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Mothers on Mothers

Maternal Readings of Popular Television

Rebecca Feasey

From Supernanny to Gilmore Girls, from Katie Price to Holly Willoughby, a wide range of examples of mothers and motherhood appear on television today. Drawing on questionnaires completed by mothers across the UK, this book sheds new light on the varied and diverse ways in which expectant, new and existing mothers make sense of popular representations of motherhood on television. The volume examines the ways in which these women find pleasure, empowerment, escapist fantasy, displeasure and frustration in popular depictions of motherhood. The research seeks to present the voice of the maternal audience and, as such, it takes as its starting point those maternal depictions and motherwork representations that are highlighted by this demographic, including figures such as Tess Daly and Katie Hopkins and programmes like TeenMom and Kirstie Allsopp’s œuvre.
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The lived reality of motherhood has changed in recent generations, and, likewise, depictions of motherhood in the media have been seen to fluctuate and shift. Although research exists to account for the hypothetical or academic reading of such changing maternal depictions, little research exists to account for the ways in which maternal audiences respond to representations of motherhood in the media.

The social, political, self-help and entertainment marketplace present a rather unified and monolithic image of ‘good’ mothering, with the ideology of intensive motherhood being singled out as the only acceptable form of motherwork and maternal investment for expectant, new and more experienced mothers in the contemporary period. The ideology of intensive mothering, or what I shall refer to as the ‘good’ mother, demands that mothers are responsible for the social, cultural, creative, educational, emotional, physical, nutritional and cognitive development of their children. The figure in question is asked to uphold impeccable domestic standards while maintaining a slim appearance and serene demeanour. These stay at home caregivers should, according to the demands of intensive mothering, not only dedicate their entire waking hours to their children, but should find fulfilment and satisfaction in this nurturing role (Maushart 1999; Green 2004; Borisoff 2005; Douglas and Michaels 2005; Warner 2007).

Although the ‘good’ mother is presented as an ideal maternal figure, the reality is that very few women are able to, or would want to, devote their entire being to their children. Women who work outside of...

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