Contemporary Challenges to the Motherhood Myth
9. “I Forgot How It Was to Be Normal”: Decompensating the Binary of Good/Bad Motherhood
By BETH L. BOSER
Motherhood is a form of mental illness, according to Judith Warner’s (2005) bestselling book. Unfolding like a re-imagined Feminine Mystique, the book surveys the state of motherhood in the United States and finds that the most apt metaphor for “The Mess” of contemporary anxiety-ridden mothering is “perfect madness.” Of course, this popular tome is certainly not the first to offer a critique of the cultural expectations of modern-day motherhood; indeed, the pervasiveness and the problematics of the ideology of intensive mothing are well documented (e.g., Hays, 1996; Douglas & Michaels, 2004). Drawing upon these, and other, prior works, this chapter offers an examination of mediated motherhood wherein mental illness is more than a metaphor (see Hatfield, this volume, for a discussion of mental illness and pregnancy). Specifically, I examine two documentary films centering on a mother diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia. Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2004) and Walk Away Renee (2012) offer accounts of the filmmaker’s experiences and relationship with his mother Renee LeBlanc. Both films invite viewers into the complex relationship between Renee and Jonathan. Furthermore, in doing so, both offer depictions of transgressive motherhood.
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