Daneen Bergland; Hilary Gray
16 November 2014
Single, White and a Mother
When it comes to being a single mother, there is always a stigma that comes with it; whether positive or negative, that mostly depends on the type of media it comes from. Mothers, particularly single mothers, are portrayed in what seems to be either two ways, one of which has to do with low socioeconomic status, the other with being a young mother. If you hear the word single mom, the first thing that might pop into your head is, what kind of money does she make, does she work, or how many kids does she have? The stereotypes that come with being a single mom can be harsh at times, but as a single mother myself, I can understand where some of the thoughts come from. As for how a single mother, particularly of Caucasian race, is portrayed in popular culture the word that best describes the kind of portrayal is, scattered. Meaning there really is no set way a single mother is portrayed. She can play the “dumb blonde” role to “rich bitch” and even is seen as being poor or one who struggles financially. There doesn’t seem to be one set stereotype, or one set idea of what a single mother should look like or be seen as in the media. I will examine three different popular culture artifacts and take a look at how a single mother, particularly of Caucasian race, is being portrayed and highlight some of the main points or key elements of the artifacts that relate specifically to a single white mother and the different portrayals presented. The three artifacts that I have decided to take a deeper look at are: the television shows Gilmore Girls and Mom, as well as the movie The Single Moms Club. By examining these artifacts and taking a look at significant stereotypes, I will compare and look at the contrast of the portrayal of a single white mother in the media versus in real life, and compare them all to my own identity.
In this first artifact, I will examine the television show Gilmore Girls; produced by Amy Sherman-Palladino, first airing in 2000. The show introduces a single mother, Lorelai Gilmore, who had her daughter, Rory, at the age of sixteen, and is raising her alone. The father is nowhere in sight, nor talked about at all in the first few episodes; which is a stereotype in itself, that most single moms are raising their kid(s) on their own because the “dead-beat” dad is not around. In the first episode, the pilot into the series is one of the best to represent what I am looking for in the portrayal of single white mothers. In this episode, right off the bat a major stereotype of a single mother is present, and that is that they have struggles with money. Although it would seem as though Lorelai has a great job, the manager and eventual owner of her own Inn, and makes enough money to support her and her child, it still doesn’t seem to be enough for the things that they want, not necessarily need, like private school in this case. In order to better understand this stereotype, I will give a brief summary of what this episode is about. Lorelai’s daughter, Rory, had got accepted into this prestigious private school; they were so excited that she had actually got in. Then it would seem as though the amount of money it would cost in order for Rory to attend, was more than Lorelai could handle. Therefore, she had to go to her parents, who happen to be very wealthy, and ask to borrow money. And I highlight the word borrow because of her independent stature, in that she doesn’t like to nor wants to, ask for money from anyone, especially her parents. She had to make it very clear that she was only borrowing the money, and that it would be paid back, and that if it wasn’t for her daughters education and needs, she would not be asking for the money.
One of the more interesting stereotypes present in this television show is the fact that Lorelai had her daughter at such a young age. Not only does it seem most single mothers are represented as having their children young, but it seems to go hand-in-hand with the kind of relationship that the two have; more of a best friends relationship and not parent-child. It would seem in order to have this kind of close relationship with your child, you either have to be a single parent or close in age (meaning a young mother). Another factor could be that the father is not around, he only appears every once in a while. Therefore, if not having a make figure around for her daughter, Lorelai maybe felt obligated to always give her daughter what she wanted. This doesn’t hold true in my case, or for that matter, in many cases where fathers are not present. Not only do I have to be the mother and father, I have to be the good guy and the bad guy all the time. There is no alternative, so it can get confusing to children, and it doesn’t really allow for me to be that close to my children, I always have to be the parent. As for the being a young mother part, in my situation, I was twenty-one when I had my first child, and although I didn’t finish college or get a career going, there would of been plenty of time, leaving less room for financial troubles of not having finished high school, which most young “teen” mothers don’t do.
Some critics bash the idea behind this series in its entirety in that it does not represent a realistic idea of what is reality; that the relationships, the type of people and the things they do and the way they act; is just simply not real. This is not how people or situation is like in the real world. (Calvin 15). Therefore, it can be said that this can extend to the relationship that Lorelai and Rory have in the show, as well as the portrayal of the life of a single mom. Sure, the stereotype of single moms being young when having their kids is present, but the struggles that should be associated with that stereotype are not present throughout this series. However, in the first episode, as mentioned before, regarding the struggle with being able to pay for Rory’s private education, the unrealistic part is that most of the time, especially a single mother, it would not be so easy to find someone who is able and willing to help you at a moment’s notice when things start getting hard, whether it is financially or something else.
For the second artifact, the television show, Mom, written by Chuck Lorre et al., we see a completely different side of the life of a single white mother. Unlike Gilmore Girls, the reality of the struggle the single mom Christy goes through is more likely to happen in real life; at least when it comes to the stereotypes surrounding single mothers like lower socioeconomic status and financial problems. However, just like Lorelai from Gilmore Girls, Christy also had her first child at the age of sixteen. One example of the differences and change in stereotype being portrayed is Christy has a job as a waitress, probably a more suitable job for a single mother, especially one who also had her daughter at a young age, than say a manager/owner of their own Inn like Lorelai. I make this comparison between Christy and Lorelai because although they both didn’t finish high school, had a child as a teenager and neither has the “baby daddy” present, they are shown in such a different way in the popular culture artifact. Meaning that Christy in Mom actually has to struggle, she doesn’t have the choice of going to her rich parents, which is why Mom is a better portrayal for what a single mother would go through.
Although in the television series, we see Christy working and making somewhat of a living, the fact that she is a recovering alcoholic and has a slight gambling addiction, proves that she is unable to put her money where it belongs, which is evident in the episodes “Hepatitis and lemon zest” and “ Figgy pudding and The Rapture.” In these episodes, the family, as well as the grandmother, who lives with them and has her own struggles, gets evicted from their home due to not paying the rent, and ends up moving into a really rundown hotel. These are the types of real struggles I was talking about. This would never happen in Gilmore Girls because she comes from a rich family.
One of the more interesting aspects of this show is the fact that this single mother is being portrayed as having problems with alcohol abuse in the past, which might be a better representation of the life a single mother lives, although it does not relate to my own life as a single mother. This is almost the complete opposite of what is shown in Gilmore Girls, in that there is no one there to catch this mother when she falls, and instead of alcohol problems, Lorelai’s only addiction seems to be caffeine.
The last artifact that I took a deeper look at is a movie written, directed, produced by Tyler Perry called The Single Moms Club. This artifact is different than all the rest in that it not only showcases single white mothers, but there are five mothers in total, two white, two African American and one Hispanic. Although there are many different representations and portrayals with each individual single mother in this movie, I am only going to focus on how the single white mothers are meant to be perceived. One of the single mothers has a great job, lots of money and has only one child; which she had later in life by way of sperm donor. The second single white mother becomes single due to a failed marriage where she ends up with nothing but a house and kids to take care of. She has never worked in her life, and had to let go of the maid, forcing her to raise her kids alone, which she never had really done before. This particular mother also plays the “dumb blonde” role in that she doesn’t get a lot of things, and has to get told things by her friends in order to see something that is obvious to others. Just by this brief explanation, there really doesn’t seem to be any major struggle for either of these mothers. Therefore, the movie basically doesn’t highlight the real issues that a single mother has to go through; except the fact that when being a single mother, it is really hard to have a life outside of being a mother. This is something that I struggle with and can relate to on a daily basis; in that I am home with my kids practically 24/7, 365 and do not really have a social life. So instead of showcasing the everyday problems single mothers go through, this movie really just represents a way for single mothers to get together and help each other be more social and who can understand what it is like to raise children on your own.
In each of these artifacts, we see several single, white mothers, who all have their own story, and are told in a different way. First we had Lorelai in Gilmore Girls who had her daughter at a young age, and whose lifestyle and attitude are better suited to be a best friend and not a mother. Who is shown to have struggles with finances, but has support when things get too bad. The father of her child is not really around, especially early on in the series, and she has problems finding a man to share her life with. Then on the other end, we have (name) from the television show Mom, who clearly has had several issues in her life from having her first child at a very young age, to having financial problems, to even having problems with alcohol abuse and gambling addictions. However, this is a more realistic view of the stereotype associated with being a single mother, poor, had kids when at a young age, yet independent, and doesn’t have help from other people. Lastly, there is the film The Single Moms Club that gives us a different portrayal of single mother’s altogether. Here, both single white mothers are well-off in terms of financially, and the only significant issue is the fact that they do not really have other people in their lives that are facing the same problems, and together join a group where they can get support. Each of these different portrayals of the life of a single, white mother really does not depict the reality of how a one really lives. The struggles that they go through, the way they are looked at by other, the true identity of a single mother, is not shown in either of these artifacts, and certainly not my identity. Of course, not everyone is going to be the same, and people are going to go through different struggles and have different ideas of what a single mother should be seen as in popular culture, but the point is that the negative aspect behind the idea of a single mother, and the positive things that are accomplished by the average single mother are really not highlighted at all throughout these artifacts, and it is a shame that not one can hit the nail on the head when it comes to portraying a character to fit the mold that most single mothers go through.
Calvin, Ritch. “Gilmore Girls and The Politics of Identity” Essays on Family and Feminism in the Television Series. 2008. Print.