Posted by: Doc Comics | May 8, 2011

Rethinking SuperMoms

Elastigirl/Mrs.Incredible from TV Tropes “Action Mom” and Sue Storm

Mother’s Day seems an appropriate time to critically reflect upon the long history behind this seemingly innocuous holiday and the contemporary perils of SuperMoms. Indeed, motherhood has always inspired awe and admiration, but the battles over women’s sufferage and feminism invited reinspection. The Oedipus Complex of most superhero “Daddy Trouble” is taken for granted these days, but many misperceptions about feminine representations persist: “Contrary to myth, The Feminine Mystique and feminism did not represent the beginning of the decline of the stay-at-home mother, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and ‘working conditions’ for her.” The notion of the SuperMom, however, reflects and illustrates the contradictions that would consequently emerge from Feminism. As explored in A History of Impossible Motherhood:

“Newspapers and women’s magazines show that the term ‘supermom’ was in regular use by the early 1970s.  The notion of the supermom combines the superheroine and the mother, re-defining what it means to be more than just a mom.  It originated as a term that described women who straddled the separate spheres of work and home, and took on immense burdens in their struggle to be everything to everyone.  Its origin was pessimistic, representing the impossibility of having or doing “it all,” in the same way that it was impossible for a mom to actually be ‘super.’  But it was quickly co-opted by the media as a symbol of empowerment, representative of women’s potential to accomplish anything…. Notions of superheroic capacity, via the supermom, altered the way that American culture conceived of motherhood, and in turn, the ways in which mothers perceived their experiences.  The supermom is a critical and missing link in the history of American motherhood, because it represents a convergence of two historically competing ideologies—feminism and motherhood—and balances them within a model persona that is impossible to achieve.”


We’ve explored the feminist critiques of superheroines and the thorny issues of feminine representation of Wonder Women before, especially within media Patriarchy. In the comics, there is hardly any better example of this evolving role of mothers than The Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm, The Invisible Girl/Woman, and her seemingly endless trials and frustrations or wardrobe malfunctions. (Check out this excellent essay on Sue’s relation to Second-Wave Feminism by D’Amore!)

It often sucks to be Sue Storm…

If superheroines have a difficult time making it in the superBoy’s Club, SuperMoms like ElastiGirl from The Incredibles also have to navigate daunting maternal feminist challenges… and partners that often behave like superjerks. As another excellent essay by D’Amore notes:

“While feminist rhetoric urged women to seek personal fulfillment and equality in the workplace, ideologies about women’s work, domesticity, and child-rearing did not accommodate that reality. Mothers who juggled their domestic responsibilities with work outside the home identified with the symbolism of the supermom as both empowering (mothers can do it all!) and overwhelming (mothers must do it all!). A post-feminist generation of women grew frustrated with the assumptions that they even wanted it all to begin with.”

Today’s action superheroines may be trying to cope with this “SuperMom Challenge” but the crisis of feminist motherhood is proving tougher than an army of supervillains.



  1. Feminist Marvels: A look at Captain Marvel, Jessica Jones, and Spider-Woman’s portrayal and history at SDCC 2017

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