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It’s a simple insult in the schoolyard.
For centuries, people – often men – threw “mama’s boy” at each other in unmasking disdain. To be called a mother’s son suggested an essential unmanliness. “Mama’s Boys” were comically inept, even pathologically, in movies and TV shows ranging from the pathetic Buster Bluth in Arrested Development until the waterboy‘s Bobby Boucher to Norman Bates in psycho†
away, far back, Beowulf’s Grendel could even be called the mother of literary mother 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 mommy boy,” says Sahil Bloom. The glamorous 31-year-old tech entrepreneur is now waiting for the birth of his own son. “I expect him to be a mother’s boy, in the same way. In the old sense of the word, it was about being a wimp or a weakling. But there is nothing more powerful than a mother’s love.”
“I’m definitely a mom’s boy because I love my mom,” said college soccer star Shaquan Reid. The 21-year-old Chicago State University sophomore says he owes everything to his mother’s encouragement and care. “I enjoy having her around, motivating and comforting me.”
Reid adds that many athletes are self-proclaimed mama boys, and that is certainly true of NFL stars like Victor Cruz, John Elway, Terrell Davis, Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb and Michael Strahan. They all starred in Mommy’s boys ads for Campbell’s soup. Not long ago, Miami Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker went viral when he couldn’t find his mother in the stands during a game in 2019.
“It’s okay to be a mama’s boy. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Baker told NPR. “Everyone knew I was a mother’s boy” [growing up]† People tried to laugh at me. But I was different. I was proud. A lot of people weren’t proud to be a mama’s boy.”
Today, plenty of strong, likeable male characters who are confidently close to their mothers populate screens and pages. Proud fictional mama 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 this is far from when psychologist and bestselling author Harriet Lerner, the bestselling author of books such as: the mother dancefirst started her practice.
“During my career, mothers have been given the message, including from therapists, that her closeness to her sons, her inability to ‘divorce’ and to ‘let go’ her son, especially around his adolescence and beyond – that it poses a danger to the boy,” she says. “That could turn him into a mother’s baby and harm her 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 husbandless households could not raise sons. Because who would teach that boy to become a man?”
Such sexist double standards, Lerner suggests, can also be deduced by comparing long-held cultural assumptions about “mama’s boys” and “daddy’s girls.”
“Being a daddy’s girl is seen as a good thing,” she notes. “It means you’re cute and loved and know how to flirt with men.”
In the 1980s, when Lerner’s two sons were still children, Lerner often saw cute little girls in t-shirts that read “Daddy’s Girl.”
“I didn’t know why there weren’t t-shirts that said ‘mama’s boys’,” she says dryly.
Such shirts for boys are easy to find these days. Google searches for “mommy’s boy shirt” have risen significantly in recent years.
It wasn’t hard to find data that proves we’ve evolved in our use of the phrase “mama’s boy.” After all, this is 2022. Everything is tracked by a big company, it seems, and “mama’s boy” is no exception.
“There have been more than 3 million mentions of terms like ‘momma’s boy’ on people’s profiles in recent years,” Michael Kaye, OkCupid’s associate director of global communications, wrote in an email. “Between December and April, there was a 20% increase in these terms. Men who have ‘momma’s boy’ on their profiles are 7% more likely to exchange phone numbers with another user.”
Kaye (who also quickly identified herself as a proud mommy boy in a phone interview) said sure, seven percent might not seem like much. “But when you consider that there are millions and millions of people on dating apps like OkCupid, the success rate is actually quite high,” he points out.
“It’s a very smart strategy,” agrees Helen Fisher. She is the chief scientific advisor for Match.com. Fisher didn’t collect numbers specifically for the term “mom’s boy,” but she checked Match.com data on men who reference their moms in their profiles.
“It’s only 1.4 percent of men who used the terms ‘my mother’, ‘my mother’ or ‘my mother’, but those 1.4 percent of men had a 26 percent greater chance of resigning from the site because they met someone,” she announced.
That sounds good to Garret Watts, a 32-year-old YouTube personality and proud mommy boy. When he sees men using that self-scriptor in dating apps, only one word comes to mind: honest.
Watts points out that the vast majority of men are technically mom’s boys, including himself. “Go ahead and call me a mama’s boy,” he says. “You just call me a human being. You just call me an emotionally responsible human being at a grassroots level.”
Watts is happy that more people are reclaiming the phrase “mama’s boy” as a point of pride, but he’s essentially saying it’s outdated. “Let go of the stigma,” he says. “I say, let the expression ‘mamma’s boy’ burn. That belongs to the past.”