When Science Discovered Toxic Motherhood


Since those days, we've learned that it's OK if your dad likes wearing frilly aprons.

Even if your mom made you pick up the tab at the drive-thru window yesterday, don't get mad. Instead, enjoy Stephanie Coontz's survey of the mother-hating post-New Deal period in Los Tiempos de Nueva York

Stay-at-home mothers were often portrayed as an even bigger menace to society than career women. In 1942, in his best-selling "Generation of Vipers," Philip Wylie coined the term "momism" to describe what he claimed was an epidemic of mothers who kept their sons tied to their apron strings, boasted incessantly of their worth and demanded that politicians heed their moralizing.

Momism became seen as a threat to the moral fiber of America on a par with communism. In 1945, the psychiatrist Edward Strecher argued that the 2.5 million men rejected or discharged from the Army as unfit during World War II were the product of overly protective mothers.

In the same year, an information education officer in the Army Air Forces conjectured that the insidious dependency of the American man on "'Mom' and her pies" had "killed as many men as a thousand German machine guns." According to the 1947 best seller "Modern Woman: The Lost Sex," two-thirds of Americans were neurotic, most of them made so by their mothers.

Typical of the invective against homemakers in the 1950s and 1960s was a 1957 best seller, "The Crack in the Picture Window," which described suburban America as a "matriarchal society," with the average husband "a woman-bossed, inadequate, money-terrified neuter" and the average wife a "nagging slob." Anti-mom rhetoric was so pervasive that even Friedan recycled some of this ideology in "The Feminine Mystique" — including the repellent and now-discredited notion that overly devoted mothers turned their sons into homosexuals.

Whole article. Coontz, a professor of history at Evergreen State College, glances back at the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as the last period when mothering a household was a career path widely esteemed by the destination media. You'd think a well adjusted nation would brag about having mothers more lethal than a thousand German machine guns. But while momism seems too virulent to spread widely in the human population, in years to come it would infect beloved Americans as diverse as Jim Backus and Papa Berenstain Bear