Friday, April 21, 2006

A few observations about the MILF













In the most recent episode of the Real Housewives of Orange County (brain poison double dipped in slick), the botoxed, (mostly) surgically enhanced moms giggle about being called "milfs," that most odious acronym for the phrase "mother i'd like to f*ck." According to the
online slang dictionary, this term has been around since about 2002, which pretty much makes it concurrent with the so-called rise of raunch culture. This isn't surprising since the whole concept of milf-dom is pretty raunchy, though most people probably wouldn't immediately put it in the same category as the "girls gone wild" phenom. MILFs are, by definition, m0ms, and some of them are squeaky-perky-clean (i.e. Kelly Ripa). And she's not raunchy, right?

Though the outward, visible results might be different, MILFdom and Raunch culture have much in common -- mainly in the way that they both suggest the path to sexual freedom lies in being objectified. While raunch-culture is a trend popular among college women and young singles, MILFdom appears to be gaining popularity among married women.


But why MILFs? And why now? A few thoughts:


1.) precedents for MILFs: "cute/sexy moms" like Mary Tyler Moore*, Carol Brady, and even Donna Reed. These on-screen moms performed a version of domestic labor that was itself sometimes sexualized (shining shoes and mopping floors as a subtext to floorplay? I mean foreplay), with sex sometimes being depicted as an aspect or extension of this labor. Eerily, Caitlin Flannegan (who defines herself as "vehemently" anti-feminist) makes the same claim in
her ridiculous book (if you don't know who she is, you can read about her here).

I'm not sure if I should include biblical women or women from myth as milf precedents.


2.) The conflation of motherhood and "f*ckability." I know this sounds sort of a like no-brainer (um, how do people get pregnant?) and it def isn't anything new (some of those pietas are pretty sexy), but I think tropes like frumpy "mom" jeans and jingle bell sweatshirts have done much to separate popular constructions of sexiness from the idea of "mothers," especially middle and upper-class mothers who, before the milf phenom, were often described as "soccer moms" with SUVs. In this sense, milfdom plays the same card as "raunch" culture: in an act of so-called liberation, moms might don more sexually provocative clothing in order to become eye candy because -- don't you know -- being objectified is the path to sexual liberation.

3.) The separation of sex and labor, and how that separation signifies class privlege: If sex and domestic labor were once considered partner "duties" of a good wife, it seems interesting that the women who are most likely to enact this trend (the real housewives of orange county, britney) are wealthy white women who can afford to pay others (usually women) to perform domestic labor. At this point, I'd also point to my earlier post on the celebrity baby boom.

4.) The term precedes the trend: Though I know what we call "milfdom" def precedes the term, the term itself is clearly responsible for what can only be described as a trend. And who coined the term you might wonder? According to slang dictionary, it was the boys from the American Pie movies, who if you don't remember, were stupid sex-crazed teen boys desperate to lose their virginity. I think it's important to remember that it was these boys, not moms, who coined the term. This is troubling for several reasons, but most of them have to do with young men and boys determining which of their friends' moms are "f*ckable," which is pretty disgusting.

Moreover, it points to the power young men desire to have over more mature women, or at least points to that fantasy. I'm sure some people will disagree with me here, but according to me, the term "like to fuck" is pretty disparaging. If you ask me, it's only one step away from "hit it." Yuck.
And this leads me to my next observation --

5.) MILFDOM and Age: This was what I found most disturbing about the Real Housewives, who were very open with their desire to be considered MILFS by their son's friends. Instead of being a figure of authority, these women wished to be perceived as objects of sexual desire. Um, paging Dr. Freud. But really, what should we make of this trend in which women aspire to be considered "f*ckable" by not just their husbands, and not just their husbands' friends (which is already offensive enough), but also their childrens' friends? Have you heard that song "Stacy's Mom"? Are you kidding me? Give me Mrs. Robinson any day.

I'm all for women embracing and celebrating their sexuality, and wanting to feel desirable and attractive is healthy and natural, but this whole MILF thing seems like a dead-end. I'm hoping the real housewives are an extreme case. I'm hoping.

*I think it's interesting that after playing opposite Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore went on to have her own show and become an icon of the independent, single, career woman (even though she did have to deal with that patriarchal boss). It is also said that Mary Tyle Moore was subjected to
being pinched while on the set of the Dick Van Dyke show. The pincher? The boss's son.

16 comments:

zp said...

non-linear thoughts:

(a) The last time I watched The Graduate, it was on TV and it was prefaced by some older guy (possibly Roger Ebert?) saying that the film was a collective national fantasy. I took it not just sexually, but as a general statement that didn't mean much.

However, after I watched the film that night, it seemed like a more questionable claim. Because it was clearly an upper-class fantasy, or a fantasy of upper-class-ness at that time.

(b) In either case, sexually, it's a male fantasy; either to be seduced by an older woman, or, now to imagine her fuckability. Maybe there is a difference in questions of agency and power, but I'm not sure how that would happen if you fixate on where the fantasy originates. And I'm not sure we know this.

(c) I just got home from My Own Private OC where the exchange student staying with my family was asked by her prom date to wear, not the big blue cinderella-esque prom dress she'd bought and tried on everyday, but a somewhat slinkier dress of his mothers - with her endorsement.

On the one hand, my mother explained to me that something like this was the fault of mothers, who over-invest in prom and try and control the whole night . . .

And on the other, my family suggested every single argument and scheme against this we could think of, including the threat of a long term Freudian trauma to both, but I think she bought a new dress.

(c) And, to the Sad Billionaire, that fratire thing sounds awful. Thanks for the heads up.

zp said...

(d) or actually, maybe its (e) One of the things I always ask undergrads when introducing them to gender and its multiplicity is, "Are you the same gender as either of your parents?" They often feel right away that the answer is no . . . and then we can discuss how age and history determine their parents' genders differently than their own. Is MLIF a gender unto itself and therefore very much related to the Mrs. Robinson era and what came after it?

(f) Has sexual liberation ever been really separate from objectification?

(g) Would a mother envy her daughter's sexual freedom (be it liberating or objectifying) if she missed the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies - either for political reasons, or class reasons, or geographical reasons, or because it didn't really happen (but she thinks it did) or for lots of other reasons? Is raunch culture then, the return of the repressed (literally, the sexual expression and freedom of people who felt/feel repressed throughout/during/by more liberal and egalitarian sexual revolutions)?

Actually, now that I've written all this (apologies for length) I think it does become a kind of linear argument. Bearing in mind that our exchange student's date's family is probably way conservative.

(h) I've been invited to go to a friend's book group to discuss the book A Return to Modesty. A book group of Mormons. I can't wait.

Chris said...

Any other men willing to admit that the term itself is quite a bit older than '02? I remember it from a childhood/adolescence among the mostly poor children of oil rig hands and migrant workers in west TX. (For what it's worth...)

Also re. Caitlin Flannegan: shouldn't she be more willing to acknowledge a debt to feminism's radicalizing of sexual discourses for opening a space wherein she can put forward (at a profit) her much more explicitly sexualized list of household chores? Her argument seems so much like it can't NOT be aware of its own context that it's almost more convincing as satire...

Chris said...

BTW: Great post... Watching RHOC is like looking into the mouth of hell.

Elyce Rae Helford said...

Great post. I've thought about my own midlife crisis alongside such phenomena as the "hotness" factor that students get to vote on through the national Rate My Professor site. As a professor, I go looking to see if students enjoy my classes and find out I'm not as "hot" as I should be.

So the "MILF" thing to me might have to be explored via youth obession, too. When is it "hot" to be a young guy and desire your friend's mom and when is it just creepy? As much as the media has taken the term/issue and run with it, I don't know to what degree young men beyond the silver screen actually think about MILFs.

Is MILF fetish about the pressure for young men to continue to do most of the risk-taking, the phonecalling, the asking-out? My students tell me in informal polls I take in my gender studies classes that college gals still expect guys to ask them out and don't often take that risk of rejection. Is it easier to desire a MILF as a "hip" fantasy than that gal sitting next to you, saying "Let's just be friends"?

And to what degree is all of this still, as it ever is, at least partly about obsession with looks, youth, and popularity?

Last (random) question: Are MILFs always white? Are there media examples of African American or Chicana MILFs, for example?

Cheers,

Elyce

Little Sister said...

Hasn't the term milf been around since at least 1999, when the boys in American Pie used it to describe Stifler's mom?

rockslinga said...

brilliant, brilliant post!!! i love the MTM wrap-up at the end, too...genius.

i have random things to say about MILFs. To me, a MILF is a thin mother. It always seems to be so, anyway: since thinness is prized in the West, and starting to be prized everwhere, being a MILF is basically being a mom who lost all the "mom-weight" and went back to her older, non-mom self (if she was ever thin). So it's sort of a return to her pre-sexual self, too, like a paradoxical revirginization.

I was at a party yesterday, a baby shower, and a white guy who I usually respect and adore, said there were "two total MILFS as the party" and pointed out two extremely thin, tall women. Now, we could interpret that as his personal taste. But there were so many other moms at the party: and they were all "large" (over 150 pounds). I can't help but make a sort of connection there.

rockslinga said...

and oh yeah, my new favorite movie is satin rouge. it's a feminist look at mothers' desireability, agency, and happiness... and it takes the MILF phenomenon and turns it on its head.

femme feral said...

Hello my lovelies! Thanks for all the great comments. A few thoughts:

1.) zp, re: sexual liberation and objectification -- to me, it seems like these things are not -- or at least do not need to be -- connected. I'm thinking of stuff like birth control, or even just the feeling (for lack of a better word) of sexual liberation. But I think perhaps I'm using the terms "objectification" and "liberation" in a very general way. My original point was just to say that I do not think women should have to craft themselves into sex objects in order to feel sexually free. It seems like there are millions of way to feel/be/express one's sexuality that do not involve being objectified. But I'm interested to hear more about how you see these things as connected.

2.) Chris and little sister: the slang dictionary's date of 2002 seems totally arbitrary. If anything, it may just date the approx. time at which the term became popular. What esp. interests me is how this term floated into popularity via this movie. Is this an example of mainstream culture appropriating a term as Chris's comment suggests?

3.) Elyce, I think that you are absolutely correct in connecting the milf phenom with an ongoing obsession with youth. As far as examples of milfs from non-white backgrounds...certainly terms like "hot mama" have been around for a long time and the term "mamacita" as well. I think of these terms as distinct from the milf stuff, but I think they are in the same constellation in that they are all terms that conjoin the notion of motherhood with the notion of sexiness. The other thing, of course, is the history of exoticizing non-white women's sexuality.

4.) and Rockslinga, you make a great point. I think you are right that the "milfdom" and "thinness" are connected. On one hand thinness signifies the labor women have exerted post-baby-labor to regain their pre-baby bodies. And on the other hand, thin mothers might appear more virginal (I'm thinking of the gynoplasty trend here, too).

femme feral said...

oh, and I also agree with Chris the CF seems like satire. When she was on the Colbert report, I almost decided that she was in fact some weird satiist.

Elka said...

Regarding the non-white MILF, it seems to me that there is more of a blurring between the idea of desirability and authority figure in the non-white, non-upper-class community. This may sound naive, but from my limited experience, it seems as if the non-Graduate type mamas have no problem asserting their authority as a mother and grown woman and, oftentimes, head of household, while also maintaining the position of sexual, desirable woman. There seems to be more of an integration.

Although I never thought of my own white (lower class) mother as overtly sexual, I was aware of the power of the out-on-the-town night, and the transformation from everyday to very pretty that my mom underwent. I suppose I was also aware on some level of the fact that my mom was someone who was looked at, as was my dad, and that this held some power. However, it always seemed integrated into their lives (though it was horrifying to find them groping each other in the kitchen, puketastic).

Basically, there was nothing binary about this. There was an integration of roles.

What does the rise of the MILF say about our culture in general? How it does not look favorably on multiplicity? How its restrictions on self are constantly growing more binding?

EL said...

Rockslinga,

I totally agree with you that MILF-dom seems to be more about a woman's returning to the figure of someone who hasn't had a child pass through her than any other particular physical trait.

On the Real Housewives, it seems about how closely you approximate Barbie. Poor Lauri looks like she just stepped out of a pink box.

MILFs are, I conjecture, such a fantasy for a few reasons these days.

1. The MILF can be sexually-experienced without being "slutty". I mean, of course, she's experienced! She had a kid (or two or three or four or more).

2. The MILF probably doesn't want anything but sex. She might be married. At the very least, she's pretty busy with raising kids.

3. I think there is the perception that, while young women may simply be sexy without trying, these women are hot because they really want to be hot.

4. Most important, I think, is that the guy in this situation gets to feel so desired, as the hot young thing. It is so rare in hetero relations for the male party to be the hot, sexy one, the "objectified" one. The MILF allows the guy to feel like the hot, sexy one of the pair, while not forcing the guy to reduce his standards for the physical sex appeal of his partner.

And, to go back to 3., the MILF's desire to be hot is often translated as a desire to be young, and the guy feels himself a vehicle for this woman's fantasy.

Julie Carter said...

I can understand the young male fascination with MILFs. After all, we're talking the epitome of safe sex. This is (in fantasy) an experienced woman with too much to lose to put pressure on the young man to marry, or to pay child support, or to get diseases, etc.

What bothers me about it is mostly the idea that "mothers" are a separate class of individual, that they become "other" by reproducing. That's an unpleasant idea.

Julie Carter said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Donny B said...

Great post. I do, however, feel the need to point out that it wasn't the teenage boys of American Pie who popularized the term. Those boys (in their 20's by the way) are actors. It was the adult men who wrote the screenplay that put that phrase in their mouths.

A small detail, but writers, especially in Hollywood, are often overlooked. Actors should not receive credit for saying someone else's words unless it's their specific spin on the line that makes it so memorable (which is not the case here).

femme feral said...

of course you are right, DB.