Kate Middleton and Moms Who Aren’t Princesses

With much of England and half the U.S. on Kate Middleton Baby-Watch this week, I’m writing about motherhood in the Guardian. It’s great (and normal) that we’re all excited about a new (and royal!) baby. Babies are really cute, and all of them should enter the world into the arms of folks who are excited to welcome them. But our celebrity pregnancy obsession, coupled with our unrealistic and condescending view of motherhood (it’s THE HARDEST JOB IN THE WOOOOORLD!) make real political change difficult, and keep parents (mostly mothers) unsupported. A bit:

The idealized mom is Sarah Palin’s Mama Bear, ready to sacrifice everything for her kids, starting with her physical health and extending to her finances, her relationships and her career. She’s the one whose job is “the hardest in the world” but also the most rewarding – so hard and so rewarding that there’s no need to create social mechanisms to help her out, let alone compensate her. So hard and rewarding that women who haven’t done it can’t possibly understand how myopic and limited their own lives are. And so hard and rewarding that most men wouldn’t even consider doing it, even if they’re happy to condescendingly claim that their lovely wife actually runs the show.

Women who don’t meet the mothering ideal – women whose most important and demanding job is their paying one, women who don’t have husbands, women who can’t sacrifice everything because there is no “everything” to sacrifice – are invisible in the cultural discourse and vilified in the political one. And so, our social policies are set to serve the mythical perfect mother, leaving real, flawed, complicated families to fend for themselves and cobble together individual solutions to broad cultural and political problems.

We love the bump-watches and the ridiculous celebrity baby names and the stories about the impending royal child because we’re human beings, and we’d be in a bad place as a species if most of us weren’t at least a little predisposed to getting excited about the entry of a new human into the world. While it’s easy (and good!) to get misty over a creature with such tiny toes and such a big future, it’s more difficult to show real support for the many imperfect people actually caring for the infants who don’t appear on magazine covers. Meeting that challenge is part of what takes us from being nominally responsive animals to being caring, responsible human beings.

The full piece is here.

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23 comments for “Kate Middleton and Moms Who Aren’t Princesses

  1. Drahill
    July 12, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    I attribute a lot of the clamoring over motherhood to gender essentialism – since chilbirth is still thought of as the quintessential “female function” (which totally erases trans men, but that’s a post in itself), it is the single most logical point to build womanhood around – which, of course, totally negates women who don’t want children or can’t have children. I went through a period of self-loathing and depression after having my child because I bought into the belief that birth and mothering would create a fundamental change in me. And after birth, I was despondent when not much changed (for me). I wanted desperately to go back to work. I wanted to work out, run around, do stuff – when the childbirth classes taught that I’d want nothing more than to spend time holding my baby, “mutual gazing” (which just felt like a staring contest to me) and rocking him. And that stuff, after a while, made me stir-crazy.

    It boils down to, I think, a belief that all the greatest things a woman can do are merely those things that are “inherently female.” Pregnancy, childbirth, raising kids (which we forget men do too) are the greatest things women can do. I will never forget my friend’s experience, which I was actually there for. She is a good bit older than me and years ago fulfilled her dream to summit Mt. Everest. A younger, well-intentioned woman was sitting across from us while my friend was drinking a Gatorade and at some point said to her, “Birthing a baby is the most awesome, hardest thing a woman’s body can ever do!” And my friend choked and sprayed Gatorade on this poor lady. I haven’t laughed that way in a long time.

    Jill is correct – America loves babies, but moms not so much, unless she adheres to the correct narrative. For my few few months, I didn’t get it. When I felt obligated to give everything to my child, I started feeling that sick feeling of resentment inside me towards him. I held it against my baby that I did not feel free to pursue my own passions (not his fault, but it’s easier to be pissed at one person than society at large). Once I got over it, I’m a far better mother. So this doesn’t just hurt moms, it hurts kids too. So why is it even considered intelligent to insist on this standard? Is it a way of keeping women pulled towards the home so they’ll be less likely to challenge those same societal expectations? It’s harder to get involved in anything else when you’re expected to do it all at home.

    /end rant, just needed to get that out. Been holding that in for a while.

  2. Kierra
    July 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Frankly, the fervor over Kate’s impending baby is a bit sickening to me. Mostly because of all the talk after the marriage about how her only job now was to produce an heir. Ick!

    • Willemina
      July 13, 2013 at 1:21 am

      Monarchy 101 calling, it’s all about perpetuating the royal line. I’m betting if the baby is a boy she gets an additional title to add to her string. Girl, she’ll just add an honorary military rank. I’m going to go back to my hole in the ground where I pretend the level to which people in the US give a shit about another country’s ceremonial upper crust doesn’t make me grind my teeth.

      • July 13, 2013 at 2:22 am

        I’ve long been fascinated by the Windsors aka The Firm in a “know your class enemy” way. The Firm’s current media strategy is to have Wills and Kate up front and centre to deflect public attention away from Charles as much as possible and keep the average British subject as emotionally attached to Diana’s boy as they were to her and become associated with as much of the affection the British public holds for the Queen as possible, so that Charles still ends up with a crown to inherit. They’re shit-scared that the public might still reject Charles and finally rouse themselves to kick the monarchy to the kerb, and they’re banking on Wills with a photogenic family keeping the public reconciled to the idea that Kooky King Charles is only a short bridge to the eventual reign of Good King William (and nevermind how longlived the Windsors are even the ones who aren’t mostly vegetarian, because that might make people cranky again about Charles).

      • July 13, 2013 at 3:37 am

        But why would they want to boot out the monarchy? What would be the good of landing themselves with a presidency? Their politicians are nothing to brag about. I don’t think the Brits are highly impressed with the republics around the place, and there’s a hell of a lot of admiration and fondness for the monarchy.

      • July 13, 2013 at 5:05 am

        Kitteh, there’s a hell of a lot of admiration and fondness for the current monarch. Hey, even I admire many things about ERII. There’s many Brits (especially outside England, and in the English North) who don’t think much of the rest of the family.

      • July 13, 2013 at 5:15 am

        No question the Queen is the one most loved, but I wonder if the idea of Charles’s unpopularity is overstated?

        I admit I’m biased here: for all its faults I’m definitely a monarchist, less in regard to Oz (though I shudder at the thought of our lot getting to shove a president in) than regarding Britain. I love English history and the connection; the place means a lot more to me than my own country.

      • July 13, 2013 at 5:29 am

        Feelings about Charles are probably a tepid lack of popularity rather than a vitriolic unpopularity, but I suspect that probably actually does more harm to the mystique of monarchy in the long run. Once people get bored with the monarchy as spectacle/icon/soap-opera, then they start to resent the public funding of the Civil List because they’re not getting their money’s worth, and that’s what eventually is likely to prompt a change.

        The monarchy’s largest social utility in Britain is twofold: a living face to the historial pageantry tourist trade that keeps a large segment of the economy afloat, and a living face of political stability no matter what’s going on in Westminster etc. If the public starts to feel indifferent/bored/hostile towards that living face, that social utility begins to precipitously decline.

        Methinks we’re edging off-topic towards #spillover territory at this point.

      • July 13, 2013 at 5:16 am

        *Connection the monarchy provides to England’s own history, I mean, not a connection between Australia and England.

      • Willemina
        July 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm
  3. Tim
    July 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Good stuff mostly as usual Jill, but “we,” or at least not all of us, get excited over “bump watches.” In fact I would not be at all unhappy if the phrase “baby bump” were sucked forever into some black hole of linguistic archaism. It sounds stupid and infantilizing somehow, and it’s usually part of some piece noting that so-and-so was “spotted” or “caught” with a baby bump, as if a woman being pregnant in public was somehow doing something naughty.

    Obviously just IMNSHO, YMMV, etc.

    • July 12, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      Not to mention how the term conflates fetus with baby – just the sort of thing anti-choicers love.

      • Safiya Outlines
        July 13, 2013 at 5:24 am

        I do wish there wasn’t quite the hand-wringing about fetus vs baby in pro choice circles.

        I’m currently pregnant with a much wanted and long awaited baby. Yes, I said baby, no I do not need anyone’s permission for the pregnancy to reach a certain stage before I get permission to call it a baby.

        The key words in the above, are of course “much wanted”. Like many, my pregnancies have made me more pro choice, were this to be an unwanted pregnancy, I would not see myself as having a baby, because, I wouldn’t be continuing the pregnancy.

        Tl;Dr women should be able to describe their pregnancies as they wish, screw the anti choicers.

      • Tim
        July 13, 2013 at 1:02 pm

        Safiya, I in fact totally agree with that, and I hope it wasn’t taken as being against parents-to-be or a single parent-to-be talking prenatally about “[our or my] baby. That’s why I was adding the extra “I/my” disclaimers at the end. After all, people who want children and are happy about the pregnancy will even excitedly show pictures of the ultrasound around, and I’m fine with that.

        Even if a woman were to say, “Hi, look at my baby bump!” I would concede that it is her right to refer to herself that way, although I wouldn’t be thrilled by it. It’s been my observation, though, that it is much more likely to be objectifying language coming from the outside, as I said, like, “ooh, she has a baby bump.”

        Many congratulations and felicitations on your pregnancy and you have my best wishes for everything to go great and your having a beautiful baby.

      • Tim
        July 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

        Wow, I hadn’t even thought or heard of that objection, but you’re right, another reason to dislike it.

  4. whistlewren
    July 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Great post Jill. As a low income single mother, I feel the brunt of so many different motherhood myths. I love my kids, but they were unplanned, and conceived when I was young in an abusive relationship, and I was not at all ready in any way to have children. The reality of being someone who wants to give the little humans beings in my care, while also having limited financial, emotional, and practical resources is not a reality I see reflected in the way we talk about motherhood. It is hard to feel rewarded when you are bone-tired from a long day at work, have an essay due, your kid is sick, and you don’t know how you will pay the stack if bills that are due.

  5. whistlewren
    July 13, 2013 at 12:43 am

    Oops, I double-posted! Could a mod pretty-please fix it?

    [Done ~ mods]

    • whistlewren
      July 13, 2013 at 7:28 am


  6. TomSims
    July 13, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Another great article Jill. People all over the world are celebrity obsessed.

  7. pitbullgirl65
    July 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    We love the bump-watches and the ridiculous celebrity baby names and the stories about the impending royal child because we’re human beings,

    Who’s this we? I think bump watches are part and parcel of our pro natalist society, and focuses more on her reproductive capacity, instead of say that Oscar she won.

    we’d be in a bad place as a species if most of us weren’t at least a little predisposed to getting excited about the entry of a new human into the world.

    Actually, with the population @ 7 Billion this would be a good thing. We aren’t the only species on this bit of dirt.

  8. Anna
    July 13, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    ” so hard and so rewarding that there’s no need to create social mechanisms to help her out, let alone compensate her.”

    This is also the case for a lot of traditionally female jobs like nurse, teacher, etc, where the pay is garbage and nobody respects you and you have no status or power, but women just want to help people (especially kids) and don’t need any of that stuff amirite?

    Yeah, screw that.

    • Leah
      July 31, 2013 at 1:34 am

      Funny how that works out.

  9. McMike
    August 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    What does a Royal actually do? He seems to have a lot of money, how does he earn his keep?

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