Media Morality Tales and the Politics of Motherhood

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Book Chapter

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This chapter focuses on the predominant stories told about motherhood, repeated in various forms, across a wide variety of media channels. Unfortunately, there is much in these stories that serves to undermine women's power and progress. First, the media idealize and glamorize motherhood as the one path to fulfillment for women, painting a rosy, Hallmark-card picture that ignores or minimizes the very real challenges that come along with parenthood. Second, media narratives often cast motherhood in moral terms, juxtaposing the "good mother" with the "bad mother," who frequently is a working mom, a lower-income mom, or someone who does not conform to traditional gender roles of behavior, ambition, or sexual orientation. Third, media frame the issues, suggesting how the public should think about them. In particular, by focusing on the individual level rather than the societal level, media stories frame problems facing mothers as "personal problems" rather than problems needing systemic, public policy solutions. Occasionally, women turn the tables on media and effectively draw on their status as mothers to bring attention to political issues that would otherwise be ignored. Thus, as media scholar Todd Gitlin has argued, the stories emphasized by media are not so much a reflection of the real world, as a value-laden repackaging of it that perpetuates gender myths.