Friday, April 25, 2008

"Desperate" to be the Perfect Mother

When the weekend begins winding down and the time to gear up for another week of work or school is approaching, Sunday nights offer woman, as well as men, the opportunity to indulge in the guilty pleasure of viewing the outrageous lives of four women living in an upscale suburban neighborhood on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives, created by Marc Cherry, has captured millions of weekly viewers, causing the television show to receive praise and awards in return. Desperate Housewives “is a balanced mixture of drama, comedy, soap opera and mystery, giving rise to conversations on topics such as love, marriage, surface appearances, human interaction, gender roles and the dark underbelly of suburbia” (Di Gregorio 63). Mary Alice Young, once a friend and neighbor on Wisteria Lane to the woman until her suicide, now narrates the lives of her friends; Susan Mayer- a clumsy, yet attractive single mother, Lynette Scavo- a tough, fearless mother, Bree Van De Kamp- a prim and proper, dedicated homemaker, and Gabrielle Solis- an adulterous, ex-model. The show focuses a great deal on the importance of beauty and appearance, but also displays the struggles with being a housewife and a mother. I plan to focus on the role of motherhood for Lynette Scavo and the obstacles she faces when trying to balance raising her children, a career, and her marriage while dealing with oppression and the need to conform to traditional gender roles.
Motherhood is a complex subject and is debated often by the mainstream media and feminists on what constitutes the best “role” of a mother. Whether mothers choose to stay home or have no choice but to stay home, work full-time or have a part-time job, and whether their married or single are all aspects that affect motherhood. The way an individual was raised can influence one’s particular views on motherhood as well. Someone who had a mother stay home to raise them is probably more acceptable of the idea of a “stay-at-home mom” rather than someone who had a mother that was always working, but not in every case. Time magazine states these particular people may be dedicated to their work, but many of them experienced having parents work long hours and prefer to give their own children more attention than they received (Time). Today, “our culture insists that to be a remotely decent mother, a woman has to devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual being “24/7” to her children” (Time). The unattainable expectation can therefore be accredited to such debate on motherhood.
Whatever the case, the role of motherhood is controversial and challenging, as we see in Desperate Housewives. The show “represents the oppression of upper-middle class, suburban life and the difficulties which these women encounter in their roles of housewife and mother” (Richardson 158). Studies have found evidence that such television shows shape young female’s views and expectations on family and gender roles, particularly in regards to marriage and motherhood (Carine T. G. M. et all, 955). The young females believe these television shows portray an accurate way of society and do not realize the show is a form of entertainment which strays from that of real life. Also, these type shows have typically stereotyped woman as dependant on men, causing them to receive less recognition and respect. Though finally, shows are starting to have mother characters not solely as homemakers, but holding professional jobs outside of the home. (Carine T. G. M. et all, 956). In doing so, more families are able to relate to the motherhood role in the show.
Lynette faces the issue of dealing with motherhood and a career. She has always been the ideal career woman; very dedicated and successful in her executive position with an advertising company. She truly enjoys being in the workforce. Lynette and Tom then decide to have children and soon enough they have a son, two twin boys, and a daughter. To make matters worse, the twins suffer from ADHD, making having four kids even more of a handful. As a result, she is forced to leave work to be a full-time mother and is constantly stressed while doing so. Desperate Housewives “is one of the first series to actively critique the cult of “New Momism”; a deluge of cultural images representing contemporary super-women who unite demanding professional jobs with selfless childrearing (Richardson 158). Lynette “claims that people expect only one answer when they ask her whether she likes being a full-time mother: “It’s the best job in the world!” (Di Gregorio 64). Lynette struggles with the fear of being a bad mother more so than she struggles in any corporate job, making her secret regret of leaving work somewhat understandable (Metro Magazine 145). The show “demonstrates that being a superhuman “new mom” is not quite as easy as contemporary media would suggest” (Richardson 158). Though she tries to use the same positive attitude and successful strategies in her role as mother as she did in the office, she does not get the same appeasing results in return.
While struggling with her job as a mother, Lynette has flashbacks to when she found out she was pregnant with the twins and Tom insisting she stay at home because he believes children are raised better when they have a stay-at-home mother. Quitting her job “is very much one oppression in which Lynette is constrained by gender traditions and, as a result, now finds herself trapped in a role which she finds difficult and even traumatic” (Richardson 161). Lynette found comfort when finally admitting to her friends the struggles she was experiencing with motherhood and learning they also find motherhood difficult.
Motherhood also takes a toll on Lynette’s marriage. When her husband insisted she quit her job and stay at home, he is unaware of the struggles she faces while being a full-time mom. In return, there is a great deal of tension in the relationship and constant arguing. Therefore, Lynette experiences another form of female oppression while being “bullied” by her husband. In scenes with Lynette, as well as Gabrielle experiencing female oppression, “the sequence sets up a dichotomy between the husbands as monsters and the wives as victims. The dominant impression is one of powerlessness in which these women are trapped in marriages and under their husbands’ control” (Richardson 161). Her husband is just another example of some described in The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued. People, such as Tom, take for granted the job of a mother and do not give them the respect they deserve, and rather just assume the mothers do “nothing” all day (Crittenden 48). To appease Lynette, Tom is willing to hire a nanny for Lynette. The move backfires when the nanny is too attractive, causing trouble for the marriage once again. Until the traditional gender roles were reversed and Tom became a stay-at-home dad while Lynette returned to work did Tom realize the degree of stress Lynette has been facing. In one scene during the show, Lynette came home from work to find Tom asleep on the couch, exhausted from his role as “mother” that day.
Lynette had actually experienced anxiety when deciding to return to work or not, a far cry from her start as a full-time mother. Lynette only wanted the best for her family, but that often meant straying from the traditional gender roles which society has a hard time accepting. The housewives are infatuated with their neighbor’s opinions, therefore, the show “does not represent people being whatever they want to be—but instead shows “desperate” people obsessed with conforming to appropriate social roles” (Richardson 169). Consequently, this is prime reasoning why Lynette struggles with career and marriage issues on top of her role as mother. The controversial issues surrounding appropriate motherhood just make matters worse for her character. Television needs to continue trying not to stereotype motherhood a certain way. Woman should be able to raise their children however they like, while receiving a little respect in return.

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