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.