I found an interesting article about breadwinner moms on CNN’s website within the “Living” section. The author, Kelly Wallace, states that the number of mothers that earn more than their partners is growing. According to a survey of 2,000 working parents by Working Mother Media, 71% of primary breadwinners entered this role by circumstance, chance or luck rather than choice. The survey divided the women into ‘pleased’ and ‘reluctant’ breadwinning moms. Many women reported that they still felt a need to manage the household regardless of the work that the spouse put into raising the children and doing chores. It is no wonder that women still feel that they should be doing their domestic duties based off the messages the media is portraying.
Wallace also points out the rising number of working mothers that are depicted in television shows. After watching Color Adjustment in class, I realize the impact that media has on the public’s conception of the family in everyday life. The film asked if seemingly progressive images of black characters in TV shows were truly positive. One example that Marlon Riggs, the writer and director of the documentary, provides is The Bill Cosby Show. Most television shows before the 1970s revolved around middle-class, white, nuclear families. The Bill Cosby Show presented a black family as the happy American family. The parents were married and both had successful careers. This image contradicted stereotypes of the black family living in the city with a single, working mother. The Bill Cosby Show was also problematic because it reinforced the “American dream” belief in which hard work allows one to climb the ladder of success and obtain one’s dream career. The American dream does not take race, ethnicity, gender, or income into consideration.
It is also important to ask how the media is representing working mothers. Are TV shows showing women being successful in their careers but then coming home to manage the housework at the end of her work day actually progressing feminist thought? This representation reinforces the idea that raising children and taking care of the home is not “work.” It is what women are expected to do, which supports stereotypical gender roles and the idea that housework should not be paid or compensated in any way. Are stay-at-home dads being represented in the media? The news article mentions that “one thing both breadwinning moms and dads agree on, according to the survey, is how expectations about family roles still need to change, with 74% of breadwinning moms and 72% of dads saying society remains more comfortable with men as the primary earners even after the recession” (Wallace).
One article that we have read for class, “Feminism and The Family,” provides us with a way of reframing the family. Thorne points out that we must challenge what we consider to be normal and legitimate, which is often the nuclear family with a breadwinner husband and full-time wife/mother. This conception of the family delegitimizes any family in which the parents are not married or heterosexual. Television shows and movies are hesitant to create storylines around these “deviant” families. We need to be critical of the types of family the media is showing us. Just because the majority of representations depict traditional, nuclear families does not mean this is the only type of family that exists or is normal. It also makes social progress difficult, even when we are seeing a rise in breadwinner moms.
Thorne points out that the closest ties humans have to one another are through blood relations. As we experience reality, there are many ways to shape one’s support system. One person could see his or her family as being only individuals who share a last name or have entered the family through marriage. Another person may consider his or her friends as a family more so than blood relatives. Therefore, it is unfair to present only particular experiences of family. Those public images are labeled by individuals as “normal,” influencing behavior and thought within the private realm. Media complicates the public/private dichotomy that Thorne discusses. If one is continually influencing the other, how can we separate them?
Reading this article with the feminist family in mind allows us to reconfigure our image of the typical American family. As Rebecca Hughes Parker says, “You still see commercials where it’s the woman cleaning the floor, not the man cleaning the floor, like in my house. You don’t see that” (Wallace). If advertising and other forms of media are still feeding us images of the 1950’s nuclear family, it is vital that we continue to challenge stereotypes. Americans today are required to be critical thinkers rather than absentmindedly aligning with the beliefs media images are imposing.