Mary Catherine Starr’s Momlife comics belong to a familiar category of Instagram mom content, sharing complaints about housework and motherhood. Critiquing the unbalanced workload in a straight marriage, Momlife portrays “Mom” as perpetually overwhelmed by chores while “Dad” is a clueless layabout.
These comics don’t paint Starr’s husband in a particularly flattering light, but her 220,000 Instagram followers make it clear that Momlife’s message is relatable to many. Then this weekend, some of these comics reached an audience outside of their target readership, inspiring a flood of derisive memes on Twitter. People tore into Momlife’s depiction of marriage, comparing Starr’s complaints to Boomer-era “I hate my wife” jokes.
These comics quickly became a nexus point for multiple strands of Twitter discourse. Why do so many men leave their wives to do the housework? Why is it socially acceptable for straight people to openly detest their spouses? Are these comics inherently passive-aggressive, revealing Starr/”Mom” to be the real asshole in the relationship? Why don’t they just get a divorce?
Some commenters also began to wonder if Momlife is really an accurate portrayal of the author’s marriage, delving into old blog posts where she talks about her husband doing all the cooking and grocery shopping. Maybe Mr. Momlife is being unfairly maligned.
Predictably for Twitter, this backlash evolved from satirical memes to a total pile-on, using Momlife as an avatar for everything wrong with Instagram mom culture and/or a certain kind of toxic straight marriage. The criticism became increasingly harsh and personalized toward Starr’s family life.
One surefire way to become Twitter’s Main Character of the Day is to post “relatable” content that many people find extremely unrelatable. For instance, Bean Dad, or that guy who dropped acid and tweeted that he resented his mom for giving him $100,000. These micro-controversies go viral for the same reason that people love Am I The Asshole posts on Reddit: Everyone enjoys dragging someone else’s family drama.
The “best” Main Characters invoke a sense of harmless schadenfreude, often because they seem to invite the backlash upon themselves. But this doesn’t quite seem accurate for Momlife. Rather than posting an inflammatory thread on Twitter itself, Momlife originated from the normie zone of Instagram, playing to its own target readership. Then certain posts attracted backlash on Twitter because they were cherry-picked to annoy an unfamiliar audience.