by the end of the series for a big Nana-related reveal. It simply didn’t make sense that she was just an everyday housewife with a mafioso husband and son who knew nothing at all about her family’s activities. I waited with bated breath to learn more about Nana, but the series ended with no backstory for her.

This phenomenon is terrible on a number of levels, the most obvious of which is because this is sexist as hell. No one talks about fatherhood in the same frame of mind as they do motherhood, essentializing it into some magic power that gives men strength to overcome bad things and aggrandizing it into the most important and special thing a man can do, and when men do become fathers, they get to keep the character they had beforehand. That’s why it’s so important to have characters who are mothers in a way that’s organic for their character. Pop culture needs fewer mothers who are perfect and more mothers who are people—it’s time we caught up to the number of cool dads out there.

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4 thoughts on “Sexualized Saturdays: Motherhood vs. Fatherhood in Geek Media

  1. When a character on a TV series has a baby over the course of the show, they tend to have already have been a fully realized main character first, despite being female, so becoming a mother doesn’t change all that. What’s harder is when a character is a mother since the pilot, allowing her to be more than that. I like that not only Sarah on Orphan Black (and Siobhan aka Mrs. S.) is a mother who is more than just a mom on Orphan Black: — we also have Alison, who has always been a bit more than that.

    As you said, this is a problem in “geekery” — sci fi and more male-dominated fandoms — think Smallville where Lex’s mother, Lois’ mom & Lana’s mom are all dead and we know nothing else about these women, Chloe’s mom is in a mental institution and again has no character and might as well be dead, Martha Kent & Lara El are both pretty much moms and nothing else, even if Martha’s Molly Weasley levels of awesome at it, and then in the series finale (Spoiler warning) Chloe, who gets to be many things throughout the series, also becomes a mom. Chloe is the only mother on the entire show who is not defined at all by her motherhood, but mainly because she isn’t a mother for most of the series’ run. The series is based on so much history of Superman lore, comics, films, etc and other DC universe things as well so I feel like I can’t entirely blame them for making the mothers the way they did. Martha was a character with a personality for sure, despite how much motherhood defined her.

    I think Arrow is a comic book show that (much more so than its spin-off The Flash) really gives mothers a chance to be more. Moira, Felicity’s mother, even Dinah Lance all have a lot of complexity to them and really aren’t only defined by being a mom. Even Tatsu Yamashiro on that show fits that role of being so much more than just a mother.

    When I think of well-rounded mother characters, though, I think of teen dramas and “girly” shows, things that air on ABC Family or The CW. I think of Gilmore Girls which of course most heavily featured Lorelai Gilmore and Emily Gilmore who are so, so much more than just mothers on this series, and where even Richard’s mother or Jess’s are much more complex than the usual tropes would allow them to be.

    I think of Pretty Little Liars which is such an amazing show in terms of how much depth they manage to give to SO MANY characters, including ALL FOUR of the main character girls having interesting, loving, responsible mothers who are much more than just mothers on the series — while the show is about teenagers so mostly their roles as mothers is the focus, they get to all have complex love lives, careers, reactions to the secrets and lies and drama in their daughters’ lives and in the town, sometimes have secrets of their own, etc. All of those women have their own personalities, and for that matter Alison’s mother does too. There is something really amazing about how much depth the mothers are given on this show.

    In general, all of the current ABC Family dramas have this — Chasing Life, Switched at Birth, The Fosters — they have amazing, strong mother characters who also have personal interests, hobbies, careers, skills, flaws, “cool mom” moments, etc, etc.

    One of the most interesting case studies, though, might be One Tree Hill, where Haley gets to be a non-mother for the first 4 seasons, or 3 if you count her as a mother already during her pregnancy, but then gets to be a mother for seasons 5-9, over half of the show. She’s such a great mom, but her character is always so much more than a mom. Becoming a mom didn’t change her whole identity. When people think of Haley James Scott, they don’t think of “mother” first and foremost, just like when people think of Sarah Manning on Orphan Black. Haley is a person, first and foremost, just like her husband Nathan, who also on the show gets to be a great dad yet so much more than a dad, and who also wasn’t a father until the point at which Haley gave birth to his son.

    I wish “geek” fandoms might catch up with how well done the mothers are on “Girly” fandoms. I wish shows didn’t have to be written by women or catering to women or even have the majority of characters need to be women before the women characters who ARE featured get treated fairly, as PEOPLE, not simply mothers and nothing else.

  2. I found this interesting. I’m a Christian (and do consider myself a conservative), but I do think strong female characters are important. I personally have no objection to showing a woman in a “traditional” role, PROVIDED she has a distinct personality besides just being a mother/wife/whatever. For example, the main characters in the Christian film “Moms’ Night Out” have distinct personalities and actually invert the sterotypes that you might ordinarily see in their respective roles. Also, Altfem magazine published many great articles about a variety of topics relating to women’s role in religion (yes, I know this is a little off-topic). Here’s a link:

  3. When I was pregnant I remember lots of people telling me that motherhood would change my life, and even though they said this with well meaning and affection it sounded very scary to me. I liked being who I was and I didn’t want my identity to change or be reduced in any way. I was relieved over time to discover that motherhood didn’t take away from who I was but only added to it. I still liked all the same things through I had less time to commit doing them, but I was still essentially me.
    That’s why I love Saga, for it’s realistic portrayal of mothers (and fathers) as complicated individuals.

  4. Pingback: Sexualized Saturdays: Martyred Moms and Dastardly Dads in the MCU | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

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