Have you seen the movie Wolf Children? Yes? Oh, good. No? Pity, but let’s proceed anyway.
Several days ago, I had a pretty interesting conversation with my mom which got me thinking about the movie – and how it made me feel. It constantly bugged my mind ever since, prompting me to type this (hopefully coherent) word vomit.
Wolf Children is a 2012 Japanese animated film directed and co-written by Mamoru Hosoda, of the Summer Wars (2009) and the Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) fame. It tells the story of Hana, a 19-year-old student who falls in a “fairy-tale like” love with a wolf man she met during a university lecture. Over the course of the story spanning 13 long years, Hana gives birth to two children – older sister Yuki, and younger brother Ame. Spending a (not-so) quiet life in the mountains after the wolf man’s sudden death.
I will leave the discussions about the graphics, casts, music, and Hosoda’s prowess as a movie director to much more competent people and instead, focusing this writing on the thing that bothered me the most: Hana as a character.
Given that 13 years is frankly, an awfully long time, the movie’s narrative was then nicely divided into three distinct but interrelated parts. The first is a love story, depicting the meeting and the separation of Hana and the said wolf man whose name we never learn. The second is the chronicle of Hana’s years struggling to raise her children Yuki and Ame both in the city and the idyllic mountain village where they spent the rest of their lives after the father’s death. Finally, the third is the story of those children finding the own way in life, rife with their own complications. Much of the meat resides in part two (2) and three (3) – and also incidentally – this writing’s focus. After all, who am I to judge if Hana’s type is a broody part-timing wolf man with a penchant for philosophy? Nobody whatsoever. So let’s just move on.
Part two (2) and three (3) depicts the sacrifices Hana has to make to raise her children despite all the complications that come with whole wolf-thing and of course, as a poor single mother living deep in the mountains. Hana is often written in numerous reviews as ‘a strong woman’: she quits her studies, makes ends meet with the wolf man’s meager savings, lives a frugal lifestyle so that she can feed her children, makes a leap of faith by moving to the countryside, renovates a dilapidated house, learns how to farm, makes dresses for her daughter, takes a part time job as a local ranger, and effectively running the show all by herself. Supporting them like Atlas in the myth. Hana simply gives everything of herself for Ame and Yuki – she takes herself where she thinks she must for their sakes, and gives them everything that was in her power to give, emotionally and otherwise. She doesn’t get angry, rarely took rests, and manages everything single-handedly. Smiling through her troubles and does her very best for her children, until the moment where their paths split off.
She is so perfect, in every sense of the word.
Hana is depicted as a ‘hero’ with a ‘boundless love for her children.’ Doing the ‘hardest job’ as a mother – come hell or high water. So very amazing, it leaves people wondering on ‘how you mothers do it.’
The last phrase was of course, said with good intentions of acknowledging, appreciating, or even just noticing a woman’s efforts and role as mother. And yet, despite the seemingly good intentions, they also paint a problematic picture – an idealized and unrealistic picture of Mother, the Martyr.
As many people have observed, the society’s current trend seems to demand that mothers be all in, all the time – doing everything and being everything. Mothers are then painted as something perfect (and highly unrealistic): as an all-giving, all-knowing, selfless, super human.
While mothers do certainly sacrifice and go to great lengths to care for their children, that doesn’t mean that such things don’t come up with other potential consequences. This over-glorification of the role of mother runs the risk of creating an unattainable standard for what it means to be a ‘loving mother,’ which can (and perhaps will) perpetuate the cycles of regret or shame that some mothers feel if they don’t fit in this mold, whether due to emotional reasons, work obligations, or personality traits. It also devalues the other roles that mothers as women fulfill – wives, sisters, friends, daughters, colleagues etc – diminishes the role of fathers, and fails to take into account of those who can’t have or choose not to have children, those who don’t choose to become mothers, and those who plainly, don’t enjoy the so-called ‘joyous motherhood.’
This pedestal-building idealized image of the mother as a tireless, flawless, and selfless super human isn’t helpful for anyone, whether it be fathers, mothers themselves, the children, or society in general. Mothers, as a woman, as a human being, have their own ideas, thoughts, and needs; that they have other roles and relationships outside that of a mother and that they are just like everyone else in the planet, with their feelings and failings.
I mean, for a man to be labeled a bad father, he needs to be a wife beating, insufferable alcoholic/spendthrift, and overall good for nothing. But for a woman to be labeled a bad mother, she just has to be late to pick up her crying kids and forgets to keep the house in a tip-top condition. Why is motherhood idolized and worshiped, but mothers not viewed as actual human beings? Mothers are human beings and like all human beings, they have their own individuality. Why is this concept so hard to grasp? Mothers are just humans, made of flesh and blood like the rest of the lot. Not martyrs, stone idols, God-like figures, nor super humans. Mothers are imperfect. Some are perfectly warm and loving, some are too busy and decide to hand over their children’s care on to another person, some openly neglect their children, and there are some who consistently say and do terrible things to their children. But isn’t okay? They are only humans, after all. Isn’t it good enough?
I want to see a Hana that isn’t always a mother 24/7, Hana that doesn’t manage everything single-handedly, Hana that isn’t perfect, Hana that is good enough!