Whether or not you are familiar with the trope, you have probably seen this character on TV: the so-called "bad mom" – a domineering matriarch with a sharp tongue and ruthless wit. Think Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development or Emily Gilmore of the Gilmore Girls.
Well now you have the chance to study these characters in a serious academic setting.
At Pennsylvania State University, Professor Tracy Rutler offers a course in the Women's Studies Department that examines the "bad mother" figure in literature, movies, television and pop culture at large.
Throughout the semester, students are supposed to watch shows and movies such as Modern Family, Gilmore Girls, Orphan Black, Arrested Development and others.
Rutler's course pairs these source materials with critical texts that draw from theories of sexuality, masculinity and gender relations. In an interview with Onward State, Rutler explained how she began to notice how in storytelling there is often "a missing mother or a bad mother that the child has to overcome."
Rutler's course demonstrates a growing trend in academia to look seriously at what was previously considered "low" cultural art forms. This branch of cultural studies has awakened a lot of casual viewers to new ways of reading and interpreting what they regularly consume in the media.
By narrowing the focus to issues of female representation, a class sounding as petty as "Bad Mothers" can empower a lot of young men and women to create media that avoids or questions these tropes.
Women's issues are also particular salient in the United States where the President once bragged about sexual assault and Vice President threatens reproductive rights. Rutler speaks on this issue in her interview:
"We’re living in a time in which women’s rights are being discussed everywhere — this is a very important time for women.
I think as women, so much of our lives are defined by whether or not we’re mothers, what we’re thinking about mothering, or how we’re raised to be mothers."