I’m watching Project Runway and wishing the show didn’t move from Bravo Channel to Lifetime. How many images of pregnant women can Lifetime Channel possibly squeeze into one hour’s worth of advertising segments? Never mind that the first Runway project of the season was to design a maternity outfit!
I always appreciated Bravo for making an effort to incorporate a variety of lifestyles into their programming because images of pregnant women are ubiquitous in media these days. This phenomenon is disheartening for the childfree, and becomes a bit overwhelming during the holiday season. How does this barrage of pregnancy images actually influence lives?
Yesterday, I overheard a group of students talking about how many pregnant girls (women!) were at their high school graduation ceremonies. One said twelve, another eight! And, these were not first pregnancies: The girls had toddlers in the audience, held in the laps of doting grandparents.
I had one high-school friend who had a child in her senior year. I remember feeling sad she’d given up on herself – deciding to settle for living with her parents (the boyfriend was not ready to be a Dad) while she cared for her baby. Her decision might not be met with much sadness today.
What is this seemingly sudden embrace of motherhood by very young, unmarried women? I can only believe the intention is deliberate. Advertising is representative of a movement in the last thirty years or so to return women, pregnant and barefoot, straight back to the kitchen.
And, I’m not talking parenthood here – I mean Motherhood. Take the movie Juno as an example. Here is a very cool-acting role model, not the least bit interested in marriage – or raising a child for that matter. The ideal presented is of noble Pregnant Woman. The high-school girls with kids at the recent graduation were not interested in marriage either – just in being pregnant.
Married women - those focused on building a lasting partnership - seem to be a rarity these days. I recently met a young woman who told me she chose not to live with her children’s father because he wasn’t “daddy material.” She is looking for a man who wants to take care of her kids - and help her have more. If she doesn’t find a life partner it’s OK because she’s a Mom – this is her primary goal in life.
When I was growing up, images of pregnant women in the media were rare and interspersed among images of strong women seeking self-actualization and satisfaction through career pursuits. Think of the Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, The Lou Grant show and others - shows that are never rerun on TV Land. Some of the women in these shows had children, but also had lives separate from being Mom - jobs, aspirations, interests, hope…
Now the word Mom seems to have replaced any other title for a woman. A woman is either a “Mom” or “not a Mom.” There is no other criterion for referring to a woman’s life. Sorry for the negativity, (perhaps it’s the cumulative effect of pre-holiday commercials) but in the 1950’s, a woman was either a Madonna or a whore and now a woman is perceived as either a Mom, a future Mom, or…nothing.
And, I get the feeling that pregnancy is a panacea. I get the very ominous sense that the new motherhood, ironically, is a substitute for growing up. The assumption is often that grandparents will take care of the early offspring. If not grandparents, then the state will assume the caregiver role to mom and kids. After all, who can work for minimum wage and afford day care these days?
The consequences of the rush to pregnancy are, in reality, truly depressing. This summer I met a 19-year old woman at a homeless shelter for battered women with kids. She had two toddlers and a baby. (Most of the women there were very, very young.) She bragged about how she and her boyfriend invented the story of battery to get her admission to the four-month program while they were “between apartments.” I asked her if she ever worried about taking care of three kids; unmarried, and with no real job prospects. She laughed and said, “Do you think anyone is ever going to put a Mom and her kids out on the street?”
This woman clearly views motherhood as her form of social security and I’m guessing many women feel the same. As society increasingly idolizes pregnancy, more women will assume that Motherhood guarantees lifelong social security.
And, the results can be tragic. The young woman left the shelter after four months and moved in with her boyfriend. Seems he was not as enthusiastic about parenting as she was because within a month he killed her baby.
He was taken to jail and her kids were taken by social services. And she was right! Her children were a form of social security. Without her kids, rooms at homeless shelters became very, very scarce. Last I heard, she left the city and I can only hope she’s found a way to survive on her own. And, it’s depressing to think her life is not considered valuable without her kids. Hopefully most young mothers won’t suffer such dire consequences but I suspect many will wake up from Hollywood-induced pregnancy dreams with a bit of a jolt.
A previous Married No Kids editor offers a very interesting, and humorous look at the exploitation of pregnant women in contemporary advertising at: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art16589.asp