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From housewives to witches: How the image of mothers evolved on TV

Television has been a narrative machine that creates stereotypes in the representation of motherhood. And a good part of this phenomenon has to do with the home environment: for decades, TV was the transmitting device that accompanied millions of women in their socially imposed role of housewives. His images livened up his routine while, treacherous, they also reinforced his domestic status.

For this reason, in the middle of the 20th century, the image of the mother that prevailed in television fiction was the typical idealized vision of an almost saintly woman. She is a paragon of love and care, she is a fierce protector of her children, a loyal companion to her husband, infallible in cooking and cleaning. Today, luckily, we understand that such dedicated and immaculate mothers only exist in the pernicious desire to keep them subject to the four walls of their homes.

It is thus that, for some time now, the woman-mother has freed herself, become independent and strengthened; and many TV series (not all, of course) have managed to reflect these social changes in their plots, in a clear evolution of how they are represented on the screen (see the attached timeline).

gradual changes

Giancarlo Cappello, a professor at the University of Lima and for many years a television scriptwriter, agrees that the type of representation mentioned above is typical of TV, although he affirms that said stereotypes are not exclusive to them. He indicates that from the cinema and photo novels, that image has been reinforced by cultural issues of each era, beyond the platforms.

What the platform can define for you is the modulation that is given to this stereotype Cappello qualifies. For example, you found the ‘femme fatale’ in the movies, but hardly on television, because it is more conservative. She is more concerned with having to tune in to the line and image of the sponsors. For this reason, the appearance of more liberated women had to wait a little longer.”.

In this line, Cappello highlights how it is that from the 80s or 90s the situation begins to show some changes. “The figure of the mother regains some prominence to the extent that she begins to be presented as something else, besides being a housewife. Angela Bower from ‘Who’s bossing whom?’ He is the one who takes the reins of the house. And the wife of ‘The Cosby Show’ was a mom but she also worked“, Explain.

mothers of today

As the decades have passed, the image of motherhood in television series has diversified, coinciding with a greater offer of cable, after streaming platforms and, of course, as a reflection of a society in which women fight with more zeal for their rights and freedoms.

More or less recent cases: Dr. Jean F. Milburn (Gillian Anderson) from “Sex Education”, more than open to discussing sexual issues with her son; On the science fiction level, the superheroine Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) in “WandaVision”, which questions the relationship between motherhood and mental health; Georgia Miller (Brianne Howey), a mother less mature than her teenage daughter in “Ginny and Georgia”; or much more intense and questioning stories about the abuse and tyrannies of motherhood, as in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” There is something for everyone.

The series "WandaVision" uses stereotypes from decades ago to tell a story of motherhood and mental health.  (Photo: Marvel Studios)

It’s all part of an offer Cappello says about it. Just as there are stories in which stereotypes are discussed and fought, there are also others that continue to use them to narrate. And that has to do with a question of public, because there is still a very conservative public. And the more commercial the space is, open signal or generalist, the figure is always more conservative and stereotyped.”.

Cappello makes the caveat, moreover, that the discussion goes mainly through American productions, but that Latin America (with its novels, for example) is absolutely conservative. “A Latin American mother is not the same as a French mother, let’s say. So we must also judge this issue depending on where we are standing.”, he points out. And that’s another story, of course.

Moms through the years


“Bewitched” (1964-1972)

Beyond her unusual status as a witch, the Samantha played by Elizabeth Montgomery fulfilled the role of a prototypical mother.

Samantha Stephens (Photo: Broadcast)


“The Ingalls Family”


In keeping with the mood of the series, Caroline is a noble-hearted woman, a helpful wife and mother of three children. She was played by Karen Grassle.

Karen Trust Grassle is a 79-year-old American actress known primarily for playing Caroline Ingalls in "Little House on the Prairie."  (Photo: NBC)


“Who’s bossing who?” (1984-1992)

Judith Light plays a successful businesswoman who hires a housekeeper (Tony Danza). And her family structure takes a big turn.

Judith Light with Tony Danza in a still from "Who


“The Simpsons” (1989-today)

In a family full of irreverent characters, it is the mother Marge who must be in charge of putting the share of good sense. And throughout the entire series she succeeds.

Marge Simpson (Photo: Broadcast)

peggy bundy

“Married couple with children” (1987-1997)

She doesn’t like cooking, washing or anything that exhausts her. In her own way, Katey Sagal’s Peggy is a rebel against housework.

The dysfunctional Bundy family consisting of (from left to right) Kelly (Christina Applegate), Peggy (Katey Sagal), Al (Ed O'Neill) and Bud (David Faustino).  The dog Lucky replaced Buck in 1996. (Photo: Fox)


“Gilmore Girls” (2000-2007)

Lauren Graham’s character became a mother at 16 and until very adult she is still less sensible than her daughter Rory. Still, he goes ahead for her.

  Lauren Graham is Lorelai and Alexis Bledel is Rory in 'Gilmore Girls' (Photo: Netflix)


“Modern Family” (2009-2020)

Latina, bold, divorced and remarried. Sofía Vergara’s character breaks with various stereotypes of TV moms.

Sofia Vergara with Ed O'Neill in

Source: Elcomercio

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