January 01, 2007

Media and Motherhood

According to a recent CNN report Angelina Jolie loves being a Mom, but she has no plans to marry Brad Pitt, the father of the most recent addition to her brood.

"We've both been married before, so it's not marriage that necessarily kept some people together. We are legally bound to our children, not to each other, and I think that's the most important thing," said Jolie.

Personally, I respect Jolie as an actress and I respected her decision to adopt rather than wait for the perfect opportunity to have a biological child. However, I can’t help but feel a bit puzzled by the fact that the media embraces famous women who chose to have children but choose not to marry, while continuing to negatively portray women who choose to marry but choose not to have kids.

The rumor that Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston because Aniston didn’t want to start a family was false but irrestitably juicy media fodder, forcing Aniston on her counter-offensive media tour to say, in a interview with Vanity Fair, “I’ve always wanted to have children.”

Apparently, it’s a crime for Jennifer Aniston to be married to Brad Pitt and delay the prospect of giving birth to the much-anticipated Hollywood Golden Child, but it’s okay for Jolie to be an intentional single mom.

As we enter 2007, the 35-year anniversary of the first edition of Ellen Peck’s controversial book The Baby Trap, the media continues to engage in what Peck called “Babysell.”

“…The media have built up a “motherhood mystique” that at times verges on the hysterical,” wrote Peck back in 1972. Her book influenced a whole generation of childfree folks in the early seventies by exposing the pitfalls of parenting and “The Media Trap.”

“…TV images continue to glorify children, to try to entrap those of us out here who are still free and if I seem to be emphasizing only the negative side of the picture (and I freely admit that this is the case) it is in an attempt to achieve a certain perspective in the face of all the overblown media glorification of maternity. If I am emphasizing only the problems, it is because the media, which should show the problems, do not.”
Over thirty years later this still seems to be the case. Oh sure, you can point to TV shows like Roseanne and Married With Children and and say, “hey, here are media portrayals of less than perfect kids and families,” and, yes, that is an improvement over the Opies and Beaver Cleavers of the past. However, I will point out that these less-than-perfect kids were raised by comically disfunctional, fictional parents.

The real life stories brought to us by reality shows like Nanny 911 and Super Nanny are closer to what many parents experience but the media continues to peddle the idea that Hollywood Moms like Jolie experience something so profound and fulfilling in their roles as mothers that the prospect of marriage to Brad Pitt can’t compete.

The Media Trap is still in business.

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AlphaGirl said...

I'm appalled by the double standard concerning intentional single parenthood. Celebrities can do no wrong in our culture, and this is one person who thinks that's bull.

Another aspect of celebrity baby-watching is the fawning over 40+ celebrities and their pregnancies. Unfortunately, these preganancies carry a higher risk of genetic defects, no matter who the mother is. Even more unfortunate, the more sheep-like segments of our population thinks "Oooh, shiny" and "what a miracle" when said miracle was most likely brought about by fertility treatments, which the media will convieniently neglect to disclose. While Booke Shields was very direct in discussing fertility treatments, I look at 44-year old Marcia Cross and her 46 year-old husband and think "Yeah right."

Chevy is presetnly running an ad which underscores Ms. Peck's media trap argument. A series of vignettes is shown while a John Mellencamp tune blares in the background. "This is our idol(showing a farmer)"This is our wingman(showing a man with a dog), and assorted other middle-america vignettes. The final vignette is almost disturbing "This is our purpose(man holding a perfect blond infant). Hmmm, so in this country of growing cultural and ethnic diversity, it's our purpose to go forth and create perfect little Aryan children? Wow. "Racist" is the first word that comes to mind here.

There is a way to take the steam out of the media trap. Conctact the media relations department of said product. Let your displeasure be known to both the media relations dept. and to the ad agency responsible for creating the ad. A lot of commercials have either been modified or pulled altogether when consumers have spoken up. It takes a few minutes and a well-worded email. The strongest muscle we have in this case is our voice.

Elise said...

Fabulous post. I'd heard that "The Baby Trap" was out of print; is that no longer true? The book seemed to be a bible for early-articulating CFs (and by that, I mean early as in the 1970s...not necessarily early in their own lives).

I found the Aniston/Jolie/Pitt thing to be annoying, too (although I heartily applaud Jolie and Pitt's charity work, as well as George Clooney's [my fave CF celeb]). Whether or when Aniston wanted kids...whatever. It is not our business, period. I preferred it when movie stars were movie stars and we might have gotten an occasional picture of them going to an awards show; now we have to know their innermost thoughts, as well as how their bedrooms are decorated, "In Style"-style.

Our obsession with the private lives of these people is what led to Clinton's impeachment. JFK and Eisenhower (and who knows what other presidents) had multiple affairs, but it was all off-limits to the press. Clinton got the third degree for far lesser deeds. When asked about his private life, he shouldn't have lied, of course; in fact, he shouldn't have really answered at all. Something along the lines of "My private life is for me, my wife, and my God to know about --- and has no bearing on my job performance. Next question?"

But instead he answered (worse yet, untruthfully), and set a precedent that presidents are just like Hollywood celebs (not surprising, when he seemingly happily answered the boxers vs. briefs question on MTV when he was a candidate)...we are entitled to know everything about them. Meanwhile, as a nation, we seem to be learning less and less about the actual policies we elected them to enact. *Sigh*...

AlphaGirl said...

***arrgghh** I shouldn't reply so early in the morning. I meant to say "There is a way to take some of the teeth out of the media trap"


Thailand Gal said...

I believe having children without the benefit of a two-parent family is selfish. It doesn't take into consideration that children need the influence of a mother and a father. Perhaps not politically correct in this day and age ~ but my thought nonetheless. :)

Nice blog you have here!



Anonymous said...

I appreciate your bringing this up on your blog. The media's glorification of celebrity moms has always seemed contradictory, in that celebrity parents are the least likely to be able to spend quality time with their children. No doubt Jolie et. al. have nannies and other forms of support that the average person can't afford. It's ridiculous that we should feel pressured to emulate them.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

--R. in California

emeraldwednesday said...

Just stumbled across this blog and this post and had to give you my compliments on both. My husband and I are just exploring the childfree life and so many sites are so offputting with the namecalling... this is a true breath of fresh air.

Oh and regarding Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie... Personally I think it's a sign of progress that Ang can stay legally- though not in practice, really- single and not get pilloried for it (Remember Murphy Brown?), but I hear ya on the media getting all over Jen for allegedly not wanting kids. Like that's a major crime. Geez. Well, perhaps progress will eventually reach that issue too.

AlphaGirl said...

Hi Elise-
"The Baby Trap" is available on Amazon.com. It's a must-read book! Best of luck in finding it; it will be worth the search!

Teri said...

Hey all, nice post and thanks for the compliments. Maybe we should start a lending library? Another really worthwhile (if you believe the review) book that is very expensive and out of print is called The Chosen Lives of Childfree Men, one of the only such titles out there that address the Purple Men in our lives.

I wonder if we could tie this in somehow with my participation in a really neat book lover and giver online community called Book Crossing (www.BookCrossing.com). My BC handle is TootsinCA! Let me know if you want to borrow something that's been reviewed here. If I have it on my shelf...I'll consider a loan.