A few years back, my mother and I began bonding over our favorite TV shows, ranging from Netflix originals to cable television. Because we recently moved into a humble two-bedroom apartment, the living room is our common ground and we’re always watching shows together.
I lean more toward the superhero side of things, so I was watching The Flash. She knows The Flash is one of my favorite superheroes, so she knows why I would watch the show, but she didn’t know that I was gaining a new appreciation for Iris. I told her how much I admired her character for her independence, fierceness, and hope in the other characters on the show. I followed this up with an explanation as to why I loved #1 Dad Joe, suggesting that he is why she’s such a strong woman.
Naturally, my mom asked where her mother was. When I simply told her Iris’s mother is out of the picture after leaving her family early on in Iris’s life, she pointed out something that I never gave much thought to before but is now painfully and sometimes mockingly obvious.
In television, whenever there is a strong woman and her parents are recognized, her strength is despite the mother or just credited to the father entirely. The mother is either written out, written poorly, or written as a bad mother figure. Either way, the mother is written to be overlooked by the audience.
My mother is a single mother who raised two strong women. She had the help of our fathers and other family members at times, but it was mostly just her. And even when we were in the care of other family members, we were in the care of strong women.
This is not to say that only strong women can raise strong women or that father figures are irrelevant in raising them, but rather to highlight the misguiding lack of strong mother figures behind our strong women in television.
I am fortunate enough to have strong women in television I can identify with because I know back in the day, it was strictly white men being portrayed as strong, and still, today, not every girl has a strong woman they can identify with on screen. But I now realize that the strength of these women is mostly credited to the men in their lives, particularly father figures. Their strength could be credited to strong mother figures—or better yet, both mother and father figures—but the strong mother figures are absent.
From the shows that I have watched and can speak on, here’s what I have gathered:
The Flash: Iris West’s mother—Francine—left her at a young age after her drug addiction became a problem in raising her. To save Iris from the truth, Joe said that she died, keeping her addiction and very-much-alive status a secret. Francine comes back after twenty years, forcing Joe to tell Iris the truth and she dies peacefully eight episodes later in “The Reverse-Flash Returns”.
The Flash: Caitlin Snow’s mother—Carla Tannhauser—became neglectful to her after her unnamed father’s passing. She later used her intellect to help Julian find a cure for the debilitating Killer Frost/Caitlin Snow dynamic in season three. She only got an episode and could be easily forgotten by any fan.
Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow: Sara and Laurel Lance’s mother—Dinah—left in mourning after Sara was shipwrecked. She reappeared a few times in season 2 for Sara’s return to Starling City, but she just kind of abandoned Laurel.
Arrow: Thea Queen’s mother—Moira—was strong, independent, and very well written, but awfully immoral in multiple ways. Because of this, she was no longer a good mother figure to Thea or Oliver. The only good thing I can think of that Thea learned from Moira is business skills, but even that could be credited to Walter Steele’s familial presence in her life at such a young age. Her biological father—Malcom Merlyn—is definitely evil with only a few barely redeeming qualities, but when he trained her, she learned a great deal in fighting, so we know where that strength came from. Robert Queen was her real father for all intents and purposes, but other than the mistakes we learned he made in season one, he didn’t seem to have that much influence on her before or after his death.
Arrow: Felicity Smoak’s mother—Donna—is independent but is also poorly written and just a nuisance on the show and even to the characters. While Felicity might have gotten her independence from her single mother, it is later shown in episode 4×12 “Unchained” that she definitely got her smarts from her father—Noah Kuttler—who bailed on her and became The Calculator, a cyber-criminal just like her, but more on the evil side of things.
Daredevil: The closest thing Elektra had to any parental figure was Stick and well, he’s Stick.
Jessica Jones: Jessica Jones was taken in by her best friend’s abusive mother.
Daredevil/Luke Cage: Karen, Claire, and Misty were just hatched for all we know, but their fathers or father figures weren’t referenced either.
Perhaps this means that women can be strong all by themselves and they don’t require a strong mother figure. Personally, I find that this is not the case, but this might be the case these shows are trying to convey. . What do you think? Let me know in the comments down below!
Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones are exclusively on Netflix, but you can watch the latest of The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow, and Black Lightning here.
Nothing but love.