Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Total Woman

Total Woman Gym is THE place to catch up on celebrity gossip. It’s a for-women-only gym that assumes women want to work out in an atmosphere not unlike a two-star hotel lobby, complete with a giant, primary-colored hanging mobile over the cardio zone. Classy, it’s not, but it is clean, it doesn’t smell, no one oogles me when I wear a worn-out sports bra that gives less than full support. Anyway, it’s the only place (besides airplanes) where I allow myself to indulge in such gems as Us Weekly and People magazine.

Trashy magazines have an obsession with motherhood. This evening I was stunned by the not one…not two…but THREE articles in an issue of Us Weekly devoted to the latest, hippest, fittest mommies. In my view, since Brittney and Brangelina started spawning publicly there has been a crescendo of pregnancy/birth/mothering mania. (Perhaps it was sparked by the same maniac who founded the giant-bellies-in-spandex trend and made a prudish mockery of the tent-styles that dominated the expectant-mother market of my youth?)

You know me--I just don’t understand about Third Wave feminism’s love affair with pop culture and its sexy SuperMom heroines: when did we forget that motherhood has a tendency to obliterate a woman’s free time and to hinder her career, to do a number on her body and to make even the most egalitarian of households into one in which women still do more of the housework and make less of the money? Just because a woman can still be considered sexy and thus has cultural cache after becoming a mother (as long as she loses the “baby weight” within the first year after her child’s birth) and can go back to work, employing a daycare center or nanny without too much guilt, doesn’t mean that this renewed idolization of motherhood means progress for 21st century women.

As I mentioned last week, I’m teaching The Awakening and in it the very 19th century Edna is trapped by her predestined and strictly proscribed roles as mother and wife. Though she begins to have inklings of her personhood, it is not until she is alone—without her husband or children—that she begins to manifest her new self-understanding, proclaiming herself an autonomous being, someone with a role outside the family: “I am becoming an artist! Think of it!” In consultation with the family doctor, Edna’s husband describes this odd behavior by lamenting simply, “She’s not herself.” Oh, the irony!

Why is it that now, when women have all the options that Edna never had, we are being bombarded with images of idealized, glowing moms (oddly, mainly artists and actresses putting on hold the careers they fought tooth-and-nail to establish)? And what about Michelle Obama, who has to be one of the most photographed and talked-about women of the year? She was a hospital administrator and now, as First Lady, all we hear about is her lovely garden, her plans to redecorate the White House and her rockin’ arms (for a middle-aged, non-Madonna mother). Not that I don’t love the garden and her guns, but I am weirded out that she seemed to give up her career so readily. Maybe she’ll get pregnant—Us Weekly would love that! I think Oprah would too.

Could this media obsession with motherhood be happening because our country has been at war for eight years; fear and death can elicit powerful pro-creation impulses. Or maybe the women of the Third Wave are rebelling against the rigidity of the Second Wave—who said we can’t have it all? Perhaps it’s just the inevitable outcome when biological drives and the digital media collide.

1 comment:

  1. wow! that last paragraph- what an interesting theory connecting the media's obsession with motherhood to the war. I think someone should look into that more and see if there are legitimate connections there. very interesting!