MamaBlogger365 – Ruse, Regulation and Older Motherhood by *Dr Mama* Amber Kinser
This week, New York magazine’s cover features the captivating Maye Musk, fabulously “pregnant” and posed in a manner reminiscent of Demi Moore’s equally captivating photo on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991. What makes this photo the subject of so much hot topic discussion? Ms. Musk is in her sixties. The question thrust at readers from this cover is “Is she just too old for this?” I find the question, and the one that opens the feature article, “Is there anything wrong with being 53 and pregnant?” troubling. Insulting even.
I’m going to push aside the fact that May Muske is actually NOT pregnant in this photo, and the questions that thus emerge about why it is New York couldn’t show an older woman who actually IS pregnant to make their point and pursue instead the questions on the cover and that lead the article. These questions echo a couple of centuries of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” that have been aimed at mothers in the U.S. and that have functioned to regulate women’s bodies and sexualities and movement in the world.
In the early 1900s, the U.S. Children’s Bureau had a long list of them aimed, perhaps with good intention, at helping poor mothers to raise healthy babies. But the recommendations functioned to center white middle class child-rearing practices and to render problematic the practices, and even the foods, of other races/ethnicities (recommendations included: DO feed with potatoes but DON’T feed with pasta; don’t use garlicky or spicy foods; don’t have multiple generations living together). In the 1940s, during WWII, many women were told they should leave the home and get to work (the kids are fine without you), and then after the war they were told they should leave the workplace and return to the home (the kids will fall to pieces without you). Poor women over many decades have been told they should be working rather than home caring for their children (the kids will… well, nobody seemed concerned enough to make claims about those kids).
And today’s mothers, across a vast range of incomes, are told they should invest enormous amounts of time, money, and energy into their children, who are so unbelievably fragile that one wrong move on the mother’s part will lead to the child’s certain ruin, even though current research suggests that families that follow this advice and are wholly child-centered are not producing quite the stable movers and shakers they thought they were.
The social powers that seek to subject women to ever-increasing surveillance and regulation have, it seems, an ever-flowing font of ways to suffuse, at best, and drown out, at worst, women’s freedom and agency as mothers. None of the arguments against rearing children in later years — wait, I mean against mothers rearing children in later years — that regulatory font I mentioned doesn’t seem to flow toward fathers, doesn’t seem to hold much water. People deciding to have children should, I agree, make considerations about their health, and its impact on the family. This is the same for all parents, most likely. Some health outcomes are more conducive to parenting for 18 years or so than others, and this is something that those who are going to or wanting to become parents ought calculate as part of the equation. But to say that a year, say 53 or 63, or a look, say that of an older woman’s pregnant body, tells us what we need to know about the best interests of the children and, more importantly, entitles us to critique her decisions outright, is ignorant and self-satisfied, and participates in a much larger project of trying to control women under the ruse of protecting the children. And this is one ruse of which I remain deeply, and have been long, suspicious. I can see regulation right through it and I for one am not buying this critique of older women’s maternity as about anything else.
BIO: Dr. Mama (Amber Kinser) is a writer, feminist mother, professor, and speaker who lives in Tennessee. Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @DrMamaWit, and see her webpage. Kinser writes for the MamaBlogger365 series each Thursday at the Museum Of Motherhood, Mamapalooza and Mamazina Magazine.
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