Olivia Wilde, Jason Sudeikis have joint custody. Only one is seen as an absentee parent. Golie Mark

Olivia Wilde is no stranger to tabloids. From the “Don’t Worry Darling” drama to her highly-publicized split from Jason Sudeikis, the critically-acclaimed actress and director, 38, has been scrutinized for everything from her relationship with Harry Styles to her parenting.

Wilde and Sudeikis, 47, have joint custody of their two children. Yet Wilde, like many other female stars, has been subjected to online criticism when she is spotted spending time without her children – indicative of a larger problem regarding how society views mothers.

“I share custody of my kids with my ex. If I’m photographed not with my kids, people assume I have abandoned them, like my kids are just somewhere in a hot car without me,” Wilde told Elle Magazine earlier this month.

In August, she aired a similar frustration when speaking with Variety. “When people see me not with my kids, it’s always ‘How dare she.’ I’ve never seen anyone say that about a guy. And if he is with his kid, he’s a (expletive) hero.”

Olivia Wilde, Jason Sudeikis: Exes respond to ‘false and scurrilous’ allegations made by ex-nanny

Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde have reportedly ended their relationship.

Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde have reportedly ended their relationship.

This double standard exemplifies the way we “elevate women as mothers. But as soon as she does something that violates our sense of stereotype, we knock her off that pedestal and take her down,” says Shira Tarrant, a professor of gender and sexuality studies at California State University Long Beach.

Along with Wilde, other celebrity moms have been using their platforms to defend the way they parent. Take Megan Fox. The actress, after posting a series of selfies, clapped back at a mom-shamer last week who wrote “Where your kids at?” (“Wait wait wait. I… have kids?!? Oh my God I knew I forgot something!!” she sarcastically replied). Similarly, Kourtney Kardashian addressed rumors that she is “never with (her) kids,” clarifying they prefer not to appear in her social media posts.

After nearly 10 years of marriage and three children together, Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green split in 2020. Fox is now engaged to singer Machine Gun Kelly.

After nearly 10 years of marriage and three children together, Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green split in 2020. Fox is now engaged to singer Machine Gun Kelly.

Tarrant explains, “We give brownie points and gold stars to fathers who make minimal effort. And when women show up at work as mothers, there’s often doubt in people’s minds like, ‘Can she do it?’ or ‘Is she being a good mom?'”

These celebrity examples, she says, reflect real-life issues “of the way mothers are constantly penalized while fathers are elevated.”

The unrealistic expectations we hold for ‘perfect mothers’

Our view of mothering, experts say, stems from rigid, traditional gender roles which historically assumed women to be the primary caregivers and men the breadwinners of the family. Yet in the 1950s, after World War II, we witnessed the rise of working moms or second incomes in the home. Still today, these expectations of who is responsible for children’s well-being persist.

Our views of women and motherhood have progressed over the decades, but not enough, says Virginia Williamson, Collaborative Counseling Group founder and licensed marriage and family therapist. That is why prominent women, like Wilde, who prove themselves to be multidimensional – or more than just a mom – cause a stir.

“Though we’ve made strides … there are still many negative connotations associated with being a woman viewed as strong or independent,” she says.  

Olivia Wilde has been romantically linked to Harry Styles, who starred in her directing debut "Don't Worry Darling."

Olivia Wilde has been romantically linked to Harry Styles, who starred in her directing debut “Don’t Worry Darling.”

Additionally, the way we talk about motherhood is a “seductive yet destructive” double-edged sword, Tarrant says. On one hand, we admire and praise the woman who choose to have children. But if she isn’t constantly at home with her kids, if she chooses to hang out with friends or new romantic partners, she is met with judgement and shame.

“It’s a form of gender-based social control, and it’s really powerful because as a social dynamic, it’s harder to pinpoint. It’s difficult to diffuse how it impacts all of us,” Tarrant says.

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‘It has been women shaming me’

Women often internalize misogyny in subtle ways, such as mom-shaming. Wilde’s loudest critics have female, she says. (“It has been women shaming me for making a decision that is for my own health and happiness,” she said in August of her divorce.)

This practice stems from a culture that has reinforced unfair standards for women. They have long been told how to look, how to act and how to parent in order to be praised by society.

“When we’re talking about structural societal forces like misogyny, we have to recognize that everyone is subjected to them, women included. They’re socialized into it when their survival has depended on a system that doesn’t value them,” says Juliet Williams, a professor of gender studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

From Beyoncé to Pink: Celebrity moms get mom-shamed too

But putting the burden of good parenting on only one parent does a disservice to all, says Williams. It’s unfair to fathers, “whose hard work and caregiving may become erased or dismissed,” and to mothers, who “are devalued, shamed and judged.” It’s also unfair to children “who won’t have the benefit of recognized, vigorous parenting from all adults.”

Awareness is the first step to tackling these double standards. Tarrant urges people to be honest about how we all, regardless of gender, may be perpetuating these stereotypes, “without pointing a finger at only the women and saying, ‘Oh, look, it’s a catfight.'”

As Wilde put it in a speech aimed at women last week, “We are allies relying on each other not to fall back and stop advancing because we are up against a seriously massive force of opposition that has for centuries, tried to rein us in.”

“I feel motivated to keep fighting through the hellfire (of misogyny).”

‘Don’t Worry Darling’: The drama surrounding Harry Styles, Florence Pugh and Olivia Wilde, explained

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olivia Wilde, Megan Fox and the sexism behind ‘absent mother’ trope

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