Tag: gender

The Wicked Stepmother

Missy

As you all know I’m a big Survivor fan and part of the reason I love the show is while it is fabricated and packaged as entertainment, it is also an interesting window into human nature.  We see the way people behave when eating 100 calories a day, pushed to extremes and how they interact when forced to make choices that service themselves and the group.  That is fascinating to me.  The power structures, social customs, group theory and patterns that develop are interesting and the fact that every winner has been different is a testament to the show.  There is no one way to guarantee a win because what is effective in a game amongst one group may not be in another.

For me season 29 was a disappointment.  This is partly because I loved the previous season 28 so much.  We had so many dynamic personalities in Cagayan that made it fascinating (and hilarious) to watch.  This season San Juan Del Sur I never bonded with anyone (or hated anyone).

But it had its appeal and curiosity factor as every season does.  And one of the interesting threads was a mother daughter pair named Missy and Baylor.  Missy was announced on the show in her introduction that she had been married and divorced 3 times.  I’m not sure why this was such a big deal?  Surely there have been Survivor men who have been married that many times and it was never brought up?

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From the beginning it seemed like the show was disdainful of Missy for her marriages even though I didn’t really see her doing much worthy of that disdain.  Certainly in the world of Survivor villains she was very thin gruel (and if they had the footage we would have seen it!).  She did protect her daughter (who I also didn’t ever see proof that she was that bad) but I didn’t think much more than any other person protected their loved one in the game.

She may have been a real jerk but this was not proven in the footage I saw, even the extended footage outside of the show.  There was really only one spat Missy had with Reed where he called Baylor a brat and there was a brief exchange. But again in the world of Survivor it was nothing. I could probably think of about 100 players who have been more obnoxious and villainous in their seasons.

The reason I bring all this up is in the finale Reed, a Broadway actor, got up in his jury speech and obliterated Missy as not only a bad mother but ‘a wicked stepmother’.  Here’s the speech:

So he defines the wicked stepmother as ‘the eccentric woman who comes in and makes demands on everyone for the things to which she feels so entitled”.  Again, that may have been Missy but it was not shown in the edit of the show and I believe if it entitled behavior was there it would have been shown.

Missy was the one who made the rice and they had to barter to get more (a Survivor first) but Reed was a beneficiary of more rice so you think he would be grateful for that?  So she didn’t like her daughter being called a brat on national tv?  That makes her a wicked stepmother.  Again, in the world of Survivor villains she was so not wicked.  For instance, Kass from Cagayan was way more critical, entitled, condescending and judgmental.

It really bothered me to see a woman criticized for playing the exact same game that many men have played, especially after she refused to give up after an ankle injury.  You think the show would have treated her as a hero (they don’t have control over jury speeches but still the tone the last 3 episodes was very Missy critical and yet I never was convinced she was doing anything that bad).

The reason why I mention all of this (because I know most of you don’t watch the show) is because I think it is emblematic of our societies strange view of maternal instinct, motherhood, femininity and womanhood.

survivor-caramoan-dawn-meehanThis is not the first time a Survivor Mom has been raked over the coals.  The worst time was Dawn Mehan in Survivor Carmoan who was forced to take out her dental implants and apologize to a fellow contestant (something men who have backstabbed people have never been asked to do).  People were very tough on Dawn because they felt she had betrayed them.  She was the Mother on the island and then had used that relationship to manipulate her own spot in the game.

Again if a Father figure had done the same thing like a Bob Crowley or Tom Westman it would be seen as great game play but not for a mother. We just expect mothers and ‘mother figures’ to behave in a particular way, which is decidedly unfair as all women are not the same and not all maternal instinct manifests itself in the same way.

Dawn was also very emotional which did not help her game but I kind of get that too.I would probably also be very emotional if I was hungry, tired and away from loved ones. I think her emotional state only made people hate her more.  Missy showed that even if Dawn had not been a cry baby she would still have been looked at as a bad mother for simply playing the game as the ‘mother figure’. Dawn received incredible backlash after the season including death threats and the most vile of insults forcing her to take down her social media all together. Other people have played the game poorly and not received such backlash but other people were not a mother of 6 children. It’s just a different playing field.

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Over at Entertainment Weekly Melissa Maerz has a great article called ‘Survivor’: Why that ‘wicked stepmother’ speech enraged me’. 

She says:

” I have no beef with mothers defining themselves as mothers. I’m a mother, too, and proud of it. It’s the question of who is branding women that way, and why, that makes me uneasy”

And then she says

“the term is “rife with contradictions”: “On TV and in movies and in modern fiction, mothers are frequently portrayed as protective yet focused on the trivial, wise yet neurotic, sexy yet sexless, monumentally important but deeply silly,” she writes. Worse yet, we villainize mothers for failing to live up to the standards set by the latter-day Donna Reeds we see on screen, even though those contradictions make those standards impossible.

Mothers can be anything, we’re told, as long as they’re both that thing and its opposite, and as long they’re not any one thing too much

Going back to the broader sociological discussion (again why I like Survivor) do we put Mothers and motherhood on too high a pedestal?  Do we expect women to be perfect and to never be self-serving or make mistakes? I kind of think we might. Most of us would have a much harder time forgiving an insult from a mother than a father.  Why? I guess because our fathers typically don’t raise us and teach us what is right and wrong (even in extreme patriarchal societies Mothers do most of the teaching and caring of children).

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Perhaps because Mothers are our consolation and sanctuary from the world they are put on the pedestal, almost more a saintly role intervening in our behalf against the evils that surround us than a real person?  I guess in some ways that is a good thing but it seems part of growing up is seeing your parents as flawed creatures who did their best but made mistakes too.  I think that’s why Reed’s speech felt so off-putting and immature to some of us. She was doing the best she could under tough circumstances but clearly she was not the motherly figure he expected her to be.

It was interesting in exit interviews yesterday Baylor said she felt her Mom was bullied. She said normally she was the one going to her Mom for comfort from the meanness of the world but this time it was her Mother receiving it and her doing the comforting.  In that respect perhaps it was a healthy experience for her. Again helping her see her Mom as a real person and not just her role as a mother.

I guess I get annoyed when anyone tries to put me in a mold and I feel that is what happened here.  Missy did not fit the mold of what Reed and others see as a ‘mother’ so that made her wicked despite showing little to no actual villainous behavior.

If I have children or participate in child rearing activities I do not want to be pressured to behave in some socially acceptable way.  I want to be me and the best mother I can be for me. Luckily I do not have people voting on my mothering like Missy did but it makes me sad we are so closeminded in 2014 in what behaviors are befitting a woman and womanhood.

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Wasn’t the whole point of feminism to allow women to be themselves, to be whatever they wanted to be? Why does that not include a wide spectrum of mothering styles and personalities? Why must we have one way and if you are different you are wicked and wrong? I guess that’s what bothered me the most about Reed’s speech it said to me ‘there is only one way for a mother to behave and you did not act as you should’.

Melissa Maerz ends her article with a challenge to Survivor and to all of us to throw off the Motherly stereotypes and see people for who they are not an idealized vision of who the perfect mother should be:

“Maybe it’s not Survivor‘s fault that Reed has such a twisted view of motherhood. Even so, it’s time for the show to stop devoting so much airtime—including a big chunk of the reunion—to rehashing unfair stereotypes. And it’s time for Survivor‘s host, Jeff Probst, to stop defending them…

Just because she has a daughter doesn’t mean that Missy has to be a great role model in the game—though, in my mind, she is one.”

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I couldn’t agree more. In a boring season she was a fighter and certainly deserved better than to be attacked and lambasted as a villain for her best efforts to win a game.  It just shows how much more work we have to do to break down gender stereotypes and accept people as people not classifications. It will never go away completely but we can do better.  We must do better.

(At least it is good to see many in the cast come to Missy’s defense.  Reed was trying to perform to the TV audience and was probably purposefully dramatic and over-the-top but it certainly didn’t win him any points in my book but I am not a reality tv producer looking for drama…)

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All the Single Ladies

I am not a wedding girl but this has been my favorite wedding cake for years, since high school

The November issue of the Atlantic Monthly is all about marriage and in their words- marriage scarcity. There are lengthy articles full of both statistical and anecdotal evidence but I will try to summarize the ideas as best as I can (I apologize in advance if this is a bit muddled.  My thoughts were all over the place).  The main point is that the numbers of marriages and likelihood of finding a marriage partner is getting increasingly difficult.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/11/the-new-scarcity/8669/

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/11/all-the-single-ladies/8654/#.TuocqmHfAp0.facebook

Here’s some stats: (excuse the long quotes but the articles say it so well)

“Half the adult population is single, compared with 33 percent in 1950; and 40 percent of children are born to single mothers. Partly, this may be a result of women’s no longer feeling compelled to marry a Mr. Collins. But it also appears to signal that the rise of women is being matched by a decline, not just of male dominance, but of men.

Their plight is serious; men have seen their median wages for full-time work fall over the past 40 years. Among other consequences of such deterioration is what Bolick calls a “new scarcity” that narrows women’s choices for marriageable men just as their other choices in life broaden. It seems, somehow, cosmically unfair that when the strong-minded women of Jane Austen are at last set free, they are being liberated into our Shteyngartian (a bleak  modern writer) society.”

More:

“Foremost among the reasons for all these changes in family structure are the gains of the women’s movement. Over the past half century, women have steadily gained on—and are in some ways surpassing—men in education and employment. From 1970 (seven years after the Equal Pay Act was passed) to 2007, women’s earnings grew by 44 percent, compared with 6 percent for men.

In 2008, women still earned just 77 cents to the male dollar—but that figure doesn’t account for the difference in hours worked, or the fact that women tend to choose lower-paying fields like nursing or education. A 2010 study of single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 found that the women actually earned 8 percent more than the men. Women are also more likely than men to go to college: in 2010, 55 percent of all college graduates ages 25 to 29 were female.”

Does that mean the women’s movement was bad and we should go back to the age of ignorant, submissive women?  Of course not but there is a reality that marriage is getting more and more difficult each day,  Even in the highly matrimonial culture in Utah and amongst the LDS church I am amazed at how many young men there are who have little to no interest in marriage.  It is hard for me to think of a man who is as motivated to find a partner as the women I know.  This quote describes it well:

“What my mother could envision was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.

But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.”

I was speaking with a friend on this topic and he pointed out that he has been hesitant to pursue a marriage partner because a feeling of financial inadequacy.   Particularly in a conservative culture like the one I live in there is still the idea that a good husband should be able to provide for a family/wife.

While perhaps this is the ideal I think it is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  Most families can not afford to be single income anymore and with all their education women are increasingly hesitant to give up their careers for family.  (With some careers the debt incurred to accomplish the career literally limiting women from completely giving them up).

I wonder how many men feel like my friend and worry about providing for a family?  Its interesting to me because its not really what I look for in a potential spouse.  I want someone who will be my partner, so we can overcome challenges together.  I want someone that is my intellectual, not necessarily my financial, equal.  I want someone that I can I have a decent conversation with and who likes being with me. Is that too much to ask?

I certainly don’t expect to be taken care of by anyone (not my style!).   I wonder if this is part of the reason for the marriage scarcity- men see it as a burden, women as a blessing? (that is a simplistic generalization I know but I’m speaking of over-all trends not individuals). I know that children make providing for a marriage more complicated but why not conquer that challenge together? The man shouldn’t feel like it is solely up to them.  Even the stay at home Mom’s that I know are essential to keeping costs down in their marriage so they can live off whatever their husband can provide- its a group effort.

With the women’s movement the entire idea of gender has been confused.  Who’s to say what is male anymore or female?  Again, in general I think this is a good thing but it can have negative side effects. In the old world a woman knew where to look for a likely mate and typically those men would be looking for them.  Now the conventions and dating rules are completely smudged together.  This leads to a feeling of ‘winging it’ and hoping to be hit on the head by an epiphany of love.

“Men were our classmates and colleagues, our bosses and professors, as well as, in time, our students and employees and subordinates—an entire universe of prospective friends, boyfriends, friends with benefits, and even ex-boyfriends-turned-friends. In this brave new world, boundaries were fluid, and roles constantly changing.”

“We are in a period of sorting out, in which old customs and conventions are being stripped away, and new ones have yet to be firmly established.”

Sometimes this sorting out can be confusing.  I think that’s why so many people are attracted to online dating- it seems simple.  They even have ‘compatibility’ systems that supposedly take ‘the guest work out of dating’ (yes, I’ve seen one to many eharmony ads!).  I have tried online dating 4 times to no avail.  It just doesn’t have the human connection I need to pursue men (or be pursued evidently).  This leaves me with the hope of meeting someone randomly (through church or social activities) or being set up by mutual friends (I’ve only been set up 2 or 3 times by friends on actual live dates)…

As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog I am happy being independent and single.  While I’d like to get married I will not be devastated if I don’t.  I think even in Mormon Utah this type of attitude is becoming more common.  After all, marriage is not something you can make happen. If I want a masters degree, I can get one.  If I want to serve a mission, I can.  If I want to own my own business, I can.  If I want to get married…Not so much.  It just doesn’t’ work that way and like the articles say it is the ‘new scarcity’ in America.

Most singles are reminded of their marital status (especially in a singles ward in Utah) far too frequently.  It leaves me feeling impotent and oddly unworthy- like I am 18 forever and can never progress in some viewpoints without marriage.  A couple of years ago at a family Egg hunt I was put with the children hunting eggs.  None of my married cousins were grouped this way.  It is subtle slights like this which can be very frustrating. To be at the time approaching 30 and still be viewed as a child is very annoying.

Sometimes I admit I can be a bit hesitant to approach this topic because I feel defensive about my life choices- that somehow being single makes me less of a person in some people’s eyes.  Indeed, almost all depictions of single women in the media are either as desperate to marry, needy women (every Kathryn Hiegel movie) or cold ice queen corporate executives (Sandra Bullock, the Proposal, Meryl Streep, Devil Wears Prada).

I am not an ice queen and definitely not needy.  My single friends out there, how do you deal with the stereotypes of not being married? Do you feel looked down upon or marginalized?

I think all singles can relate to being condescended to or belittled because of our marital status- something we have little to no control over.  Again, show me the line to get in for marriage and I’ll be right there. Its just not that easy.

Even worse than the condescension is the pity.  Especially people from my grandmother’s generation often look at a single woman and feel sorry for ‘all she’s missed out on in life’…Urgh!  Its not my fault! I’ve never met anyone I want to marry. Nobody even close!

These articles were actually quite comforting to me to see that its our entire society that has moved away from marriage, not just the men I meet!

How can singles support marriage and remain hopeful of being married without becoming discouraged or jealous?  How do you feel like an equal contributor to society when you don’t have progeny to mold?  I have yet to find such a balance.

I wonder how many other women are like me, content to live a productive life by ourselves until we meet the right one?  We certainly don’t feel the kind of financial or social pressure to marry that at one time existed for women.  In general this is a good thing but it can’t be all positive? Women don’t feel like they need men like they used to.  Good or bad?

In truth, a part of me wishes marriage didn’t exist because then there wouldn’t be this big hole in my life (in the eyes of other people).  I kind of live my life as if it didn’t exist that way I don’t feel lacking or sorry for myself or  like I’m missing out on this huge part of the human experience.  I live a happy life and only occasionally wonder where Mr.  Sunshine might be…?

That said,  I would like a partner to face challenges with.  To me it is depressing to think that such opportunities become smaller each year I get older but what can you do?  (they say you have a better chance of getting killed in a terrorist attack than getting married above 40…).

“But while the rise of women has been good for everyone, the decline of males has obviously been bad news for men—and bad news for marriage. For all the changes the institution has undergone, American women as a whole have never been confronted with such a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be “marriageable” men—those who are better educated and earn more than they do. So women are now contending with what we might call the new scarcity.

Even as women have seen their range of options broaden in recent years—for instance, expanding the kind of men it’s culturally acceptable to be with, and making it okay not to marry at all—the new scarcity disrupts what economists call the “marriage market” in a way that in fact narrows the available choices, making a good man harder to find than ever. At the rate things are going, the next generation’s pool of good men will be significantly smaller.”

How do you think this marriage trend affects our society? Why do you think there is this divide between motivated (marriage and otherwise) women and men?  How has the changing definitions of manhood and womanhood affected our society and marriages?  What of these changes are good and bad?  What, if anything, can we do to encourage marriage?  Please read the articles. I think you will find them as fascinating as I did. I don’t know if I’ve done them full justice (they are quite lengthy) but at least this can be an introduction of sorts.