This article was originally published on Enough Wicker's Medium page.
Ah, yes, child-rearing.
Since the beginning of time (no, really) society has painted the picture of women as inherent nurtures. We are expected to not only seamlessly adjust to life as a mother, but to revel in it. To smile and smile as the baby cries and cries.
That doesn’t really happen for Blanche Devereaux, and that alone makes her character worthy of discussion.
In mid-20th Century wealthy Atlanta circles, the idea that a woman who grew up in a place called “Twin Oaks” would choose to be childless was preposterous. She would attend finishing school (at Miss MacGyver's, if you want to get specific), she would marry well, and then it was onto motherhood -- it’s all part of the plan.
The problem lies in the fact that Blanche never feels like herself as a mother. It’s like putting on a garment that doesn’t fit, and then having to wear it for decades.
As scholar Kate Browne says in her TV Milestones Series book, The Golden Girls, Blanche is uneasy with motherhood because of “the expectation that mothers must sacrifice their individual wants, needs, and desires for the sake of their children.” That is not our Blanche. So she finds herself, at the point in her life that The Golden Girls takes place, living more authentically than she did as a young mother.
This idea that a woman would be more comfortable living as a single thirty-nine-year-old fifty-something than a mother is in direct conflict with societal expectations. It’s kind of a microcosm of the larger commentary of the show, which pushes back on the concept that women, particularly older women, are one-dimensional. Blanche’s sense of self, especially her sexuality, is paramount to the way she presents herself to the world. The image we have of mothers, that they are all-sacrificing beings ready to embrace a life of servitude and emotional labor, couldn’t be further from who Blanche is -- or who she wants to be.
At every step, The Golden Girls challenges audiences’ ideas about womanhood, motherhood, age, and so many other aspects of identity. Blanche’s aforementioned sexuality is often a topic of conversation, but unlike slipping into the role of mother, Blanche is quite comfortable as “the slut.”
As Browne says, “Blanche revels in her slut identity, and the comedy derived from it reflects what Mary Russo calls the ‘female grotesque’. Blanche represents the grotesque by speaking loudly, frequently, and with great demonstrative flourish about her sex life. She dresses provocatively, takes great pride in her appearance, and goes to great lengths to conceal her true age. She is unashamed by her desire and often laughs after she has been made the punchline of a slut joke.”
Despite whatever reservations she had about having children and despite having resumed this more comfortable identity as a tramp, the fact remains that Blanche IS a mother, so some of the most compelling and uncomfortable content on this show comes in the form of her interactions with her now-grown kids.
Rebecca, who appears in Seasons 3, 5, and 6 over a stretched out four-episode arc, draws forth all of the negatives we’ve covered so far -- think of Blanche referring to her granddaughter Aurora as “Oreo” -- but we also get to see that Blanche is a proud, loving mom. She’s just doing motherhood her own way.
This is especially tangible in the Season 6 opener, Blanche Delivers, where Rebecca comes to Miami to give birth. Browne talks about how the moment of Blanche being proud of Rebecca as she gives birth “reveals that Blanche has a difficult time connecting to her emotions surrounding motherhood because of her preoccupation with the judgements of others. This insecurity is mirrored in her attitudes about aging and concerns about how she will be perceived by the men in her life, as she often sabotages relationships with female family and friends to attract or impress a partner.”
When Blanche becomes a mother, she doesn’t stop being Blanche. The same is true of all women; we carry our values, insecurities, and everything else with us every day as we navigate the world.
Motherhood is beautiful, it’s complicated, and there’s no one way to do it right. Blanche is doing just fine.
This is part two of a four-part series on Kate Browne’s TV Milestones book, The Golden Girls, leading up to a Very Special Episode of the Enough Wicker podcast, featuring Kate Browne herself, on 2/6!
Read Dorothy's chapter, and stay tuned for Rose Nylund’s chapter tomorrow.