Women Should Be Mommies and Mommies Never Win

by Tami Winfrey Harris

Motherhood sells, according to an April 27, 2012, article in The New York Times.  Whether you’re a fading female star searching for a second act or a party girl looking for a redemption story, announcing a pregnancy can be a path to attention in the form of paparazzi shots, reality TV deals and maternity/baby clothing lines. Tabloids bid heartily for shots of “baby bumps” and days-old celebrity spawn. And the public eats it up obsessively.

All this attention is both a reflection of gender bias and it is hypocrisy. The evidence is who is left out in the deification of parenthood and the fact that tabloid covers don’t translate into real, concrete support for everyday women.

The commercialization of parenthood is squick-making, but more disturbing is the attention paid to the childbearing (or not) of famous women. As Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon wrote, “We are all – the famous and the not, the MTV teen moms and the pampered housewives, the perfectly dressed supermoms and the contentedly child-free – more than the contents of our uteri.”  But tabloids are ambivalent about George Clooney’s childfree life but care mightily about Jennifer Anniston’s.

I agree with Nation writer Katha Pollitt who sees the phenomenon as another tentacle on that hulking leviathan that is the backlash against feminism. The media seeks to glamourize and celebrate traditional views of womanhood. It doesn’t get more traditional that a gestating woman. Better when actresses pontificate on such things as how “there’s no deeper want for a woman than to be a mother.”

But it is revealing who is generally left out of motherhood celebration. Black women, save Beyonce, are generally absent from the bump watch genre. (Though the media is awfully concerned about us being all single and too independent and having babies “the wrong way.”) As Deesha Philyaw wrote in her Bitch article about the dearth of “mommy memoirs” including the experiences of black women, “Low-income and working-class women, black women, and other women of color don’t see their mothering experiences and concerns reflected in the mommy media machine, and we get the cultural message loud and clear: Affluent white women are the only mothers who really matter.”

To wit, Jennifer Hudson got more shine for dropping weight than having a child.

But perhaps we should be glad that women of color are, for the most part, left out of the cultural fascination with baby bumps. Because as much as all this talk of motherhood seems like glorification, it in fact becomes a new way to criticize female celebrities in a way that male stars never are.

Beyonce’s glamorous pregnancy wasn’t real. Jessica Simpson’s was too real and too long.  Jennifer Aniston is sad and barren. But Angelina Jolie, depending on the tabloid, is a brown baby collector; a neglectful mother; more in love with her bio kids than her adoptive ones; and the list goes on.  Erykah Badu has too many baby daddies. Sandra Bullock is suspect for adopting a black child.

We want women to be mothers, but mothers never escape our criticism.

It would almost make you think that our society’s genuflecting to motherhood is more surface than substance. Huh. Matter of fact, our short parental leave standards, absence of affordable childcare, attacks on reproductive healthcare for women, low-paid childcare providers, dwindling social services and cuts to education reveal a societal hypocrisy. We love a baby bump and a glowing celebrity mommy, but when that bump becomes a baby, that little sucker and its mama better be able to fend for themselves.

  • I got sense!

    “We want women to be mothers, but mothers never escape our criticism.”

    The problem , to me, is in the wanting, which is more like expecting. Jennifer Aniston gets dogged because as a woman she is supposed to want kids and no one cares if Clooney has kids because e is a man and perfectly fine if a man doesn’t get married and have kids.

    “It would almost make you think that our society’s genuflecting to motherhood is more surface than substance. Huh. Matter of fact, our short parental leave standards, absence of affordable childcare, attacks on reproductive healthcare for women, low-paid childcare providers, dwindling social services and cuts to education reveal a societal hypocrisy. We love a baby bump and a glowing celebrity mommy, but when that bump becomes a baby, that little sucker and its mama better be able to fend for themselves.”

    This is just funny. Sad and true and funny. It’s just like everything else though. Just like you can’t legally get many benefits until you get married and/or have children. It’s the governments way of replenishing its population of future soldiers, prisoners, and scapegoats. The government always has and always will interfere with the personal decisions of its citizens by withholding resources and opportunities.

  • Yb

    What I’ve noticed about the baby bump craze is that the fathers are rarely under watch and scrutiny like the mothers, and the fathers are of no concern from the public.

    It’s basically implying that these women are the sole responsibilty for this child while the media absolves responsibilty and dissociates the man from the child.

  • gwan gyal

    I dont think that the ‘mommy media machine’ is unique in that it is leaving out women of color. This isnt a race thing…it is a celebrity/ rich and famous thing. It is time that we stop giving the tabloid/celeb papers so much of our attention and focus.

    A lot of women (all over the world..esp britain) are choosing to not have children..so of course the media will continue to hype it up..tell you how fun it is…but leave out all of the negative parts.

    I’ve recently starting reading childfree blogs/sites just to get insight about people that have chosen not to have children and the flack that comes along with it. At 28, I LOVE children but, unlike many of my friends, Ido not have that yearn to hurry and get married so that I can birth something.

    Many women are choosing to be child free b/c of the reasons listed in the last paragraph…along with actually being pregnant, childbirth, crying babies, being responsible for someone else, not being able to go whenever you want, the traditional mother role of caring for the child at least 95% of the time, and also having to deal with society’s influence on your child….ooo chile that’s too much stress.

    If I choose to have a child, I prefer to have a supportive husband, financially very comfortable, have my own successful business and a part time nanny…otherwise it is a lot of work and stress.

  • Dreaming

    Female celebrities in general face way more criticism than male celebrities, from their fashion choices to their dating choices.

  • Whatever

    “It would almost make you think that our society’s genuflecting to motherhood is more surface than substance. Huh. Matter of fact, our short parental leave standards, absence of affordable childcare, attacks on reproductive healthcare for women, low-paid childcare providers, dwindling social services and cuts to education reveal a societal hypocrisy. We love a baby bump and a glowing celebrity mommy, but when that bump becomes a baby, that little sucker and its mama better be able to fend for themselves.”

    Exactly. +1

  • au napptural

    +1,000

    I concur.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I started reading and you lost me at having a DOOOOOOOOOOOOOG as a pic!!! I FRIGGGGGGGIN LOOOOOOOOOOOOVE these animals!!!!!! They are a man’s best friend, and they are so loyal. Shourr outs to my woof woof’s!!! I LOVE you babies. Thank you for always being there for me———>I talk to minez, when I’m going through thangs. The baby ALWAYS never listens and just pays attention to the food I give him. WOOF WOOF!!!

    Any dog lovers relate?!!!!!

  • Pat

    +1 so true.

  • B

    I actually got upset with my mom last month when she said she was ‘ready for jessica simpson to have her baby so she can start trying to lose weight’. I actually got upset with my mother off of that because I felt as a mother herself, that shouldnt even be a concern. Her weight is her weight. If she wants to get pregnant and be huge, let her. Is she not allowed to? Why the hell is she expected to lose weight once she becomes a mom? Does she have to be tiny with a baby bump because its more appealing to media? It irks me that people are so obsessed with celebrity baby bumps and enjoy criticizing them. Beyonce was too small too be pregnant, Jessica simpson is too huge. Im pretty sure pregnancy isnt solely about appearance but more-so the creation of a living been.

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