Hey, remember the big party we threw a while ago because we don’t need feminism anymore because sexism is over, because, like, Hilary Clinton or something? I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, but it has recently come to my attention that this might not be the case. I know. I was as shocked as you. Next you’re going to tell me that racism is still a thing! Get outta here. But apparently, women are still subject to prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination on the basis of their gender. One arena where this bummerific truth this is demonstrated time and time again is motherhood. Long thought of as (and sometimes still considered to be, by some) a woman’s only meaningful role and accomplishment, motherhood summons a very particular brand of sexism; a unique and odious blend of good, old-fashioned concepts of “a woman’s place” and the condescension of everyone overtly or furtively claiming to know better than you. Fun!
While women with children are subjected to sexism on the regular (another article for another day, friends), expectant mothers have their own challenges, annoyances, and discriminations to face. On the appalling end of the spectrum, you have the backward and myopic maternity leave policies in the U.S.; on the less institutional but still quite repugnant end is the fact that pregnant women are often treated like either stupid children who cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, adorable freak shows, or porcelain dolls who should be confined to padded rooms for 10 months.
While all female bodies face challenges in the public sphere that male bodies do not, the visibly pregnant body in particular becomes public property. Complete strangers feel emboldened to rush over, rub your belly, and give you out-of-date, unsolicited advice from their experience of having a child 45 years ago (or never). Or like when your non-church-going self is sitting in church because your husband’s churchgoing grandmother is in town, and the priest (also a total stranger) will come up to you in the middle of the service, make the sign of the cross on your belly with his thumb, and thank you for choosing life. (It happened. It was massively offensive and uncomfortable.)
Sadly, a lot of the time we don’t even recognize the things we say to pregnant women as being sexist; they’re that ingrained. To help you avoid being a douchebag, here’s a list of common questions and statements we just need to eliminate from conversations about and with expectant mothers:
“Are You Going Back To Work?”
Ask yourself this: Is this something you would ever ask a man who told you his wife was having a baby? So why would you ask it of a mom? It assumes that either her career is a placeholder for having kids, or that her income is considered “extra” in the family budget. Or that if it made sense for one parent to stop working (as it often does per a family’s specific situation), that it would be her.
“Aww! You Have To Go Back To Work?! You Poor Thing!”
Again, way to assume that a woman doesn’t want to work. If you don’t have kids, maybe you’re assuming that if you had kids, you would want to stay home with them. Or if you do have them, maybe when you had kids, you you did want to stay home with them. That’s all fabulous and valid. Good for you… but don’t put that on other people. (And, again, would you ever say this to a father-to-be?)
“Are You Annoyed That You Wasted All That Time And Money On School Just To Be A Housewife?”
Ah, yes. And on the other side of the judgment coin, we have the whole “wait, you’re just going to stay home with your kid? Ugh.” thing. Because as we all know, education is wasted on the poor, stupid housewives. *Insert multiple heavy eyerolls here* How can we possible use critical-thinking skills or draw on the life-changing books and philosophers we’ve read if we’re not in an office?! Do you say this to the psychology major who wound up in sales? Or a business major who became an artist? Honestly, how many people do you know who actually found employment within the purview of their major?
Look, I get that a lot of people attend college for the sole purpose of finding employment in a specific field afterwards, but college is about more than the paycheck it (theoretically) enables you to collect afterwards. Education is never a waste; it benefits everyone. And when someone chooses to put whatever skills, education, and experiences they have toward the project of raising kids and/or managing a household, you can trust that they will be as tested, challenged, and put to use as much as they would be in the working world. When you say things that imply otherwise, you not only judge someone’s choice, but you diminish the validity and worth of the pursuit they’re choosing.
“Ugh. Why Even Have A Baby? We’re Overpopulated Enough As It Is!”
Pro-choice includes all choices, including the choice to add one more body to an admittedly crowded planet. Also, you’re a bit late for this now, right? Even if an expectant mother could technically still end the pregnancy she has just excitedly announced to you, I don’t think your smug pronouncement is going to sway her. Once someone tells you they’ve got a bun in the over, the window for arguing against kids in general has passed. Like, very passed.
“You’re Having A Baby? You Never Struck Me As Mom Material.”
Not only is this just a mean, thoughtless thing to say to an individual, it’s also pretty sexist to assert that there’s only one type of type of woman, or one particular set of personality traits that makes a woman capable of being a mom. Moms can have any number of personalities, qualities, and nurturing styles. It’s time to erase the cookie-cutter image so many of us have in our minds of a perky blonde in an apron baking cookies and smiling with dead eyes. It is exactly the ways in which most real women depart from stereotypes that actually make them amazing moms.
Also, a lot of women suffer a not-small amount of self-doubt when they’re expecting a child (whether it’s their first or fourth, doubt is there sometimes) and you saying things that question their inherent viability as a mom doesn’t exactly help. It just doesn’t need to be said.
Anything Related To How They Plan To Deliver
If you are not the woman’s health care provider, I don’t care who you are: Unless you are asked for your opinion about how she should get her babyfriend from inside her body to safely outside her body, it is unnecessary, uncalled for, and irrelevant. Are you her co-worker? Shush. Friend? Zip it. Parent? Shh! Wait! Are you a doula, doctor, or midwife? I DON’T CARE! Again, unless you have been selected by the woman in question to care for her pregnancy in a medical capacity, your opinion or personal opinions (even those based on experiences or concern) are not required. Remember what I said about freedom of choice pertaining to all choices? This goes here, too. (Also, please take note about how a lot of anti-choice rhetoric regarding abortion rights often sounds an awful lot like people concern-trolling a pregnant woman’s “birth plan.”)
“How Are You Planning To Get Your Body Back?”
I don’t know who the first celebrity was to pose on a magazine and proudly display their “post-baby body” looking toned and tight and decidedly looking as though they never had a baby in the first place. I don’t know the name of the editor who decided to run it. But there is a special place in hell for anyone involved in that decision. Conforming to some completely arbitrary (and difficult to achieve) standard (that is often largely aided by editing and airbrushing) is a concept that needs to die quickly. The idea that our bodies are something we “lose” when we have a baby, and that our “success” (as what? women? humans? viable sex objects? What contest are we trying to win here?) is dependent upon how quickly we can “reclaim” them. Spoiler: Our bodies were always our own, and bodies in general are always changing, and the less we can shame ourselves and each other for the impact any of our life choices bear on our physical appearance, the better off we’ll be. So, like, don’t be a jerk about this.
Images: Universal Pictures; Giphy(7)