Mel also used the comparison of discussion in the media about weddings vs marriage. I can see her point - there are more magazines, features, etc about weddings than marriage. Weddings are big money. But how often do we hear about brides who are obsessed with their weddings, thinking more about them than about the marriage? How often do we see people marry in a big, fancy wedding that they spent a year planning, then a year or two or three later quietly dissolve the marriage? The obsession is with the wedding. How many people put the same effort into preparing for and planning their marriage, as they do the wedding. Rational people put their energies and desires into the marriage long term. But we're not obsessed with the marriage. It's an ongoing state (we hope) for starters. But we are obsessed with the wedding.
25 January, 2014
Is society really baby-obsessed?
Mel asked the question: Is society really babyobsessed? Initially I was surprised she asked this. Of course it is! But then I thought (as she did), perhaps it’s just my perception? After all, perception is everything. If you asked someone (in NZ) if there was more crime today than ten or twenty years ago, then they’d say yes. The media is obsessed with reporting crime and bad news stories, there have been well-publicised efforts to educate children about keeping themselves safe, and politicians frequently like to claim they're "tough on crime" in a hunt for more votes. So we all have this feeling that there are more dangers than there were in the past. Yet crime statistics show that crime is going down. This is not our perception. So which is real? Statistics damn statistics? (They can say anything we - or politicians - want them to say.) Or perception based on our own experiences?
So is society really obsessed with babies and pregnancy? And how can I answer that without doing some empirical research? (Which, by the way, I have no intention of doing right now.) I can't really. I can only look at my experience, and my observations of society, and try to be objective.
And with that introduction, I will still say that I certainly believe society is more baby-obsessed now than in the past. Even twenty or thirty years ago, children and babies weren’t the centre of attention or focus or obsession. Babies were accepted for what they were. Tiny, noisy, uncontrollable little things who would grow into fascinating children and adults. But in the meantime, there was still a belief that children (and babies) had their place. Their needs, or their parents’ desires, didn’t dominate. Parents wouldn’t dream of taking their babies (and children of a certain age), to fine dining restaurants or often even cafes, and never movies. Consideration for others – other diners, movie-goers, etc – was paramount.
Having babies was considered a normal, unspectacular part of life. Babies were something good, something assumed and expected (sigh), but completely ordinary. It was taken for granted. And so having babies was celebrated on an intimate, personal level as appropriate. Parents did not trumpet their achievements in having children. In New Zealand at least, it would have seemed arrogant and inappropriate to talk about your children, or yourself (ie I’m blessed), in that way. “Who do you think you are?” would have been the response. And in the 80s there was much more focus on seeing what women could achieve, not only as mothers, but also in career, business, creative, and sporting terms.*
Now though, it certainly seems as if society is more obsessed, and much more vocal about it. And that creates a perception, and perception is after all reality. The media – which both reflects societal norms, and creates them – is relentless in its adulation of mothers and babies. With changes in technology, mothers now have outlets to talk about their lives, their children, their pregnancies and their babies that they wouldn’t have had in the past. Looking for validation and support, mom blogging and other support websites have boomed. Celebrity pregnancies and babies (the best of two obsessions – a pregnant celebrity) are big news, more so than a new movie or album or book or award win or gold medal. Advertisers follow in their wake, both tapping into existing demand (ie the market they can reach), but also in setting expectations (and hence creating demand) as any good marketers would. And in doing so, they begin creating a demand. In feeding the obsession, it becomes more and more prominent. Peer pressure has always been a powerful force, and is important in selling products, services, magazines, movies, etc. (The obsession with “pink” for little girls’ toys is an example.) So the more stories there are about celebrity babies, the more people decide they want to know about celebrity babies. Politicians – who are after all just marketers really –jump on the bandwagon too, and focus on family-friendly policies, and always, always talk about the future in terms of “the future of your children.” So a politician who might have a broader view finds themselves talking about “your children and your grandchildren” to tap into that market, and soon enough voters are going to reject a candidate who doesn’t cover this.
I think the perception is there, and it reflects reality. It hasn’t always been like this. And it might change in the future. But I certainly believe that society, these days, does find itself obsessed over babies, for whatever reasons. (I haven’t got time/space to talk about it here.)
It concerns me, this obsession over babies and women having babies, though not as you might think, not only as a childless woman. I may not appreciate the child-obsessed society I live in, but I can handle it. What worries me more is the way this obsession continues to stereotype women into one particular role, limiting choice or the acceptance of different choices, and does it in a more insidious way than the blatant sexism of the past. And the place of women in society is an issue that has been central to my sense of who I am since I was a child.
I hate seeing the increased sexism that goes alongside this society-led baby obsession. I hate seeing women being once again reduced to simply being a body, or worse a uterus, when my generation and especially the generations before me fought so hard for women to be seen as more than their body. I believe that women have taken a step backwards in many ways in the last 10-15 years. Or at least, we haven't taken the steps forward we would have expected and hoped for. And many younger women, being raised in the age of unrelenting pink, and obsession with body shape and looks and overt sexuality, and celebrity babies, don't realise that they're being brainwashed into behaving in particular ways, that they're being stereotyped into certain roles, as much as my older sister and cousins were back in the 70s. My 22-year-old niece – who would profess herself as a strong, independent young woman – appears to me to be more bound by societal attitudes – and far less aware of feminist issues and arguments - than I was at the same age.
And so, at the same time that society is becoming more diversified, more open and accepting of varying lifestyles, the idea of choice (and the acceptance of different choices) for women seems to have suffered. And that makes me sad.
Note: You won’t believe how much I had to edit this. So apologies if it sounds like a rant.