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.
Momlife presents a depressingly negative view of marriage and parenthood, which is why it went viral on both Twitter and Instagram. But the two audiences came at it from different angles.
These comics are an easy target for mockery because they overlap with conservative Instagram stereotypes, where momfluencers combine aspirational vibes with old-fashioned attitudes to marriage and motherhood. At the same time though, Momlife routinely highlights patriarchal assumptions about women and household labor. Starr’s most popular post is about double standards in the way men and women are judged for similar parenting techniques. So as Twitter users poked fun at Starr’s comics and personal life, some of this backlash was criticized in itself for having sexist undertones.
Responding to the controversy, Starr posted a comic with the caption, “When a woman says anything
that isn’t 100% positive on the internet,” showing herself being yelled at by trolls. “This one goes out to all of the new trolls who have come over here from Twitter to say horrible things to me + judge me/my marriage from just a few comics,” she wrote, pinning the blame on “lots of 20 year old guys” who “simply don’t get it.”
The Daily Dot has reached out to Mary Catherine Starr for comment.