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It’s a simple schoolyard insult.
For eons, people – often men – hurled “mama’s boy” at each other as an emasculating rebuke. To be called a mother’s son suggested essential virility. “Mommy’s Boys” were comically incompetent, even pathological, in movies and TV shows ranging from the pathetic Buster Bluth to Development stopped for The Waterboyfrom Bobby Boucher to Norman Bates in psychology.
Looking far, far back, At Beowulf Grendel could even be called the mother of the literary mama boys.
But a new generation of men seems to be rejecting the toxic masculinity inherent in the expression and radically reinventing it.
“I’m a proud mama’s boy,” says Sahil Bloom. The glamorous 31-year-old tech entrepreneur is now expecting the birth of her own son. “I expect him to be a mama’s boy, the same way. In the old sense of the word, it was about being a weakling or a weakling. But there’s nothing more powerful than a mother’s love.”
“I’m definitely a mom’s boy because I love my mom,” admits college football star Shaquan Reid. The 21-year-old Chicago State University sophomore says he owes it all to his mother’s encouragement and care. “I like having him with me, motivating me, consoling me.”
Reid adds that many athletes are self-proclaimed mommy’s boys, and that’s certainly the case with NFL stars like Victor Cruz, John Elway, Terrell Davis, Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb and Michael Strahan. All starred in Mama’s Boy-themed commercials for Campbell’s Soup. Not too long ago, Miami Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker went viral when he couldn’t find his mother in the stands during a 2019 game.
“It’s okay to be a mommy’s kid. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Baker told NPR. “Everyone knew I was a mama’s boy [growing up]. People tried to make fun of me. But I was different. I was proud. A lot of people weren’t proud to be a mama’s boy.”
These days, many strong and lovable male characters, close to their mothers, populate the screens and the pages. Fictional Mom’s Proud Boys range from Percy Jackson, from Rick Riordan’s young adult series, to Detective Jake Peralta in Brooklyn nine-nine to Luke Smith in The Adventures of Sarah Jane. Mama’s Boy pride is the subject of songs and speeches.
All of this is a far cry from the days when psychologist and bestselling author Harriet Lerner, the bestselling author of books such as The dance of the mothersbegan his practice.
“Throughout my career, mothers have been given the message, including therapists, that his closeness to his sons, his inability to ‘separate’ and ‘let go’ of his son, especially around his teenage years and Beyond that – that it would be a danger to the boy,” she said. “It could turn him into a mama’s boy and harm his son on his journey to manhood. Another false belief that shamed mothers – and made mothers even more anxious – was the belief that single mothers or households without men could not raise sons. Because who would teach that boy to be a man?
These gendered double standards, Lerner suggests, can also be gleaned by comparing long-held cultural assumptions about “mommy’s boys” and “daddy’s girls.”
“Being daddy’s girl is considered a good thing,” she observes. “It means you’re adorable and loved, and you know how to flirt with men.”
In the 1980s, when Lerner’s two sons were children, Lerner often saw cute little girls wearing “Daddy’s Girl” T-shirts.
“I didn’t know why there weren’t t-shirts that said ‘mommy’s boys,'” she said dryly.
These days, such shirts for boys are easy to find. In fact, Google searches for “mom’s boy shirt” have increased dramatically in recent years.
It wasn’t hard to find data proving that we’ve evolved in our use of the phrase “mama’s boy.” After all, it’s 2022. Everything is followed by big business, it seems, and “mama’s boy” is no exception.
“There have been over 3 million mentions of terms like ‘mama’s boy’ on people’s profiles over the past few years,” Michael Kaye, associate director of global communications at OkCupid, wrote in an email. . “Between December and April, there was a 20% increase in these terms being mentioned. Men who include ‘mama’s boy’ on their profiles have a 7% higher likelihood of exchanging phone numbers with another user.”
Kaye (who was quick to identify as a proud mama’s boy in a phone interview) said 7% wouldn’t seem like a lot. “But when you think there are millions and millions of people on dating apps like OkCupid, that’s actually a pretty high success rate,” he points out.
“It’s a very clever strategy,” admits Helen Fisher. She is Chief Scientific Advisor for Match.com. Fisher didn’t calculate numbers specifically for the term “mama’s boy,” but she did check Match.com data on men who reference their mothers in their profiles.
“It’s only 1.4% of men who actually used the terms ‘my mother’, ‘my mother’ or ‘my mom’, but that 1.4% of men had a 26% increase in likelihood of quitting the site because they had met someone,” she announced.
That sounds about right for Garret Watts, a 32-year-old YouTube personality and proud mama’s boy. When he sees guys using this self-description on dating apps, there’s really only one word that comes to mind: honest.
After all, Watts points out, the vast majority of men are technically mama’s boys, including himself. “Go ahead and call me a mama’s boy,” he said. “You just call me a human. You just call me an emotionally responsible basic human.”
Watts is thrilled that more people are claiming the phrase “mama’s boy” as a point of pride, but he says it’s fundamentally antiquated. “Drop the stigma,” he says. “I say, let the phrase ‘mamma’s boy’ burn. That’s a thing of the past.”