May 29, 2006

Medium Channels Childfree Bias

by Guest Contributor
Toronto, Canada

Last Monday was the season finale of Medium, a show about Alison, a woman with psychic ability working for the district attorney in Phoenix. One of the things I enjoy about the show it is a realistic portrayal of her family: the kids are normal looking, not perfect little pixies, and they don’t have quirky comeback lines, the parents are shown to be mostly caring but stressed at times. Sometimes they get along and sometimes they argue. A nice, normal family.

I’m sad that I show I enjoy takes such a cliché view of the childfree, that we are insensitive jerks interested only in fancy houses and can’t have caring, supportive relationships.
In the season finale, Alison dreams she married her childhood sweetheart and the many differences this has made in her life. She now lives in an expensive house with her husband and is a junior partner in her law firm. She and her husband do not have children, although she wishes for one, and on this point, I became disturbed about the show.

Not so much that she wants children, but how they portray her husband’s responses. As she expresses her desire for children, her husband is shown making comments like “no way” and being relatively a jerk about it. While one could argue the screenwriter was trying to make a point about the state of their marriage and this particular guy being a jerk, I think it betrays an underlying bias against the childfree.

Alison is then shown bumping into her “real” husband who is unmarried because as he says “all the cool girls are taken”. She feels drawn to him and away from her jerky husband, until she awakens from the dream to her daughters coming into the room. She throws her arms open and cries out “My babies!” Instead of an emphasis on choosing a life partner that you love and cherish, the show dismisses her relationship with her husband as just a backdrop for the kids, while the childfree husband is shown as being an insensitive clod.

Why couldn’t the dream husband be a clod in general while she’s drawn to her “real” husband because he’s a great guy? A strong theme of love between these two characters becomes diluted by the whole “must have kids” layer. The focus on a committed adult relationship as the “real” husband is relegated to the background to emphasize Alison as mother, with a back-handed slap to the childfree for good measure.

I’m sad that I show I enjoy takes such a cliché view of the childfree, that we are insensitive jerks interested only in fancy houses and can’t have caring, supportive relationships. What a shame that a show that typically relishes exploring and exploding assumptions (both the viewers’ and the characters’) has fallen victim to such a shallow and narrow view of what it is to be childfree.

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s said...

I don't watch Medium, but I used to watch Desperate Housewives, and one of the reasons I say I "used to" watch it was because of the show's portrayal of Lynette's childfree woman boss. Every single stereotype of the childfree woman was projected onto this character: career-obsessed, shrewish, unlikable, bitchy, cold, materialistic, you name it. She was less a character and more of a caricature. It angered me greatly and shortly thereafter I stopped watching the show. That, and it just wasn't as interesting or funny as it was in its first season.

Tiara Lynn said...

What bothers me about episodes like the one you mentioned are the constant insinuation that a woman can't possibly be fulfilled by her career and relationships. (Then again, they never portray the relationships as fulfilling.) I've taken similar offense to a new story arc on HOUSE that has the high-powered hospital director suddenly softened by the desire for children.

It's as if they view a woman's (or couple's) decision to be childfree as a "mistake" she made in the past, akin to sleeping around in college or having a crappy first marriage. But she's "better" now...

It's things like this that perpetuate the arguments people make -- oh, you'll change your mind. You're satisfied with a career and life now, but that will change, just you wait and see.

NikkiJ said...

Maybe people should write to the show producers voicing the opinions raised here. It might be too late for the shows that have aired but might affect future shows. And it's being active rather than passive about it - as unless enough people stop watching the shows nothing really happens to present a different view. At the very least you've registered your dissatisfaction with the people responsible.

Anonymous said...

I watched this show and when I read your article, I realized that I also buy into the stereotype at some level, simply because of the fact that I was not so moved as to register anger at the portrayal.

Or, perhaps I am just used to being marginalized as a childfree adult.

kT said...

A friend just sent me this site -- wow! and Thanks!

I used to watch Desperate Housewives, too, but it was the Gabby story line that turned me off. Her husband "tricks" her into getting pregnant and all of a sudden she wants kids? Her reasons (for not reproducing) were also portrayed as quite shallow, but then, so is her character.

About House, I don't remember Cutty ever being opposed to children -- she has no relationships to be satisfying and her character is underdeveloped, so I guess the baby-lust didn't surprise me much.

AlphaGirl said...

There is another side to the media coin: let us not forget how PARENTING is sold via the media. One notable and gag-worthy example would be the sticky-sweet "Having a Baby Changes Everything" TV and print campaign that is being run nationwide by Johnson and Johnson(who else?) Even non-infant-oriented companies are getting into the act. It's important to address the media issue from both sides: How CF folk are portrayed and how parenthood is sold as this softly-scented snuggly existence. The list goes on....