Mothers behaving badly: chaotic hedonism and the crisis of neoliberal social reproduction

Littler, Jo. 2020. Mothers behaving badly: chaotic hedonism and the crisis of neoliberal social reproduction. Cultural Studies, 34(4), pp. 499-520. ISSN 0950-2386 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article focuses on the significance of the plethora of representations of mothers ‘behaving badly’ in contemporary anglophone media texts, including the films Bad Moms, Fun Mom Dinner and Bad Mom’s Christmas, the book and online cartoons Hurrah for Gin and the recent TV comedy dramas Motherland, The Let Down and Catastrophe. All these media texts include representations of, first, mothers in the midst of highly chaotic everyday spaces where any smooth routine of domesticity is conspicuous by its absence; and second, mothers behaving hedonistically, usually through drinking and partying, behaviour that is more conventionally associated with men or women without children. After identifying the social type of the mother behaving badly (MBB), the article locates and analyses it in relation to several different social and cultural contexts. These contexts are: a neoliberal crisis in social reproduction marked by inequality and overwork; the continual if contested role of women as ‘foundation parents’; and the negotiation of longer-term discourses of female hedonism. The title gestures towards a popular British sitcom of the 1990s, Men Behaving Badly, which popularized the idea of the ‘new lad’; and this article suggests that the new lad’s counterpart, the ladette, is mutating into the mother behaving badly, or the ‘lad mom’. Asking what work this figure does now, in a later neoliberal context, it argues that the mother behaving badly is simultaneously indicative of a widening and liberating range of maternal subject positions and symptomatic of a profound contemporary crisis in social reproduction. By focusing on the classed and racialised dynamics of the MBB – by examining who exactly is permitted to be hedonistic, and how – and by considering the MBB’s limited and partial imagining of progressive social change, the article concludes by emphasizing the urgency of creating more connections between such discourses and ‘parents behaving politically’.

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Cultural Studies on 1 July 2019, available online: It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


chaos, hedonism, motherhood, neoliberalism, social reproduction

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


14 June 2019Accepted
1 July 2019Published Online

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Date Deposited:

29 Apr 2024 10:37

Last Modified:

30 Apr 2024 01:25

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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