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Rewriting Motherhood: How TV Represents Moms and What We Want To See Next

Geena Davis Institute, Moms First

Although many factors contribute to the persistent belief that moms who work should also be their families’ primary caregivers, in this report we are interested in the degree to which fictionalized portrayals of mothers in media reinforce or disrupt this reality. Given the influence of popular media on social norms and expectations, in this study we investigate the “cultural meaning of motherhood,” as told in scripted television. The study explores whether those portrayals reflect the diverse experiences of mothers in the U.S. and if those representations speak to structural changes that would benefit moms and increase gender equality.

Our analysis of scripted television programs from 2022 that feature mothers in the title cast finds authentic portrayals of motherhood intermingle with portrayals that reproduce unrealistic expectations for moms, likely contributing to the guilt and shame they experience, while setting fathers up for failure too. The following key findings represent opportunities for more realistic portrayals of mothers on television.

Given these findings, we present the following recommendations to TV executives, producers, and writers, as well as to all of the moms who aren’t seeing themselves on screen. Moms First (experts on the support moms need to thrive) and the Geena Davis Institute (experts on the entertainment industry) are eager to support entertainment industry leaders in their efforts to more accurately portray motherhood on television.

Television executives and producers

Television writers

Moms outside of the industry

[1] We use the word “fat” as a value-neutral descriptor that is not rooted in medical practices (such as “obese” or “overweight”), nor is it suggestive of being outside of some sort of “norm” or “average” (such as “plus size” or “bigger”). Destigmatizing the word “fat” helps to combat anti-fat bias.

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