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A Feminist Ranking of 10 Moms from Movies, TV, and Literature

Top 10 Moms

Often in the media, as in real life, moms are sidelined as supporting characters. But with such a diversity of different types of motherhood to learn from, these long-neglected characters deserve a little more attention. So let’s give moms some of that leading character spotlight.

In this post, I’ll be bringing you the latest in Bang2Write’s feminist ranking series. I’ll run you through 10 iconic moms from movies, TV, and literature, and pointing out how their easily taken-for-granted acts of nurturing, leadership, and support are in fact hugely significant.

10) June George, Mean Girls

Never have so few onscreen minutes made such an impression on pop culture. And while Regina George’s mom has her flaws, this “cool mom” — played by the scene-stealing Amy Poehler — actually does exhibit some pretty cool behavior. Firstly, she always offers guests snacks. Secondly, she unconditionally supports Regina in expressing herself. Thirdly, she encourages her daughter to practice safe sex. And considering the dire state of the sex ed in North Shore High School, that’s a pretty big win.

9) Mrs Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Sure, she annoys her daughters sometimes. Sure, she can be kind of dramatic. And sure, attempting to marry off each of her daughters to the nearest rich man, whether the daughter (or the man) likes it or not, isn’t at first glance a “feminist” act. But can we blame Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet for being eager to secure a comfortable life and a good marriage for her daughters? She’s living through a time when a woman’s advancement relied entirely on marrying up. Besides, supporting five kids can get expensive — plus her husband has to be literature’s least helpful or energetic man.

8) Lorelai Gilmore, Gilmore Girls

While she often behaves more like a best friend than a mother, Lorelai Gilmore isn’t just a Mrs George “cool mom”. Beyond their incredibly fast-paced, witty dialogue and shared love of junk food, this mother-daughter duo have, at their core, a deep understanding of one another. Lorelai is willing to make sacrifices to help her daughter pursue her dreams, even making contact with her estranged parents to help fund Rory’s education. With an “us against the world” attitude, Rory and Lorelai’s little family unit is pretty much unshakeable.

7) Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy

Brilliant surgeon and devoted mother Miranda Bailey struggles at times to balance her personal life with her professional one, but is always ultimately better at both than she gives herself credit for. Her anxieties about being a parent and her fierce protectiveness over her children is a relatable combination, and it’s refreshing to see a rare reversal of typical gender roles on screen when her husband leaves his job to become primary caregiver to their child. Strong willed and headstrong despite her doubts, Miranda provides a well-rounded portrait of a modern working mother.

6) Jane Villanueva, Jane the Virgin

Okay, so motherhood wasn’t actually the plan for Jane. But one mixup at the doctor’s office changes the course of her life, and plunges her in at the deep end of motherhood. And while she flounders for a moment, in this sink-or-swim scenario, Jane most definitely learns how to swim. A protective, devoted, and perfectly imperfect model of motherhood, Jane is figuring it out as she goes along, and (almost) always makes the right call.

5) Linda Belcher, Bob’s Burgers

Quirky, supportive, and soothing, Linda Belcher is kind of the best. Her zest for life, unyielding enthusiasm, and willingness to support her husband and children in achieving anything they set their minds to makes Linda a cocktail of positivity. While she’s never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for what she thinks is right, Linda is loving and gentle with all those who deserve it. Perhaps her only flaw is all the singing.

4) Marmee March, Little Women

Equal parts soft, nurturing presence and powerful leader, Louisa May Alcott’s Marmee March is one of the most beloved mothers in literature. With her ability to keep the family afloat after the death of her husband and steer them through hard times, while still encouraging her girls to better themselves and pursue their passions, Marmee (like many mothers) wears many hats — and manages to make it look easy.

3) Clair Huxtable, The Cosby Show

Originally, Clair Huxtable was going to be a housewife. The pivot to making her a high-powered lawyer was a stroke of genius on the part of the showrunners; at a time when sitcom mothers were almost exclusively homemakers, Clair’s professional ambition provided a much-needed alternative view of motherhood. Clair has reached icon status, not least because she’s such a joy on screen. Intelligent, compassionate, stern but affectionate, Clair never loses her sense of self, despite the demands of a successful career and five kids to contend with. For us writers, Clair provides a masterclass in character development.

2) Erin Brockovich, Erin Brockovich

Mother of three, environmental activist, style icon, and all-round badass Erin Brockovich is an example of an onscreen single mom who will do whatever it takes to make life better for her children. The same caring nature that makes her an excellent matriarch to her own kids also drives Erin’s professional passion, seeking justice for those affected by Pacific Gas and Electric’s environmentally disastrous practices. She’s tenacious, fearless, independent, accomplished, and never feels the need to diminish her identity as a woman or mother to be taken seriously. And the fact that Julia Roberts’ character is based on a real person makes it that bit cooler.

1) Ma Joad, The Grapes of Wrath

When her husband’s leadership begins to waver in the face of disaster, Ma Joad does what needs to be done to maintain the safety and unity of her family. Leading them on their cross-country journey out of the dust bowl to California, Ma’s resilience and decisiveness is the only thing that ensures the survival of her loved ones. She shoulders the emotional burden of them all, and barely lets the cracks show. Ma is an image of tragically self-sacrificing, but ultimately effective, dignified, and powerful motherhood.

Which are YOUR favourites? Share in the comments!

BIO: Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer for Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with publishing professionals and resources on a wide range of topics, from how to find a ghostwriter to picking the right book writing software for their book. She lives in London.

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