Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought


Family, Life Course, and Society | Gender and Sexuality


Despite its unconventional family structures and playful gestures at redefining traditional gender scripts, ABC’s domestic comedy, Modern Family, perpetuates perceived notions of femininity and masculinity within the context of three families whose differences from the nuclear family are far from radical. Reassuring even its most conservative viewers on these counts, the show does, however, portray a potentially unsettling approach to parenting. The dynamics of parenting are unstable, bending gender rules and disregarding boundaries normally set by age, race, and social class. As normative notions of parenting are questioned and expanded, parenthood is no longer an immutable institution built on hard rules and clear hierarchies. However chaotic in appearance, such parenting takes a tremendous burden off the shoulders of viewer-parents and, particularly, viewer-mothers who, in a climate that equates the decline of family values with the failure of society as a whole, are culturally mandated to be unshakeable sources of stability, consistency, and guidance. Rather than blaming parents for their inability to follow a socially sanctioned parenting protocol, Modern Family grants fathers and especially mothers leeway to approach parenthood and family according to their individual abilities and limitations.