Words Have Meanings is a recurring feature that examines how certain terms and phrases are commonly used in incorrect, problematic and/or sexist ways.
This post may seem at first glance like it’s about Kim Kardashian but it’s not.
The tabloid darling everyone loves to hate is merely being mentioned here as a convenient lead-in to the actual topic, which is a particular turn of phrase that often pops up whenever a woman announces she’s pregnant.
Kardashian’s pregnancy is big news because she’s famous and she’s a woman, which means society has deemed her body public property, worthy of round-the-clock gawkery (yes I just made that word up) and judgment. Especially if she gains weight – which is kind of a thing that happens when one is pregnant though you’d never know it by the horrified headlines that have been written about poor Kim as of late (most along the lines of OMG LOOK AT HOW FAT SHE IS! EVEN HER ARMPITS ARE FAT!! CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS FATTIE FAT FAT?!!!)
Kardashian’s pregnancy is big news for another reason: her soon-to-be baby daddy is Kanye West – another person who’s also famous and who everyone also loves to hate. (MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN YOU GUYS.)
Naturally, this fact has led to a lot of reports about how Kim Kardashian is “having Kanye West’s baby.”
And it’s at this point in the post where we leave behind Kim and Kanye and their still-gestating bundle of joy (nicknamed “Kimye” by the press; yes, really) and focus on the expression that is “she’s having his baby” and why I don’t like it.
To start, this phrase completely minimizes the amount of work that goes into baby making – not the impregnation/conception parts (those are, respectively, usually fun and pretty easy) but the actual growing-a-fetus-to-term-inside-one’s-uterus part.
Despite our cultural obsession with motherhood as the ultimate expression of womanhood and therefore, the ultimate goal of all woman (God forbid you be BARREN or worse, don’t want kids OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU), and despite the myriad representations of pregnancy/labour in pop culture – most of which can be summed up by: pickle cravings, weight gain and hormonal outbursts played for laughs + tastefully presented hospital scene featuring grimacing and maybe some swearing (usually also played for laughs) = miracle of life delivered into a happy father’s waiting arms – the seriousness and effort involved with maternity as a whole gets a rather short shrift.
Pregnancy is no joke*. Yes, there is the weight gain and the weird cravings and the hormonal changes. But for some women, there’s also anemia, depression, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, decreased bone mass (which can lead to osteoporosis), kidney problems, hyperemesis gravidarum (aka what landed the Duchess of Cambridge in the hospital not too long ago, a condition that causes severe nausea and vomiting, and can lead to malnutrition and dehydration) and eclampsia, a complication that can lead to seizures and coma.
Oh and by the way were you aware it’s quite common for women to shit themselves during childbirth? Just putting that out there.
These are only the physical aspects of pregnancy, mind you. Pregnant women must also deal with all sorts of weird social expectations and behaviours. They must finagle time off work, pre-mat leave (if they get mat leave, that is) to go to a million doctor’s appointments. They must endure unsolicited advice and unwanted touching from strangers. They will be expected to purchase all manner of pregnancy- and baby-related products (make no mistake, the wedding industry has nothing on the maternity industry). Their every move – eating fish, shovelling snow, flying, wearing tight clothing, wearing loose clothing – will be policed and judged.
Of course, it’s no coincidence pregnancy is described in such as a way as to minimize – if not disappear completely – the disproportionately larger role played by folks with uteri (i.e. mostly but not always women – what’s up, trans folk?). Perish the thought we ACTUALLY ACKNOWLEDGE SOMETHING DIFFICULT YET IMPORTANT THAT WOMEN AND ONLY WOMEN CAN DO.
Men don’t like it when women “get”** to do things which have traditionally been defined as men’s stuff – see: head companies, play sports, lead nations, fight in combat, make decisions about their own bodies, have a dissenting opinion and be respected for it – but it would seem they also don’t like it when women “get” to do stuff they don’t “get” to/can’t do. (That is, unless that stuff is unpaid, shitty domestic grunt work. Men seem perfectly willing to leave that to the ladies.)
As a result, we have hundreds of years worth of examples of men ignoring women’s work, devaluing women’s work and/or claiming woman’s work as their own – which leads me to my next point.
Saying that a woman is having [insert dude’s name here]’s baby perfectly illustrates the sexist notion of Sperm Magic, a useful concept I first heard articulated by American Internet feminist Amanda Marcotte.
Sperm Magic is the idea that women are empty receptacles into which a man plants his magical seed, the virile magical power of which makes a baby. This perspective relegates women to nothing more than incubators – ovens waiting for buns, if you will. Women’s bodies become passive vessels, objects waiting to be acted upon by sacred sperm that must bravely swim their way through hostile vaginal territory in order to make things happen. Important things. BABY THINGS.
The reality is the opposite. Men and their sperm are an integral part of the pregnancy process, to be sure, but really just at the beginning. Their contribution is the figurative starting pistol which sets in motion a gruelling, nine-month marathon. Women are the ones who have to run the race.
The phrase “she’s having his baby” ignores this. Instead, it conjures a visual of a tiny, already-completely-formed baby – HIS baby – delivered via penis into a fleshy holding tank where it just chills out until its big debut.
I get why media use it. It’s convenient paternity shorthand, a way to let the public know which man’s sperm got all up in which woman’s business.
But it’s also lazy. There’s plenty of other ways to report this news that don’t actively serve to erase a woman’s role in her own pregnancy.
After all, as much as Kim Kardashian is having Kanye West’s baby, she’s also having Kim Kardashian’s baby.
* This is the requisite caveat acknowledging some woman have super-easy pregnancies with no negative health effects. IT’S ALMOST AS IF NOT ALL FEMALE HUMANS ARE EXACTLY ALIKE.
** As an aside, that women “get” to do something is itself an offensive concept, as it implies we have been given permission to do so by the folks who are ACTUALLY in power. Gee, I wonder who those folks are?