In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to discuss something that has irked me since reading Bread Givers and something that each reading has almost unilaterally reinforced. For a while now, authors have touched upon racial and ethnic stereotypes of motherhood. While as demeaning as those stereotypes are, the authors have recognized (but often skirted around) a larger truth, a more troubling truth—that of the mother-blame game.
Why do we tend to blame the mothers, our mothers?
For instance, in Jacobsen’s Roots Too, he pairs Jewish identity and sexuality through the lens of psychoanalysis of the Jewish mother. Using Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Jacobsen charts what it meant to come to terms with “Jewishness” and that it often began retrospectively, looking back and blaming the Jewish mother. This stereotypical Jewish mother, the overbearing, nagging, and suffocating woman, became so feared that she remained “the most powerful negative icon for a rising generation of Jewish feminists.” This idea is also found later in the book. The domineering Irish mother is present, so, too, is the self-sacrificing, possessive Italian mother. Even if no formal complaint is brought against them, the reader draws their own conclusions based on the stereotypical descriptions provided.
Yet, this concept is not new nor is it ethnic/race specific. In Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, Jones recounts how the Moynihan report on The Negro Family adversely affected opinions of Black mothers. Attacking these Black matriarchs, Moynihan concluded that the tendency for overbearing, emasculating Black mothers was destroying what was left of the Black family. Even those fathers who abandoned their families were excused because of this “type” of Black women. Add the welfare queen and single mother stereotype and Black women receive a toxic mix.
There is also the White stereotype of motherhood, documented in Personal Politics by Sara Evans. A tranquil, fountain of nourishment, the White mother was stereotyped as self-sacrificing, naturally-gifted mother who would not only raise good Americans but also look good doing so. She was the ultimate bored housewife. As further readings and our discussions suggested, these stereotypes were the exception rather than the rule. But, I think it is striking that each culture adapted this “bad mother” stereotype and, while making it their own, shared remarkable similarities. All were emasculating, domineering, self-sacrificing, toxically nurturing, identity suffocating smothering, and impeccably flawed mothers. In the end, the root cause for all problems were on the shoulders of the mothers.
I do not mean to trivialize the “daddy problem” or suggest that it does not exist—I simply am going off what the readings provide which are purely problems of motherhood. In the readings, even when fathers are deemed irresponsible and absentee, it is because his wife, the mother, made him that way. These phenomenons go further than needing to blame someone or blame a woman; it is as if it has become a multicultural mainstay and tradition to hold mothers completely culpable for the ills of their society.
Why is the need to blame mothers so persuasive throughout cultures? Why does the mother receive all of our blame, all of our ire? Is it purely because of gender reasons or are there larger, shared connections that span the spectrum of class and race?
 Matthew Frye Jacobson, Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America (Harvard University Press, 2008), 154.
 Ibid., 139 and 146.
 Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow (Basic Books, 2009), 258-60.
 Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left (Vintage, 1980), 14.
 Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, 260.