The Skylar White Effect: Motherhood on Breaking Bad
Women and Gender Studies
Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies
Arts and Humanities
Viewers have become entranced with the anti-hero. Male characters such as the serial killer Dexter Morgan, mob boss Tony Soprano, high-school chemistry teacher turned meth cook Walter White, and diabolical politician Frank Underwood challenge viewers to question the actions and morals of arguably likeable lead characters. These shows are well-written, superbly acted and extremely violent. However, as evidenced by the vitriolic backlash toward the character of Skyler White, which was so pervasive it prompted actress Anna Gunn to write a 2013 op-ed piece for the New York Times, female anti-hero characters are held to different standards than male characters particularly when the women are mothers. This research centers on an in-depth analysis of the representation of motherhood in the television series Breaking Bad. The character of Skylar White presents alternative representations of womens power and agency while challenging dominant narratives of motherhood. Skylar is complicit in her husbands illegal activities and actively launders his drug money but she believes these actions are justified because they are in service of protecting her family. A critical analysis of Skylar White provides a means to understand and challenge traditional messages about mothering and to deconstruct the structures that regulate and police motherhood boundaries. Feminist television scholars have resisted simplified analysis focusing instead on ways that television can both present misogynist images and be a site of empowerment. My analysis therefore centers on how televised depictions of outlaw mothers challenge dominant good mother ideologies while additionally deconstructing the means through which Breaking Bad reinforces normative definitions of motherhood and by extension patriarchy.
Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) National Conference
New Orleans, LA
Mason, Julia, "The Skylar White Effect: Motherhood on Breaking Bad" (2015). Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants. 512.