I just started working on a devised theater piece and in the first rehearsal I went to, we had a visual prompt! We were discussing mother-daughter relationships in media and to get the ball rolling we looked at Young Mother Sewing by Mary Cassatt.
We each went around and said words that we thought described this scene. A few of the many words we came up with were bright, intent, linen, curious, and warm. As an art history major, this was right up my alley!! I had so much fun looking more closely at this painting and thinking about what we can draw from each of the women present within it.
We discussed how the mother in Cassatt’s work was focused and responsible yet tender and comforting. From there we said how often in media, women are not portrayed as fully-fledged people once they become mothers. The storyline makes them “a mother” or “a woman” — not often are these two archetypes presented at the same time. An example of this that was brought up was Rachel in the TV show Friends. Once she had her daughter, Emma, nothing about her character changed! Often, Emma wasn’t even written into the episodes, leaving many to wonder where she would have been when the plot was unfolding. Women are still women once they become mothers, but their motherhood does not have to be erased to keep that part of her identity. This is shown in Young Mother Sewing, as she is not actively “mothering” her daughter at this moment, but is focused instead on her sewing. Her identity as a mother is still fully expressed as her daughter is standing right beside her, leaning on her leg.
We then looked at the representation of the child in this scene and how her relationship to her mother relates to the mother-daughter relationship present in media. The child here is shown as soaking in the scene. She is comfortable with her mother, and leans against her not in a state of needing something from her, but just wanting to be with her. By looking directly out at the viewer, we see her curious eyes. In the discussion of this child being represented as curious, we talked about how children learn from their parents even when their parents aren’t actively instructing them. Sometimes, specifically between a mother and daughter, something that is learned is negative perceptions of one’s appearance, unhealthy relationships with food, or habits of searching outside of oneself for an understanding of one’s worth. One movie that depicts this kind of imperfect relationship between a mother and daughter is in Ladybird. Though they have very different personalities, neither one is an archetype, such as “overly critical mother” or “rebellious, hateful teenage daughter.” There are so many moments of love displayed between them and a true connection is established between them despite their differences.
This discussion was so fruitful! We got to explore what we wished to see presented in the mother-daughter relationship on the stage and screen through looking at Mary Cassatt’s depiction of a mother-daughter relationship on the canvas. This was a combination of practically everything I’m passionate about, and I knew I had to share it with all of you. Have a great week!!