Mommy Dearest vs Mama Bear
August 6, 2019 2:43 AM   Subscribe

"Like most cultural shifts in language, the rise of white, upper-middle class women who call themselves “mama” seemed to happen slowly, and then all at once. And like most cultural shifts in language, the rise of “mama” is about power and discontent. "The rise of Mama
posted by mippy (102 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Given how embedded the use of Mama is for an older lady as a respectful signifier, across most of the African continent, I'd like to see more evidence that this is not another case of appropriation.
posted by Mrs Potato at 3:43 AM on August 6, 2019 [17 favorites]


This is mentioned:

Kimberly Seals Allers, a writer and advocate for mothers of color, said mama goes way, way, back for black families.

“Mama has African roots,” she said told me. “It was a term of respect that didn’t have to do with you being a mother. I’ll call someone mama and I don’t even know if she has children. In the black community we have a big mama—she is the matriarch and quote unquote leader of the family. Sometimes she is the matriarch because she has children, and sometimes it is because she is the oldest living relative.”

Allers said she wasn’t aware of the rise of “mama” among white women, though does recall a recent moment when a white woman came and said, “hey mama,” and she was taken aback.

“Mothers are constantly redefining ourselves, and part of that comes from words we call ourselves, what people call us,” she said. ” It can be done, but we have to be careful about the way we coop words. There should be some acknowledgment of the culture and context of where it comes from.”
posted by mippy at 3:56 AM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Except then the article promptly goes back to talking about (presumably) white women.
posted by hoyland at 4:00 AM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I suppose I should say that I was reading along thinking "this is surely an article primarily about white people", I'm not just being snarky.
posted by hoyland at 4:05 AM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I think it is - and it caught my attention because I've noticed the trend amongst white, presumably middle-class women on Instagram or mommy blogs in the US using it more and more. It's not really caught on in the UK - though thankfully the 'yummy mummies' phrase for that demographic seems to be dying out now.
posted by mippy at 4:18 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is 100% about white people. I'm a non-mama white mother and I noticed this trend several years ago. For me I find it most often associated with kind of a woowoo attachment parenting idea of a mother that I'm just... not. And I would not be surprised if the origin of it had something to do with the fetishization of African childrearing practices that you find in some of the foundational attachment parenting literature
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:38 AM on August 6, 2019 [14 favorites]


I could be wrong, of course - but I don't read "mama" as a black thing at all. For me, the connotations are with the "earth mama" archetype of 60s hippie culture. I've definitely noticed an uptick in the usage of the word among "social media influencers" (or whatever you want to call them) - but I'm surprised that people are reacting to the term as if it has no prior history in white culture.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:00 AM on August 6, 2019 [18 favorites]


I've seen people call themselves a “mumma”, which appears to be a sassier variant, further removed from the curlers-and-apron archetype of the 1950s nuclear family and/or Edwardian drawing room.
posted by acb at 5:04 AM on August 6, 2019


"Mama" seems completely normal for a white American family to use. My generation mostly says "Mom" but older generations definitely used Mama (and Daddy). Maybe younger women using it are seeking grounding with a connection to their grandmothers? In my husband's Jewish family the grandmothers are all Mama First Name - not sure how that started.
posted by frobozz at 5:14 AM on August 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


I've always associated mama with black or Latinx people. When MIL (a white woman) lived in Texas she was addressed as "hey mama!" a lot by people from both groups. It always confused her, though she was never bothered by it. I don't think I've ever heard a white person use it in meatspace.
posted by brook horse at 5:15 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


The term "Mama" has a long history of use among whites, "I Remember Mama" for example was a popular movie back in 1948, dolls were made that said Mama! when they were upended, and it had quite a bit of usage in the media from earlier eras.

At the same time, the question of why it is allegedly returning to popularity after having faded in popularity is a separate question that may well indeed speak to some crossing over from minority communities for reasons that are unclear. It could be as much aspirational, a desire to have the same kind of respect that media tends to show minority families having for older women and mothers particularly or an affectation that is catching on for the "fun" of adopting a persona outside one's own immediate background. I haven't heard any noticeable increase in the term myself, so I don't have any good guess as to the cause if it is a meaningful change in the first place.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:30 AM on August 6, 2019 [14 favorites]


“When it comes down to it, it’s just another way of women with kids trying to differentiate themselves from their own mothers, women who may have voted Republican, who may have breastfed but ended up formula feeding and had no idea what the difference between free-range and helicopter parenting was.

It's amazing how much misogyny this article manages to replicate - utterly unquestioned is the idea that "our" mothers are/were terrible, stupid, boring, unhip, wrong-headed and ignorant, and that by using a new term "we" can be different and better, and our kids won't hate us the way we hate our mothers. No point in questioning why we think our mothers were uniformly so terrible and stupid, or asking ourselves whether there's anything intrinsically fraught and difficult in family relationships, or thinking that hatred of women may lie in more than whether the women are "hip". It's the narrowest form of materialism/historicizing.

My mother, with whom I did not have the easiest or happiest relationship, was not stupid or wrong-headed, she was not boring, she was not small-minded, she was extremely funny and had a lot of irony in her outlook. She got very sick when I was still too caught up in my own bullshit to come to a truly adult relationship with her, but there wasn't anything wrong with her.

And yet she wasn't hip or trendy ever in her entire life. She was a relatively old-fashioned person, raised in an old-fashioned household where a lot of old country stuff persisted. She lived in a suburb although she never voted Republican. She wore "mom jeans" because she didn't care about fashion, and it wasn't stupid or wrong not to care about fashion. I was embarrassed by this when I was young because I wasn't smart enough to let other people be themselves. But she did what she wanted, even in a suburb with a boring mom haircut and old clothes.

All that will happen is that "mama" will go the way of "mom" and "mommy" in a generation or two because you don't solve hatred of women by juggling language.
posted by Frowner at 5:33 AM on August 6, 2019 [88 favorites]


(My white family on both sides, German and Swedish, referred to mothers and sometimes grandmothers as "mama". My mother called her mother "Mama". I think this type of thing is not why it's hip now, though.)
posted by Frowner at 5:34 AM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]


Mama is exactly the right word for most white/European American mothers.
posted by pracowity at 5:36 AM on August 6, 2019 [14 favorites]


So, in Chinese (Mandarin plus several dialects), 妈妈 is the casual term for mother, and it is pronounced "mama". Most Chinese kids call their mom "mama" (a singular "ma" when they get older). As the article notes at the end, there's also research that shows that "mama" is a common way of saying mom in a variety of languages due to how babies learn to speak. But anyway, this might be a bit tangential from the point of the article, which is more to do with motherhood.
posted by destrius at 5:37 AM on August 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


I don't think I've ever heard a white person use it in meatspace.

It would seem that experiences vary, then. Here in the Mid-Atlantic, I would find it completely normal for one of my more hippieish white friends to greet another with "hey, mama!" It carries a sense of sassy playfulness and feminine solidarity, but I've never had the slightest sense that they were imitating AAVE (deliberately or not). Again - I could be wrong.

I mean, it might be possible to trace it back (in part) to AAVE, if you go back many decades - but you could say the same thing about expressions such as "cool" and "get down", which are just accepted parts of the common lexicon at this point. If "mama" was appropriated, it was appropriated a lonnng time ago. For whatever that's worth.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:37 AM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm surprised that people are reacting to the term as if it has no prior history in white culture

The term obviously has extensive prior history in white culture, but one of the reasons (not the only reason!) for its ongoing resurgence may be the appropriative emulation of its use in black / Hispanic cultures by white people looking to "make their lives feel edgier and therefore more relevant", per the article.

That makes it slightly more complex than a straightforward case of white people appropriating a term that originates entirely within another community, but cultural appropriation can still be in play, even if it's only one of the contributing factors.
posted by inire at 5:42 AM on August 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


I've always associated mama with black or Latinx people.

There's definitely a Latinx "mama" but in the local culture I grew up in/around, it had totally different connotations than the white contemporary "mama," to the point that it's almost a false cognate.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:43 AM on August 6, 2019 [15 favorites]


I noticed it (when I was growing up) used more in the South than the North. Used for white women I mean. Of course black people used it more both places.
posted by aleph at 5:44 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Rather than seeing this article as being very white in viewpoint I see it as American. The British versions of Mom and Mommy are Mum and Mummy and Mama is much older than all four of these. Mama too has an international side - it is understood in my cultures that don't speak English. It's Greek, it's Russian and it's French - of course that DOES make it European also. I don't know how far it extends, but it's Indo-European for sure.

The one phrase I have heard that comes from privilege to me is "Mamma bear". This is a term I have heard being used as a positive one regarding a woman who gets angry and aggressive if her children are not accorded privilege. It's what you call a woman who makes a scene while looking to get things for her children, and of course women who know they won't get it, don't do this so it is absolutely a marker of privilege. The term is used to excuse things like going on a rant at the clerk in Wal-mart. "Oh, she went all Mama bear on them when they told her she couldn't let her kid start eating the candy she hadn't paid for yet..." But it's not used as a term that criticize. It's used as one that approves. "I would scream at a clerk who told me my poor hungry child had to wait to eat too."

Women with kids are vulnerable. They are left holding the baby and cannot do the things they would otherwise do. We may teach people to appreciate mothers and talk to them with respect, but being a mother, starting from pregnancy and going on until you can realistically hope the kids are independent, means being socially vulnerable. If you have a kid and someone shoves back the kid could get hurt, so most women with kids learn to be deferential in public. "I'll wait until the crowd clears before I try to get out." Women with kids get stuck waiting at home. This is one of the difficult things about being a mother, and used to be one of the difficult things about being a women, which led to those manners like holding doors for women and giving them seats and the token handshake where the woman is allowed to sit even if men always stand to shake hands.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:49 AM on August 6, 2019 [20 favorites]


The British versions of Mom and Mommy are Mum and Mummy and Mama is much older than all four of these.

Is there a significant pronunciation difference in historical British vs current US use of mama? Ie soft 'a' at the end of US mama, rather than hard 'R' sound?
posted by biffa at 6:02 AM on August 6, 2019


This is definitely a thing, and it's a completely different thing than being called mama by your actual children. It happens all the time in white, crunchy, hippie circles--calling each other "mama goddess", saying things like "Latch on, mama!" when women are breastfeeding. It's often paired with other appropriative practices like using expensive baby wraps. These practices, too, aren't inherently rooted in black or indigenous cultures--Celtic people, for example, wore their babies--but very often those who babywear have a paternalistic and overly simplistic view of these practices (see the contiuum concept), viewing the cultures that practice extended breastfeeding or co-sleeping as almost noble savages who are cut off from practices like bottle feeding, which, you know, is what many black people in America actually do.

I live in an area surrounded by people who say this and it's almost entirely said by grown-ups to other grown-ups and most of their kids call these "mama goddesses" plain old simple "Mom."

(I've done my best to scrub this sort of thing from my vocab, because it's appropriative but also in part because it's trans exclusionary, too.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:04 AM on August 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


I've heard a lot of kids calling their mothers "mama" lately in NYC, typically white, upper-middle-class looking. I figured it was a kind of Euro-chic thing.
posted by airmail at 6:11 AM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


As a Southerner, I have used and heard mama all my life, and I will do so after it is trendy, too. I actually call my mother Mom most of the time. I use Mama when I am full of emotion—when I have just seen her again after months, when one of us is upset or proud, or just when I know she is right about something and I hate to admit it. I struggle a lot with my identity as a white Southerner, and this word is one small positive way I have to express it.

So is the word Daddy, but I may have to retire it. I will unironically call my father that, but since the Internet got ahold of the word, it may just be too damned weird anymore.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:13 AM on August 6, 2019 [19 favorites]


Do other people hear/appreciate a difference between "mama" and "momma"? I feel like this sort of thing, where mothers are talking to other mothers:

It happens all the time in white, crunchy, hippie circles--calling each other "mama goddess", saying things like "Latch on, mama!" when women are breastfeeding.

I think/hear "momma", whereas "mama" is more of a thing that kids call their mother. Maybe I am overthinking it and drawing an artificial distinction? This might even be a Mary/marry/merry thing where there is no appreciable difference in some/most acccents.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:20 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm European and my youngest daughter calls me mama, I feel it's because it's somehow hip and it's maybe appropriative. I can't really call her on it, because it also is a thing some people here use. When I was young, the extreme upper class, like the royals and their 1%er friends would use mama. For all I know they might still do that. Since then, a lot of things have changed and people use mama for new reasons, one being far more mixed families. So it's complicated.
posted by mumimor at 6:23 AM on August 6, 2019


I've heard this, too, and it's weird to me. I've never called my mother "mama" in nearly 40 years of life, not once. I don't know if it's an African influence or what, but it definitely was not a white-people-in-Ohio thing until recently.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:35 AM on August 6, 2019


Mama is used in a lot of Europe, but not in anglophone Europe. The Welsh "mam" looks similar in writing, but is pronounced more like an American "ma'am" than the first syllable of "mama".
posted by Dysk at 6:38 AM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Today in the Arab world, there is a custom still in place to not speak a woman’s name in public after she becomes a mother."

I am for sure white American as anything, but I lived in the "Arab world" for a while and this is the weirdest and most nonsensical sentence. No, not true. You often do call parents "Abu whoever" and "Imm whoever," meaning Father or Mother of whoever, but you don't suddenly stop saying a person's name ever.
posted by lauranesson at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2019 [14 favorites]


So is the word Daddy, but I may have to retire it. I will unironically call my father that, but since the Internet got ahold of the word, it may just be too damned weird anymore.
posted by Countess Elena


Ha! I call my father Daddy too, he's in my phone as Daddy, and my mom (but not mama, I guess I'm not southern enough for that) will ask when I'm on the phone if I want to talk to Daddy. My mother's family is all either "how are Mama and Daddy?" or "have you talked to Mother and Daddy?"

I know it makes some people cringe but that's just what I'm used to, so I imagine I'll keep on.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:40 AM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Interesting read. I got lost in the notion that "mama" was appropriated from roots in black culture.

My mother's birth certificate has her born in 1907, in Indian Territory (a term still used in parts of Oklahoma and Missouri, and maybe in Kansas. I am the youngest of twelve children from a total of four marriages. My half-siblings and all their children all called my mother "Big Mama."

I am pretty sure that none of my relatives made it to anything resembling the middle class until around 1956. I'm also pretty sure (but not positive) that some of my ancestors were not white. In any case we all present ourselves as white people, but definitely not associated with those bigoted souls who desperately need to think they are pure white, and to whom white confers a mantle of exceptionalism. This may be a difficult concept for some: The distal end of a social ladder is roomy enough for many shades of white and not-white alike: we resemble one another only by skin color. There is no cross-cultural norm, except perhaps the ability to live hand to mouth.

In our universe, Big Momma is a sort of honorific that sorts out a central figure of our clan. I say clan, because we are a conglomerate entity, of which in-laws and outlaws are represented by factions such as the Thanksgiving Faction, The Christmas Faction, and the many outliers who don't identify with either crew. Among my half-sibs, I am the only one who ever attempted to get an education beyond high-school. Most of them never got past the fifth grade, although some few made it into junior high school. All my nieces and nephews graduated from high school and some got college degrees.

That's to say we were a rural people, with roots as subsistence farmers or itinerant workers in other's fields and orchards. I find it a little amusing that middle class white people would think to appropriate anything from us, and more than a little amusing that to realize that they may be thinking that they got "it" from the African American culture.

In 1989 a group of people related to veterans with PTSD formed a committee that went to Washington DC to pray for an audience with one of our House reps from California. We got the interview, which was built around helping not only veterans with PTSD, but family members as well.

In our preparatory phase, one of the women in our group said something to the effect that she wasn't scared to get down and dirty, and roll around in the mud (in Washington DC) for this project. Another woman then declared our mission to be a "Mud Roll," and the women who represented the organizational structure of our crew were deemed "Mud Mommas."

In my geezerhood, I watch technology capture my language and render it moot, see subsequent generations gleefully eviscerate the poetry of my generation's language and replace it with their own doggerel. Damn kids. They have no respect for tradition, they wear funny clothes, and their music generally sucks. It's no wonder they are amused and confused by the simplest, most basic word in dozens of languages.
posted by mule98J at 7:43 AM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]


The article quotes very succinct and reasonable explanations why many American women have chosen "mama" as their choice among a very limited set of common options: “I feel like mommy infantilizes me and mom makes me feel like the mother of a teenager, but mama makes me feel like a pioneer who bakes her own bread wearing an apron and is otherwise capable and timeless … Not that I bake my own bread. I used to, long before I had kids.” Also, "I guess I’ve internalized the way [mom and mommy are] both used as a synonym for ‘lame’—i.e., mom jeans, mommy porn. They conjure something insipid and suburban.”

Other than mom and mommy, what is a white American of any class supposed to do? So here we are, doing our best to make mothers feel shitty about their last remaining option within their own vernacular. That doesn't seem to be the author's intent, but it's hard for me to imagine the general takeaway as anything else. The issue of people taking on "mama" as a non-motherhood related term for themselves is so much more complicated it's just gonna get rolled over and become "White mothers who call themselves mama are appropriative, pretentious and lame." It just makes me feel bad for my wife, who really enjoys being called mama by our kids, and for my own mom, who wanted her children to call her mama as far back as the mid 70's, but never quite got it to stick.
posted by skewed at 7:45 AM on August 6, 2019 [37 favorites]


Mama was the first thing my baby could call me. Very soon enough, it became mommy (which I never liked) and then mom, said occasionally in a particular tone that you can well imagine. With other adults, I go by my name.
posted by 41swans at 7:54 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


It's interesting - I have a very different reaction to "mummy" compared to "mommy". Mummy was what I called my own mother, probably a relic of British colonial rule in India (actually what I still call her). Mommy sounds infantile while mummy doesn't. I don't like mom - too many associations with bratty teenagers. Mama is fine for a baby but I would expect an older child to say mummy.
posted by peacheater at 8:02 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I thought of "Mama grizzly" when Sarah Palin said it, who is very white indeed.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:22 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I haven't been able to get this song out of my head for a week. Maybe here is a nice place to leave it.
posted by MtDewd at 8:27 AM on August 6, 2019


There was definitely a point in the article where I started thinking that it's just a lot of words to dance around "'not like other girls', but for mothers."

I know there's more to it than that, but there really does appear to be a lot of conscious "other mothers are 'mom' stereotypes, and I'm not that."
posted by explosion at 8:28 AM on August 6, 2019 [21 favorites]


I do wonder about the pronunciations of various ways to address a mother, and if some of the confusion comes from that.

In the US, I think, 'mama' (MAH-ma) is different from 'momma' (more like mawh-muh where I've heard it), and 'mama' (MAH-ma) is not the same as the British/colonial 'ma-ma' (muh-MAH), as I've heard it. Does that make sense to anyone else or am I reading far too much into it?

I have definitely seen an uptick in the use of 'mama' (MAH-ma) in families of all-white people (in the US) and it's made me uncomfortable but I don't know why. Maybe it feels appropriative, given the contexts in which I'm used to seeing it?
posted by cooker girl at 8:45 AM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]


I think there's also another small thing in play here, which is the rise of online fora for mothers. If you want to refer to an anonymous or pseudonymous mother by a term that acknowledges what you know about her and the context in which you're interacting (i.e. that she's a mother wanting to present herself as such) you probably want to use a word that doesn't make you feel like you're talking to your own mother. I've only ever used "mama" when encouraging women I don't know on the internet. "Hang in there, mama!" feels much more natural for me to type that the same phrase with "mom" or "mommy", both of which I called my mom and my children call me.

I wasn't actually aware people were calling themselves mama IRL with their kids as some sort of trend. To me it's just forum slang. And honestly, this article made me feel weird enough about using it that I'm going to stop.
posted by potrzebie at 8:50 AM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I used to be up on the big mom blogs/parenting influencers, and I noticed the mama thing occurring around the same time that kids became "littles" and sunglasses became "sunnies." Is it a need to differentiate or make things cute? One such blogger has her kids call their dad "Papa" as well, which struck me as awfully pretentious (he used to work in finance on Wall Street before quitting to do the influencer thing full-time), but consistent with the rest of their language.

But what's worse--and what I would be interested to see more about--is the confluence with calling oneself "mama" with all the "mama bear" gear I see on t-shirts and car decals nowadays. Also, more odiously, everything about being part of a "tribe." I think the people using this language are less interested in/aware of etymology and cultural history, and more just going with the dominant aesthetic where they hang out on Instagram/Etsy/at church.
posted by witchen at 8:52 AM on August 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


The British versions of Mom and Mommy are Mum and Mummy

Mam, ma, mammy or mom are all perfectly cromulent too.
posted by threetwentytwo at 8:57 AM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Like with pretty much anything British, a lot of the above are regional or have class associations (as indeed do mum and mummy).
posted by Dysk at 9:04 AM on August 6, 2019


I call my mother Mama like every second German speaking person since times immemorial, but I use mom or mum when I refer to her in English. Where I live, Mama is the most common option for white people, but it would seem deeply odd to address someone as Mama when you're not her actual child.

My mother has made it quite clear that Mama is her preferred term. I remember using "Mutti" once in a homework assignment (just for the sake of variety, I guess), which made her remark how much better she likes the sound of Mama. I'm not aware of any hip/not-so-hip connotations distinguishing Mamas, Mamis and Muttis in German speaking countries- I think for my mother it really is mostly about the sound. I do think Mama is pretty euphonious.
posted by sohalt at 9:15 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I used to be up on the big mom blogs/parenting influencers, and I noticed the mama thing occurring around the same time that kids became "littles" and sunglasses became "sunnies." Is it a need to differentiate or make things cute?

Yeah, people are reading waaaay to much into this. "Mama" is a thing now because the big time mom social media accounts made it a thing.

People who wear sweatpants to the grocery store are "moms" or "mothers". Same goes for 2-3 women with their children at some restaurant were everyone can be super loud like Red Robin.

However, women will full makeup, expensive clothes, and who bring their kids (also in expensive clothes) to the French patisserie with all the white tile and with the glass cabinet with all the pastries so that all the kids can line up and put their hands on in and look in, therefore creating the prefect pose that gets posted to Instagram like 40 times a minute: Those are "mamas".

Edit: here's a similar example: If you have kids who listen to YouTube videos made by young girls, you hear them start with "Hey guys...." something like 95% of the time. So, either millions of young girls are making a statement and declaring that gender is just a social construct and society needs to move to gender neutral terms....or its just that the thousands of videos they watched before recording their own video started with "Hey guys....", so there's does too.
posted by sideshow at 9:20 AM on August 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


I think/hear "momma", whereas "mama" is more of a thing that kids call their mother. Maybe I am overthinking it and drawing an artificial distinction? This might even be a Mary/marry/merry thing where there is no appreciable difference in some/most acccents.

There's zero difference to me (raised in NJ/currently live in NYS.)

Other than mom and mommy, what is a white American of any class supposed to do? So here we are, doing our best to make mothers feel shitty about their last remaining option within their own vernacular. That doesn't seem to be the author's intent, but it's hard for me to imagine the general takeaway as anything else.

I mean, the personal is political, right? Two options are engaging in a practice while acknowledging that it might have appropriative and problematic roots, or we can sit with and acknowledge our discomfort over women who are either old ("mom") or youthful ("mommy.") I see the Boomers continuing to engage in this sort of thing--the number of women who don't want to be called grandma, for instance. So much of it is fear about being old, and how we tie a woman's inherent worth to her age.

For what it's worth, my kiddo initially called me mama, then more or less skipped mommy and went straight to mom. I'm someone estranged from my mother (who was either "Mom" or, when speaking to my sibling, "Mommy") now, and also with gender baggage but referring to myself as anything other than Mom felt . . . artificial, personally. I do think it's different, obviously, in families with a cultural tradition around "Mama," but that's not mine. I mean, on my dad's side they all called their mom "Mother."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:27 AM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


My (white, Southern) mother always called her mother Mama, as did her sisters. Uncle Marty called his father Papa. They were all born before 1946. I grew up in New York, and called my parents Mommy and Daddy/Mom and Dad. I also called other people's parents that, being democratic that way.
posted by corvikate at 9:33 AM on August 6, 2019


I Remember Mama
The Mamas and The Papas
Pistol--packin’ Mama
Mama Tried
Mama’s Family
Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
Mama Said Knock You Out
Mama, I’m Coming Home
Your Mama Don’t Dance
TV Mama
Tell Mama
Hard as it is to believe, mommy bloggers did not invent this word.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:56 AM on August 6, 2019 [25 favorites]


It's Greek, it's Russian and it's French - of course that DOES make it European also. I don't know how far it extends, but it's Indo-European for sure.

Yes. I'm sure its Indo-European (though I am not a linguist). The unrelated language of Finland, suomi, has the word aiti (eye tea) for mother as well as what toddlers and young kinds call their mother (and older too, I'm sure, but these are whom I meet in my building and on the bus).

Interestingly, however, is the word Mummo for grandmother.
posted by Mrs Potato at 10:10 AM on August 6, 2019


Mama is used in a lot of Europe, but not in anglophone Europe. The Welsh "mam" looks similar in writing, but is pronounced more like an American "ma'am" than the first syllable of "mama".

My first association on hearing someone say "Mama" (particularly if they are white and upper-middle class) would be that they were British or maybe a Boston Brahmin trying to sound more "Continental" (European). In my head when I read it, it often as an accent on the second syllable in the European (non-English) style. Is that usually spelled with more m's? "Mamma"?

But this seems to be a very different usuage, a perception of "Mama" not as more refined than "Mom", but as less artificial, more "natural" or "authentic", which probably does tap into stereotypes of African Americans, also maybe of first generation southern European immigrants like Italian or Greek families. Certainly, it's not going for the "Maman" association of the French.

"Mam" always makes me think of novels set in coal-mining towns, but not always Welsh ones. Is "mam" used in the North of England as well?
posted by jb at 10:12 AM on August 6, 2019


I taught my kids to call me "mama" to avoid the awkward confusion of shifting from "mommy" to "mom" sometime in middle school, and so the word they used as toddlers would still be comfortable when they were adults.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:24 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is interesting to hear people from the US talk about this as appropriation and the slant of the article certainly is pretty alien to me. But yeah the rise of the US-centric, white-dominated "hip" mother forum and blog worlds likely have spread this usage farther away from its roots in a specific culture that it seems innocuous to some us who don't recognise the origins.

From my perspective as a non-Anglophone, every woman I knew growing up and now who had or have children was "mama" which is just our lazy accented way of saying the French "maman" (including my own mother and it is what my child calls their mother). As others have pointed out the word is pretty common in a lot of cultures though it does not carry the same nuanced usage as it does in the US. I have heard Anglophones here use "mama" in the granola / Earth mother sense though but since it was the same word I use for mother I have never thought of it as appropriation, as they are just using the same word their French neighbours would use. Regardless, it is interesting how a simple word can express so many varied meanings and cultural baggage.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:28 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


Point of datum: Mama and Papa (both pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable, not the British (or, in the US, pretentious) emphasis on the second syllable of mama) was the standard in the (working class) Franco-American community that one side of my family is from, and I guess less common but also not remarkable in the (also working class) northern-midwestern (mix of German, Polish, English, Irish, and some Scandinavian of some sort, probably?) context that the other side of my family is from. (Franco-American grandparents are Memere and Pepere (with the proper accents, that I don't know how to type off the top of my head on my computer), which literally translates to "my mother" and "my father", incidentally.) In all cases, one would only call one's own parents or grandparents by these terms, not friends' parents or friends who are parents or anything like that. Any modifier, like "Big Mama" or something, would sound weird. The terms did seem to be used less as I grew older, replaced by the more homogeneous white US culture's "Mom", and then by "Mommy", so it's believable to me that there might be some recent resurgence that stems more proximally from some alternate source - that Mama also happened to be a common thing that white kids in certain cultural contexts or subcontexts in the US called their mothers some decades ago would not necessarily be relevant in that case.
posted by eviemath at 10:53 AM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


After some thought, the desire for differentiation from confining generalities perpetuated by media and wanting to claim a different space for yourself is understandable enough, but maybe the lifestyle bloggers should have browsed a little deeper into possible alternatives for their new branding. I mean 'mumsy" is just sitting there waiting to be brought back into fashion and it's already been pre-upscaled for the right kinds of association to success!
posted by gusottertrout at 10:55 AM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I taught my kids to call me "mama" to avoid the awkward confusion of shifting from "mommy" to "mom" sometime in middle school, and so the word they used as toddlers would still be comfortable when they were adults.

My first idea too was that the "mommy" vs "mom"-distinction might be umcomfortably revealing - not so much about the age of the mother, but about the age of the child. (Of course young children also tend to have younger mothers than older ones, but originally I didn't even think about that). One might feel a pressure to grow out of saying mommy. You never need to grow out of saying Mama. "Mama" preserves the tenderness of that formative stage without making you sound like a toddler. (Then again, I'm sure "Mom" can be plenty tender too. Ultimately, it's about the tone, not the term. And some people might actually value the chance to mark a transition to a more mature parent-child relationship.)
posted by sohalt at 11:01 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I assume it's a regional thing (or more specifically a working class nyc ashkenazim thing) but everyone on my mother's side of the family, no matter where they live now, when referring to their mother, always uses only MA in the dulcet tones of joe pesci shouting across a backyard bbq. Like the guy in the video with the bug-eyed cat. They all grew up on the lower east side and in canarsie/flatbush/midwood.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:03 AM on August 6, 2019 [16 favorites]


everyone on my mother's side of the family, no matter where they live now, when referring to their mother, always uses only MA in the dulcet tones of joe pesci shouting across a backyard bbq.

Huh, I wonder if that's why my dad called his mother "ma" in the sort of incredibly flat, nasal Chicago cabbie accent that he otherwise only ever made fun of.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:05 AM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's not just white and suburban in its implicit biases, it's assuming a generational cohort too.

Mom jeans, for example, were what largely Gen-X girls wore when they were teenagers. Their mothers wore dresses or maybe slacks, but never jeans. So jeans, particularly high-waisted jeans that fit well and had cute embroidery on them were very fashionable for a decade or so. Of course, those girls became women and those women started having families, so there was ten or fifteen years of mothers wearing "mom jeans". thiese in their own turn sparked a rebellion in the girls and teens who became women now in their 20s and 30s. And who are embarking on their motherhood part of the cycle. In 25 years, we'll maybe be making fun of the mama tattoos or something, as the uncool and conventional, or what ever turns into the generational shibboleth for the next round of kids.

Rebellion and generational differentiation is important to a kid's mental and aesthetic development. They need to be able to feel that something they like is separated from the tastes of their parents. I think that's an important psychological marker of becoming an adult, and indeed self-determination; I'm entitled to have taste and my tastes are my own.

On the other hand, we have to be careful that that doesn't turn into an internalized misogyny. It's too easy to turn into derision, especially when society already enables toxic patterns like discounting older women. It's fine to want a different thing to call your own, its not ok, in my view, to imagine choices previous generations have made as aesthetic failings or, worse, acts of social cowardice.

And for the record, as a 54 year old, I'm still of the opinion that "mom jeans" are cute.
posted by bonehead at 11:06 AM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]


this guy right here oh god we absolutely all sound like this
posted by poffin boffin at 11:06 AM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure my first non-mother-related hearing of the nickname "Mama" was from Saved by the Bell. It's what Slater called Jessie Spano all the time, as in "hot mama", a term of endearment. That's the origin of "Mama", to me, a Midwestern Anglo child of the 80's who was raised by the television.
posted by Gray Duck at 11:40 AM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mom jeans, for example, were what largely Gen-X girls wore when they were teenagers. Their mothers wore dresses or maybe slacks, but never jeans

Okay, hold on a minute there. I have a photo of my very own mother wearing jeans in 1978 when I was extremely tiny. She wore jeans all through my childhood and indeed took over many of my old ones when I got tired of them. She still had some of my high school jeans in all their hideous acid-washed glory twenty years later.

Jeans started being popular for teenagers in the fifties - that's what bobby-soxers wore to chase their pop idols. Grown women with children were wearing jeans in the seventies and eighties.

~~
I don't mean to beat this drum too hard, but "mom jeans" are despised because mothers are despised. "Mom hair" is basically "a haircut that still makes me feel somewhat feminine but is low maintenance because I'm busy" at first and then later "a haircut that works with aging hair". There is no single "mom haircut"; there are only haircuts that are despised for being Not Totally Sexually Available To Men, or alternatively despised for Caring About Your Appearance While Not Being Twenty-Five, LOL As IF.

The mom discourse is very much the "not like other girls" discourse applied to the generation up and it's just as stupid. No one is ever "not like other girls". All women are "like other girls" under patriarchy.

"I'm not like other boys" and "dad haircuts" really aren't a thing. "I don't want to turn into my mother" is a whole huge cultural thing; "I don't want to turn into my father" may be something people think, but it doesn't have the same weight. We tell mother-in-law jokes, not father-in-law jokes.

Differentiating yourself from your mother, if you're a woman, is about being a sexy fun person not a nagging frump like her...and why is she a nagging frump, you might ask? You'll have the wonderful opportunity to find out in ten to fifteen years.
posted by Frowner at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2019 [61 favorites]


Y'know my kid calls his mother "momma" because that's what he calls her, not because she encouraged it to rebrand herself in some way or to identify with some social norm or movement.

(He did point out once that he calls me "daddy" and calls her "momma" instead of "mommy", which he said was "interesting" that he does that way but it felt right to him to do that, we didn't teach him to call us that.)
posted by caution live frogs at 12:33 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


“Mom jeans” have been popular and trendy for at least five years. It’s mostly Gen X and older who lamented when they came in style.

The “mama” thing on social media seems to be mostly about actively TRYING to identify with motherhood against charges (internal or external) of selfishness; if anything, it’s a way to assuage the guilt of doing your own thing (sometimes, building your social media empire) by adding the moniker to your online presence. If your YouTube channel/Facebook updates/whatever take up a lot of your time that could be spent with kids, you’re doing it in service of your “mama” identity, and therefore don’t have to feel so bad. Most of the mommy vlogging culture and peripheral phenomena (MLMs, various monetization methods) is tied up in finding a way to be independent, respected, famous, breadwinning, whatever while still identifying strongly with your social role as a wife and mother. “Influencing” other moms by trying, sincerely or not, to model a vision of family wellness. This seems to exist on a spectrum from “sociopathic pageant mom who thinks her kids exist for clicks” to “normal person who values the social role of motherhood above other career identities trying to do the best for her kids.” To me it seems like a noble aspiration to identify with mothering without the concomitant expectation that you will remain isolated within your own home, divorced from the outside world— how that aspiration is marketed and turned into aspirational content is another issue.

Women want to be full-time mothers without being ignored by society— the Internet has become a common outlet— “mama” has become a shorthand for the SAHM who isn’t practicing some kind of midcentury domestic meekness. There are aesthetics attached, as with most subcultures.

Obviously the word “mama” exists out of this paradigm but it’s also definitely on the rise among these bloggers and their audiences.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:36 PM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


“Mom jeans” have been popular and trendy for at least five years. It’s mostly Gen X and older who lamented when they came in style.

But the whole point when they came back was the usual revival-of-the-ugly thing of "here I am, young and fun, wearing this dorky older style associated with dorky unacceptable people, how kicky!"

I remember when it was trucker hats and "working class" clothes when I was a young person, and it was the same "this item is ugly and boring and worn with seriousness by ugly boring people, but I transform it with my youth, beauty and irony" routine.

Consider the difference between the revival of "mom jeans" and the revival of slip dresses and crushed velvet - the frame was totally opposite. Or when I was young, the difference between wearing seventies styles and fifties styles.
posted by Frowner at 12:43 PM on August 6, 2019 [8 favorites]


I can't get Phil Collins singing out of my head now.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:46 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I Remember Mama (1948)
posted by philip-random at 12:51 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


100% agree with the first responses that the women that this essay discusses is a very niche one--White, upper middle class, urban, millennial/Gen-X and perhaps younger. It's very much a social media and mommy blogger thing even if "mama" was used in the White South and in pop songs. These moms learned it from social media. So it's cool hearing about other White origins of "mama" for others in this thread.

Good for the author to at least mention Black and LatinX culture's use of Mama, but I feel like it didn't go deep enough.

I laugh at myself for my MF nick-- I wanted to change it so many times, but I've responded so much as "jj's.mama" that I will have to live with it and should just leave it as is. I don't see myself using it in the way that the crunchy moms do in this essay. I don't really jive with that population and don't consider myself one of them. I have White privilege but I'm mixed. But I suppose someone might look at me as one of them, and I will have to live with that. We're all just moms in the end.

But I just cringe at the idea of debasing other moms by use of other terms like the one person did in the essay. I am proud to be called, Mommy, Mom, mother or mama. It doesn't matter to me. My son's dad calls me Momma or Mommy and calls his Mom, Mother or Mom, and he's not White. I think that what is icky about "claiming" the term "mama" is if claiming it means they rejects other "types" of mom which is totally not cool and just totally reinforcing patriarchy and misogyny.

To me, I'm really interested in the differences between Mama and Momma. A White Jewish friend referred to her Mom as Momma on an IG post and that was sweet but also unexpected to me.
posted by jj's.mama at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2019 [10 favorites]


But not one person either in the essay or here has mentioned, Mami (unless I missed it). Which we should add into the mix. I'm not from the culture(s) that use Mami, so I won't act like I know, but Mami is another one.
posted by jj's.mama at 12:56 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am a rather new mother. i HATE "mama." I especially hate it in advertising emails that address me as such. I am not a mama. I am a MATERNIS.
posted by millipede at 1:00 PM on August 6, 2019 [12 favorites]


Differentiating yourself from your mother, if you're a woman, is about being a sexy fun person not a nagging frump like her...and why is she a nagging frump, you might ask? You'll have the wonderful opportunity to find out in ten to fifteen years.

Marianne Dashwood had the same complaint.
posted by bonehead at 1:20 PM on August 6, 2019


All this discussion and nobody mentioned the 19th century fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which, while existing in variations before then (the old crone and three bachelor bears?!?), consistantly featured Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear since the late 1800s. And that was very European from the start.

Personally, growing up in a conservative home in the 1960s, I always called my parents Mom and Dad, though my one living grandparent was Grandma. Your results may vary.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:22 PM on August 6, 2019


"here I am, young and fun, wearing this dorky older style associated with dorky unacceptable people, how kicky!"

Maybe, but it’s also a celebration of the aesthetic; it’s not completely a form of contempt and mockery. There were plenty of tumblr doodles, etc. celebrating the confident sexiness of it.

I’ve heard plenty of discussion in the same vein praising “mom rock,” i.e., generally Fleetwood Mac, The Police, etc. There’s some irony there but there’s also a curiosity and reverence for women, moms, adulthood.

Of course, there’s always going to be a faux-nostalgic frame that heightens the contradictions of aging or whatever, but there was also a collective “phew!” when comfortable, high-waisted, less overtly sexy fashion came in style.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:25 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh this makes me sad - I love hearing my sweet two year old call me Mama. It's just what she calls me, and I love being a mom.
posted by teragram at 2:30 PM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


your two year old > the entire internet, teragram
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:39 PM on August 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


Oh this makes me sad - I love hearing my sweet two year old call me Mama. It's just what she calls me, and I love being a mom.

Yeah, my eight year old calls me "Mama" and I'm not about to tell her, "Oh honey, I can't let you use the name you've called me since the first day you realized different objects have different names and your face lit up in delight at what you just learned. 'Mama' is apparently appropriative and Internet-derivative and we have to stop using it now."

I'm all for the occasional examination of how much of one's private life is influenced and mediated by public and corporate interests but when we get to what my daughter calls me when it's two a.m. and she's had a nightmare? I'm drawing a line.
posted by sobell at 3:04 PM on August 6, 2019 [17 favorites]


“I’ve heard plenty of discussion in the same vein praising “mom rock,” i.e., generally Fleetwood Mac, The Police, etc”

Oh god. They aren’t even from the same era! Also, clearly adding “mom” in front of a thing means that it is desperately uncool. Shrug.
posted by 41swans at 3:32 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I taught my kids to call me "mama" to avoid the awkward confusion of shifting from "mommy" to "mom" sometime in middle school, and so the word they used as toddlers would still be comfortable when they were adults.”

I don’t.....what? My kid isn’t in middle school yet and hasn’t called me “mommy” for years. No teaching occurred.
posted by 41swans at 3:35 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I didn't think the observations here about appropriation had to do with CHILDREN calling mothers 'mama', but the self-identification of 'mama' among adult women to distinguish themselves from all the negative connotations of being a mom, among other things. So not sure where this is coming from?

I'm curious...but can you please point me to the part in this thread where ANYONE has told ANYBODY to stop telling their kids to call them mama?
posted by neeta at 3:40 PM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'd been aware that these same kids use "papa" instead of "daddy" (and it seemed weird). Didn't know about "mama."

I did know that "mother" has become "mom" ubiquitously, it seems, and I can't stand it. It evokes "soccer mom" and "stay-at-home mom," kind of casual, like women taking care of their kids* are just so relaxed. Uh huh.

*and when did "kid" become "kiddo," PhoBWanKenobi ? And why??
posted by DMelanogaster at 3:43 PM on August 6, 2019


Fleetwood Mac, The Police......They aren’t even from the same era!

I don't think there is a difference that The Kids care about. It's all old music. There are Talking Heads demos from 1975 floating around.
posted by thelonius at 3:50 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mom is actually a compliment among the youthz these days. We may see another terminology shift in the future.
posted by airmail at 4:11 PM on August 6, 2019


Of course, both white and black women in the American South have been being called momma (this is how I usually see it spelled in these communities) for generations. My mom called her parents momma and daddy even as an adult and this is not uncommon there.
posted by mkuhnell at 5:07 PM on August 6, 2019 [2 favorites]


I get what the article is talking about, and I hate how the whole escalation of the Mommy Wars has created a really gross subculture that seems determined to sentence women to having absolutely no life of their own, and to filter every iota of their own identity through the existence of their children.

That being said, what the heck are people supposed to call their mothers that doesn’t carry a connotation of “I’m a member of this gross subculture” or even “I’m calling my other a word that really belongs to other cultures”? My own mother calls herself “Mommy” (in the third person) even though none of her children have called her that in 40 years, because she prefers to infantilize us and undermine our status as adults. That’s a whole different issue. But are we seriously going to start nitpicking the word that people use to refer to themselves as “Mom” by pointing out that some women are trying to claim one variation as a status marker?

I feel like this is patriarchy putting the blame exactly where it doesn’t belong. Again. Nobody would ever write an article about fathers and accuse them of “appropriating” a term as a status marker to counter all the disenfranchising language around fatherhood.

Is it a problem that some women are accorded higher status in the social hierarchy and have loaded a term with a bunch of subtext to identify the tribe? Of course. But that’s not THE problem. That’s a manifestation of the problem.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:14 PM on August 6, 2019 [7 favorites]


the article also missed that Mama is also often used to distinguish from Mom/Mommy - the other mother in a two mother family. Or at least Mom / Mama is used with all the two mom families I know.
posted by biggreenplant at 5:38 PM on August 6, 2019 [15 favorites]


My kid isn’t in middle school yet and hasn’t called me “mommy” for years. No teaching occurred.
Uhhh, my mother at 71 called her mother "Mommy" right up until she died at age 99. For my part, I've been calling her "Mama" for some 40-odd years (to go with "Papa" which got shortened after about 20 years to "Pop") which is one reason why this article and discussion just read as so much horseshit to me.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:45 PM on August 6, 2019


I mean basically this all just seems part and parcel of the very fashionable current trend of dunking specifically on white women.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:51 PM on August 6, 2019 [4 favorites]


what? I'm a white woman and don't feel "dunked on" by the article. but I'm also secure enough in my identity and in my life that I don't feel worried about what my sons call me or feel I need to rebrand parenting.
posted by biggreenplant at 6:26 PM on August 6, 2019 [6 favorites]


I was raised calling my mother ‘Mama’. Personally I was fine with my kids calling me ‘Mom’. There was a bourgeois connotation to ‘Mom’ back in the 1950’s that my mother disliked. I just wanted my kids to fit in where they could. I was made fun of for calling my mother ‘Mama’. I was made fun of for too much I could not help. So I just let them call me ‘Mom’.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:04 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


I used to be up on the big mom blogs/parenting influencers, and I noticed the mama thing occurring around the same time that kids became "littles" and sunglasses became "sunnies." Is it a need to differentiate or make things cute?

Ah, Australian here and "sunnies" have been "sunnies" since the sun first rose and blinded us all. I wouldn't say we were a particularly cutsey people but we can add '-ies" to anything.

Littlies is also familiar from my childhood.

Most Aussie kids say mum and dad but I was raised by a very English mother. I still, in my mid 40s, call my parents Mummy and Daddy.

When I see "Mama" I never know if it's going to be 'muhmuh' or 'm'maah' (like in Downton Abbey)

All this discussion and nobody mentioned the 19th century fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which, while existing in variations before then (the old crone and three bachelor bears?!?), consistantly featured Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear since the late 1800s. And that was very European from the start.

I hope Goldilocks wasn't such a brat in the old crone and three bachelor bears version (which sounds awesome!). I feel like they would've been less tolerant of her nonsense. I had lots of blond curls as a child. Strangers always referred to me as Goldilocks. I found it very insulting being associated with that little thief. She's like that evil twin I can't escape.
posted by kitten magic at 8:07 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Lady" has had a similar revival and affectionate usage among women, I think, over perhaps the past ten or fifteen years. I'll get a "Hey Lady" greeting pretty often, but only from other women. And if sitting with other women, a newcomer might well greet everyone with a simple "Ladies!" or "Hi Ladies!" This is in the upper Midwest.

The article clarified the affectionate use of "Mama" in Latinx cultures for me. My SIL, who's from Peru, calls her little girl, her sister, her friend, and even me "Mama" on occasion.

Re other names for parents, one set in my family were "Muv" and "Fa," short for mother and father (they were formal people), later to be known as "Grandmuv" and "Grandfa."
posted by carmicha at 8:37 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Lady" has had a similar revival and affectionate usage among women, I think, over perhaps the past ten or fifteen years. I'll get a "Hey Lady" greeting pretty often, but only from other women. And if sitting with other women, a newcomer might well greet everyone with a simple "Ladies!" or "Hi Ladies!" This is in the upper Midwest.

Same with the usage among friends here -- sometimes we do also call back to The Toast with the "Hey Ladies" use too. (I'm in the SF Bay Area.) And I do call the girls in my GS troop (ages 5-10) "ladies" when I need them to listen. The first time some of them accompanied me to a bigger council-wide activity and a well-meaning volunteer called out, "Now, giiiiiiiirls," all of my scouts were like, "No, you don't understand. We're ladies. We've got this."
posted by sobell at 8:44 PM on August 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


carmicha, you will be amused to know (if you don't already) that the infamous Mitford sisters called their (upper-class English) parents "Muv" and "Farve" throughout their lives, and that their mother was also called "Granny Muv" by her grandchildren.
posted by huimangm at 9:29 PM on August 6, 2019 [5 favorites]


I live in Central Jersey along the bay, and the only time I hear mama used by kids is in one family whose mom has has a distinct Southern accent.

I always associated the use of mama with Southern families.

Up around me it's either mother said like muth-er or Ma. Ours was a Ma household, said with a Jersey accent thicker than the one on Sopranos.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 5:17 AM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think my favorite observation of the use of "Ladies!" has been in work meetings where someone would come in and say, "Hey ladies!" even though the group included men. Hey, if a mixed group can be "guys" or "dudes", then a mixed group can be "ladies" too.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Not wanting to shit on women who choose "mama" as a term but I've noticed this going back to the early-mid 2000s with hippies at the local co-op type shit. "Hip Mama" being the chief purveyor of this trend. And all the cool urbanite white dads with their beards and strollers, and moms with the papoose or wtf they call that baby sling thing. IDK I have no investment in children babies parenthood. but...

It does annoy me a little, like - it's the cute quirky hippies became a cultural trend to hook up on. "Oh how cute, let's call each other mama to show *wink* we get it, amirite fellow mamas, and our gender reveal parties and whatever bougie white shit we throw in"

(I suppose I just said I didn't want to shit on anyone and here I go - apologies for that).

Seriously though has it just metastasized beyond that pool of hippie moms? Are hippie moms basically just the same group?

I suppose at least if we're talking co-opting they're not outright calling each other mammy?
posted by symbioid at 1:49 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ugh, but when a man says "Ladies" to refer to a mixed group, it seems like it's usually a misogynist dig to emasculate the men.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:50 PM on August 7, 2019


Sigh. I don't understand how this trend could even be appropriate of black culture because there's so much that differentiates the typical contexts of black and white motherhood in the US. Just think of the marriage and income gap issues alone - believe me, no one's co-opting those challenges or the ways in which they influence motherhood when they call themselves mama.
posted by blerghamot at 2:46 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the only people I know who use "mama" this way -- women referring to other women -- are hippies.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:48 PM on August 7, 2019


Also I don't give a crap if they call each other "mama." Leave women alone.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:49 PM on August 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


It's interesting to me to hear people say that calling your mother "Mama" is totally normal into adulthood (vs. mom or mommy). This is counter to my experience (born in southern Oregon, spent the last 20 years of adulthood in northern California). To me, "Mom" is the only word I've heard one adult say to another. I've heard mama often enough, but mostly between adult women friends. If I heard another adult refer to their maternal parent as mommy, mama, or momma, I'd be pretty shocked (in that it's not something I've ever heard, not like any kind of judgment).
posted by JenMarie at 3:07 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


[TEVYE & PAPAS]
Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.
The Papa, the Papa! Tradition.

[GOLDE & MAMAS]
Who must know the way to make a proper home,
A quiet home, a kosher home?
Who must raise the family and run the home,
So Papa's free to read the holy books?

The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!
The Mama, the Mama! Tradition!

posted by wondermouse at 7:39 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Fun fact, the Mamas and the Papas were named for the term used for women associates of the Hell's Angels at the time (I can't imagine they allowed many women as full members) and not parents.
posted by Dysk at 4:23 AM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm familiar with the phenomenon of women (and girls) calling each other Mama in various ways, including women that don't have kids (the comment about Slater and Jesse from Saved By the Bell rings true because some of my classmates in high school - girls and boys - definitely called some of the girls Mama in this way). I don't think I've ever used it in any context (for friends, for my own mom, for myself as mother), but I've heard it a lot as in solidarity or sympathy (e.g. "you got this, Mama") and I think of it as a African American and white southern thing.

But also, I think every lesbian couple with kids in my life right now are Mommy and Mama (so maybe five sets of parents?). All their kids are still kindergarten or younger, so I am interested to see how that will morph (Mommy to Mom and Mama persists? Mom and Ma?).

Unrelatedly, it drives me to distraction when the folks in the pediatrician's office (office staff, docs themselves) addresses me as Mom. First name is fine, nothing is fine, but I'm not your mom.
posted by Pax at 5:32 PM on August 11, 2019 [2 favorites]


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