As I foresaw, Sarah Boxer’s ridiculous article in the July/August issue of Atlantic drew ample responses. In her article, Boxer does the full-Millions take on why so many mothers are missing from Disney movies. Naturally, her explanation in “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?” involved a vast evil male conspiracy, and in the new Atlantic some readers dare to take issue with her. Jim Jordan, for instance, from Charlotte, North Carolina, writes:
Despite the interesting observations in this article, there is no conspiracy, subconscious or otherwise, to negate mothers. The elimination of mothers in fantasy stories is a disguised compliment to motherhood.
The understood principle is that a good mother makes life so easy that nothing is impossible. If you have a mother’s ever-present guidance and wonderful encouragement, you can do anything. There is no challenge to build a story around if Mother stays, so Disney tells her to go.
Dads, on the other hand, are often viewed by children as aloof in real life. Kids secretly hope Dad would prove fun, caring, and plenty strong if circumstances forced him to get involved, so Disney makes their dreams come true. Using the simplest plot device (killing Mom), Disney brings forth a darling Daddy and allows a nearly impossible quest to take over the narrative.
In Sarah Boxer’s musings on the high mortality rate of cartoon mothers, she correctly identifies this interesting fact, but completely misunderstands why it is so. She describes cartoons as “reality-defying” for leaning on the device of a capable, caring father to advance the story, while offing the mothers. Does she really think cartoons are intended to be reality-affirming? What these motherless stories represent is the novelty of the capable and present Dad. By her own statistics, fathers are exclusively in charge of only 8 percent of U.S. households. In the real world of kids, the primary ruler is almost always Mom. So how can you have kids find the courage to face peril – the hallmark of cartoons – if Mom is there to make everything all right? She has to be done in! This is not “misogyny made cute.” This is coming-of-age Storytelling 101, and a recognition of the central role mothers play in real life.
And Sarah Boxer’s response?
The first two letters, both written by men, are lovely examples of what is now popularly known as mansplaining … both drip with condescension; both damn with faint praise (using interesting as an accolade); and both employ declarative sentences to tell me how it really is.
Things like this just make me sigh – and not in a good way. It neatly displays so many of the things I hate about modern-day pseudo-feminism, mainly that it has a congenital inability to pick worthwhile fights (as is immediately demonstrated by the fact that every pseudo-feminist who read that line saw – physically saw – only the word “genital”). While she’s complaining about the dripping condescension of the two letter-writers, she’s busy dripping plenty of her own, in this case in the form of a ready-made term to mock anything of any kind said by somebody with testicles: that stupid word “mansplaining.” She mocks her correspondents for using declarative sentences – as if, what? They’re supposed to write their letters in strings of anagrams? I seem to recall her own article was chock-full of declarative sentences – was she “mansplaining” to her readers? And her reaction if either of those men had called her article “lovely”? Yeesh.