Who Made the Cut For This GeekMom T-Shirt and Why

Image: GeekMom
Image: GeekMom

Mom. Mom is a loaded word. Just as recipes for things like tomato sauce vary from family to family, so does the definition of mother. Every family, for example, prides itself in its recipe being The Right One. In the same way, every family believes its definition of “mom” is The Right One. Why? Because the ingredients in the recipe create a sense of family taste profile, in the same way, the definition of mom, based on the nuances of the family dynamics, make up family relationships.

Thus, a “mom” is more like an emotional comfort food than a person.

When GeekMom put out the merch design call, I figured that I had nothing to offer. I mean, I teach writing, not design. Then I started thinking about all the moms I love in fandom. I realized that a GeekMom Ampersand shirt and print would have precisely the kind of inside geeky reference I love, but I couldn’t discriminate against fandoms.

My first pass had only the fandoms that I knew geeks loved best online (Marvel, DC, LotR, Harry Potter). These caused a bit of a stir, not only for the choices of fandom but the choices within the fandom. The more I delved into the lack of mothers in various geek fandoms, the more I learned that we have a wide array of mothers represented in our fandoms.

This is not to say that every woman who has birthed a child is a mom. Looking at the word “mom” through the eyes of emotional contact means that a real mom doesn’t need to be someone to whom you are related by blood.

Attempting to collect a representative group of moms meant thinking really hard. Fandom tends to rely on the “Orphan Narrative.” Strength through seeking family and all that jazz. This means that many of the moms in our fandoms have varying experiences, much like moms in the real world.  They may be small in number, but they are mighty through their differences.

The debates over which names should represent the fandoms were numerous and highly contested. Some names were easy. Beverly Crusher from ST: TNG is easily the most identifiable maternal character of the Star Trek fandom.

Despite Lily Potter being the titular mother in the Harry Potter series, Molly Weasley was by far the most maternal of the characters. Fine, there were some great moms in there for sure, and we can’t forget Neville’s grandmother. She hand-knitted Harry a sweater. As any knitter knows, knitting a sweater is a depth of love unsurpassed by most other things. But few lines from the Harry Potter series resonate so deeply as Molly screaming at Bellatrix during the final battle.

As the list was further debated, Joyce Summers and Dana Scully rose to the top. Scully, an excellent example of the modern working mother, investigated X-Files while pregnant and after having the baby.

Image courtesy fluzo
Image courtesy fluzo

You can scarcely argue that Joyce, the single mother who helped her Chosen One daughter fight demons and nurtured The Key through its teen years, is not a Fandom Mom.

These mothers represent the different forms through which motherhood has evolved in fiction. Molly, the traditional married mum with a large family. Beverly Crusher, the single mom working in a male-dominated world. Dana Scully, the evolution of that single mom incorporating her partner as part of the narrative yet not married and, of course, aliens. Joyce, the single mother who struggles to pay the bills yet who manages to still give her daughter a sense of traditional suburban home life. Each of these mothers represents not only a different fandom but a different story in the evolving narrative of motherhood.

Some moms are a bit more difficult. When looking to some of the traditional comic books, finding living moms is more difficult. Although there are a lot of amazing women characters in the traditional comics, there is a dearth of birth moms.

Many of the Golden Age comics create heroes from orphans. Superman, Peter Parker, and Bruce Wayne spring to mind. Many others have no easily identifiable maternal figure. Interestingly, when trying to create the list of moms, the only ones I could come up with easily were Barbara Gordon Sr (Batgirl’s mom) and Susan Richards. Some debate ensued regarding them as being recognizable. Expanding our definition from “birth mom” to “mom” meant that we included the adoptive maternal figures who prominently influence some of our favorite characters.

The thing is that parents aren’t always the ones who donated the DNA.

Any donor can biologically produce a child. A parent is the person who loves, cares for, nurtures, and spends time with a child. Loving a child makes a woman a mom. Nurturing another person’s mental and emotional growth is what makes a parent.

In the end, we felt that Ma Kent and Aunt May best represented iconic comics parenting. Ma Kent was willing to take in a baby left in a rocket that she found alone. Her story is one with which many women can identify. The woman, who is struggling to conceive and wants to parent so much, gives all her love to the baby who needs her. Ma Kent raises her son to be noble and righteous, to use his strength and power for good. Her mothering made him the hero when his powers, if left unchecked, could have just as easily been used for evil.

Aunt May, as Peter Parker’s female guardian, fulfilled that same role. Again, a child is left alone in the world. Again, a woman chooses to nurture the young man brought into her life permanently. She chooses to teach him an ethical, caring way of life. She chooses to be a mother by heart and an aunt by blood.

These two women epitomize the spirit of motherhood in popular fiction. They are not donors of the X chromosome. They are the mothers of the heart and of the soul. They are the definition of the spirit of motherhood through their physical and emotional presence in their children’s lives.

However, the category of mother that caused the most consternation and internal debate was the prominently absent mother. Sarah Connor, the fugitive absent from her child’s life in order to protect him in Terminator 2, was added with no debate. She was the most accepted of the mothers in this category. Connor represents the selflessness that many of us identify with motherhood. What mother among us would not be driven to insanity out of the fear for her child’s life and safety? What mother would not rather see her child in the physical and emotional safety of a good foster home rather than live in constant danger with her?

Connor’s struggle between teaching her son independence and protecting him at all costs, all without making him paranoid, in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television show also added weight to her entry.

Star WarsPadme Amidala presented a conundrum in terms of absence as important. For some, her death meant that she was not the twins’ mother because she did not parent. Her death, caused by a broken heart after the end of an abusive relationship, could be viewed as selfish. Despite this, she remains the most iconic mother.

Yes, Aunt Beru is Luke’s mother figure. Yes, Queen Breha raised Leia. However, in this case, the specific absence of Padme and her as the absent mother shaped her children’s lives. Had Padme lived, their youths would have been darker, and this could have kept them from achieving heroism. Had Padme not been strong enough to leave Anakin in the end, breaking her own heart, her children would have grown up under the specter of living in fear as the children of a Sith lord, if they even lived. She did not die nobly for the sake of her children. Despite this, Padme, as the iconic Star Wars mother (at the time of writing at least), molded her children’s lives as much through her absence as she would have through her presence.

Finally, the Amy Pond/Sarah Jane Smith Whovian debate caused much ruckus. Although Sarah Jane appears in a more maternal role, Amy Pond ended up securing more attention in the GeekMom debates.

Image courtesy Feel Inspired on Deviant Art
Image courtesy Feel Inspired on Deviant Art

First, Amy’s role as the mother of River Song epitomizes the way that mothers are often more identified by their children than by themselves. At least two people stated, “But she’s River’s mom, and I love River!”

Amy’s parental absence from River’s formative years appeared to be the reason that her motherhood was questioned. However, despite not nurturing River to adulthood, their adult relationship in the later episodes does give a good model for adult mother/daughter relationships. In one memorable scene, River and Amy sitting by an outdoor fire pit sharing conversation over a glass of wine. Amy’s final scene with her daughter also stands out as a tender moment.

Motherhood does not begin with conception and end when your child becomes an independent adult, as many mothers will tell you. Amy’s relationship with River includes none of the traditional child rearing and teen angst that often epitomizes media representations of motherhood. Their relationship is not clouded by the years of interpersonal history often the center of the parent-child fictional relationship. Their relationship is not without tension, but it does not focus on the past. It lives in the present, the present where Amy and River are equals.

Mother-child relationships may be plagued by their hierarchical history; however, most mothers (or most children who grow into mothers), savor those moments wherein they can move past their history, embrace their present, and enjoy their newly evolved relationship. Amy Pond’s moments of motherhood represent the matured mother-child relationship as well and are iconic within the Whovian universe.

Ultimately, low numbers of mothers do not mean a lack of good representation of mothers. Seeking a list of fandom mothers ended up educating me on the different ways that geekdom represents motherhood.

Perhaps, in this sense, we mothers are luckier than our male counterparts. Male role models have a tendency to be one-dimensional, bound by the cage of traditional masculinity.

We, women, have a wider array of representation in terms of mother figures. The variation of geekdom’s moms represents us GeekMoms. Just as we are traditional moms, there are traditional moms. Just as we are single moms, there are single moms. Just as we are moms of the body, there are moms of the body. Just as we are moms of the soul, there are moms of the soul. Just as we are present moms or absent moms, there are present or absent moms. We are moms. We are multidimensional.

We are geeks. We are GeekMoms.

Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. She also works as a contract internal regulatory compliance auditor for banks. In addition, she writes comics and artist reviews at www.cosplayconnectuniversity.com.She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT.