Growing up, I never realized how sanitized and "clean" most depictions of childbirth were on television. Once I had given birth myself, I had a much savvier perspective, and it dawned on me how sexist representations of labor in the media were and, sadly, continue to be. Other than the rare documentary, mainstream media’s portrayal of women giving birth has barely evolved over the last 40 years.
I think there is a strong correlation between the low percentage of female writers, directors and studio heads, and the outdated depictions of labor and delivery on TV and in film. The more women we hear from, telling birth stories from their perspective, the more honest and relatable we can make these kinds of on-screen moments to and for audiences. Every time I catch a scene that has a woman in labor, I cringe; not because I’m reliving the pain of the moment, but because it’s usually such an affront to us women and the labors and deliveries we actually go through. I mean, we could have directed this scripted version of birth more effectively.
I think witnessing childbirth makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I get that it’s an intimate moment and private parts are involved, but we all were born somehow. Women, since the beginning of time, have been summoning up the courage, strength, and stamina to bring babies into the world. The least Hollywood could do is to capture those amazing traits on the screen more consistently, instead of either using them strictly as comedic fodder, or contextualizing them as a way to show how “crazy” women are in the throes of active labor.
We will continue to fight the slapstick and hysterical stigmas that are often applied to women in childbirth. In the meantime, however, join me in giving a collective side-eye to these sexist representations of labor in the media:
The OB Is Often Male
More often than not, the “doctor” role is cast as a man. I’m seeing more diversity these days (check out Better Things, where the gynecologist in the second episode is a woman of color), and it’s a good thing because it’s much more representative of the real world, where studies show a rise in the number of female OB/GYNs.
The Nurses Are Always Female
There are guy nurses, you know. They are also capable of taking my blood pressure and checking the fetal monitor and handling all the other amazing things labor and delivery nurses do to support about-to-be moms.
The Laboring Woman Is Constantly Screaming
True, there may be some yelling. However, it’s not endless. We are not screaming incoherently the whole time. The rage comes and goes, along with the contractions.
In my case, that rage came about when I discovered my husband brought sugar-free ice pops for me to suck on. I’m in labor, dear. Give me the full-sugar crap.
Moaning Is Apparently Not A Reasonable Sound Laboring Women Should Make
All you hear (in movies or television shows) when a woman is in labor is some nurse or doctor giving her consistent directions to breathe. That’s all people surrounding a women in labor seem to be able to advise her on. However, moaning is a lot more effective. Something about making that guttural sound helps get through the contraction. Yelling, and breathing? Yeah, not so much.
Someone Is Yelling "Push!"
First of all, no kidding. Second of all, yelling is rude and counterproductive and no one really spend their time actually yelling at a pregnant woman while she's in the throes of childbirth. “You attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar,” my mother used to tell me. Do not yell at the woman who is attempting to force another person through a relatively small opening in her body.
Guys Are Running Around With No Idea What To Do
From Father of the Bride 2, to Friends, expectant dads are totally clueless. It’s played for laughs, but making them look dumb not only belittles their ability to step up and stay chill for their partners in these situations, but doesn’t instill much confidence in the TV moms who will be stuck raising their kids with these buffoons.
The Woman In Labor Is Being Treated Like A Child
There has always been something weird about watching a woman in labor — basically doing the most amazing thing her body is capable of — being told to “stay calm,” and “breathe.” I feel these kinds of comments totally belittle the huge ordeal this laboring woman is undertaking.
When you think about it, in an uncomplicated, vaginal delivery, the woman in labor is doing all the work. That’s why they call it “labor.” So don’t infantilize her with a saccharine tone of voice. It’s demeaning. Tell her she’s awesome. Tell her how far she’s come already. Tell her “you got this.” Also, please tell her it is almost over (that helped me).
There Is No Reference To Poop
Bathroom humor is not just for men (as Bridesmaids has proven). Poop is likely to happen during labor and when a woman is "bearing down" on her uterus (and other surrounding internal organs) in order to push a baby out of her freakin' body. So, yeah, other stuff may exit the body as well.
Pooping during labor and delivery is very common, yet most birth scenes I’ve watched in movies and on TV make no mention of this very natural occurrence. Or, the male characters are totally freaked out. Sh*t happens. Get over it, guys.
The Doulas Are Absent
So many women use doulas, so why don’t we see them represented more on screen? What does the media have against these women? Not only are they there to support the laboring mom, but they can be a huge asset in the first few moments, days, or weeks of a baby’s life.
The Guy Gets To Announce The Good News
Movies and television shows that existed before the cell phone era get a pass for always having the new dad walk out into the waiting room and announce the gender of the newborn. Then everyone swarms around him and, if it’s pre-1985, he passes out cigars.
But for shows and films that still have this antiquated scene in their story, it’s kind of gross. I feel strongly that the woman who just birthed that baby should be the one to get all the glory. If things go well, that oxytocin is flooding your system after birth. I felt great after I welcomed my children into the world, so after meeting my newborn, I grabbed my phone and started calling everyone I knew. That joy was mine to receive and, hell, I had definitely earned it. Sure, my husband made his share of calls, but he was not the single representative for this momentous occasion. Announcing the birth of my children to their grandparents was the highlight of the experience.