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Opinion: Joe Jonas’ Narrative About Sophie Turner Won’t Work

America loves to punish a “bad mother” — and there is a long history of using prominent celebrities as cautionary figures of abominable motherhood. So when news broke that 34-year-old musician Joe Jonas filed for divorce from 27-year-old actor Sophie Turner, it wasn’t surprising that the media narrative was that Turner wanted to go out at night while Jonas wanted to parent.

Gossip sites like TMZ and Page Six framed their “different lifestyles” — Turner as a party girl and Jonas as a “homebody” trying to look out for his daughters.

Patricia Grisafi

Patricia GrisafiCourtesy of Patricia Grisafi

For media literacy analysts, this feels like a tactic from Celebrity Image Control 101, leaning on tropes of the bad mother and self-sacrificing father.

American society is primed to gobble up such narratives, given how eager we all are to give fathers awards for simply…parenting. I’ve seen this firsthand. My husband and I were out to lunch in Brooklyn with friends one time. I was wrestling with my sandwich, my six-month-old and yes, a glass of wine. My husband saw that I was struggling, and he scooped up the baby and took him outside to give me a break.

When he came back in, he reported that at least two older women had stopped to compliment him on how well he was holding the baby. We laughed at how low the bar for fathering was. But I was secretly resentful. Just that morning, a woman had stopped to scold me for neglecting to put a hat on my son.

This narrative — whether used to valorize dads or demonize moms — is a well-worn, misogynistic dig at women who don’t publicly present themselves as traditional caregivers or who are caught making some kind of parenting mistake on camera.

Britney Spears most specifically comes to mind as a victim of this kind of rhetoric. Spears was branded as a bad mother in the early 2000s and continues to unfortunately be labeled so today despite all we now know about her abusive conservatorship and fight for autonomy and self-expression.

But there’s a little bit of hope in this story yet. In the past, efforts to paint women as bad mothers during a divorce would have worked. But that’s not what is happening with the Jonas and Turner situation so far.

On social media, users were immediately skeptical of Jonas’ claims. Many commented on their seven-year age difference, the fact that Turner was 19 when the two began dating and that she became a mother at age 24. They noted Turner’s public expressions of homesickness for her native England, including a desperate comment that she missed her family and friends: “I miss England so much,” she told Elle UK in May 2022. “The people, the attitude, everything. I’m slowly dragging my husband back.”

Why does any of this matter? In many ways, celebrities help us identify and define our experiences and clarify our own anxieties. We look to see how the world reacts to their lives. And in this particular instance, we’re looking to see how our culture treats women who are implied or judged to be “bad mothers.”

These voices are joining what appears to be a growing chorus of pushback against the tired tropes of the past. For every person criticizing Cardi B for being too sexual, there is someone defending a mother’s prerogative to maintain and feel good about her sexuality. For the people who accused Emily Ratajkowski and Meghan Markle for holding their babies “incorrectly,” there are just as many rolling their eyes at such sexist judgment. And while people debate Julia Fox’s parenting advice, others praise her candid comments and realness when it comes to being a single mom.

The Covid-19 pandemic opened peoples’ eyes as to just how much physical and emotional labor mothers perform on a daily basis — and how fathers are capable of equal parenting responsibilities. No one is special; everyone is trying their best. Dads shouldn’t get awards for looking after their children while mom is working. Moms shouldn’t be burned at the stake for going out with their friends. You’re gonna shame me for not putting a hat on my child? Mind your own business, we’re trying to stay sane and alive here.

In their official joint statement, Jonas and Turner shared the following post to their respective Instagram accounts: “After four wonderful years of marriage we have mutually decided to amicably end our marriage. There are many speculative narratives as to why but, truly this is a united decision and we sincerely hope that everyone can respect our wishes for privacy for us and our children.”

We don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes with these two people. But that isn’t really the point. These tabloid narratives are opportunities to take the cultural temperature, to gauge shifts in our cultural attitudes. Most importantly, though, they are opportunities to look less voyeuristically at what’s going wrong in others’ lives and more critically at how challenging gendered parenting stereotypes even in small ways can have big-picture payoffs.

Source: CNN