James Worsdale sincerely hopes that, if no one else, Liz Lemon is immune to baby fever.
In the most recent issue of The New Yorker, Tina Fey published a pleasantly surprisingly honest testament of her experience as a working mother and the tiresome and antiquated double standard she is confronted with in balancing her family and professional lives. I wish I could link it here but it’s a piece only available to subscribers. I suggest that you go and purchase the issue because they seem to have been compensating for some recent shortcomings in printing this and a great piece by Rebecca Mead on George Eliot (not to mention a juicy page-turner expose of Scientology!).
The piece is a humorous articulation of Fey’s frustrations, particularly when faced with “the rudest question you can ask a woman, ‘How do you juggle it all?’” This inordinate interrogation is still a commonly faced manifestation of societal burdens of family planning and child-rearing being placed on women. It feels redundant at this point to indicate how men are significantly less frequently (if ever) posed with this dilemma as they are entitled to “have it all” as the outcome of such a life is always vaguely referred to. Much of this comes from our culture’s incessant insistence on conflating the constructions of womanhood and motherhood. They are one in the same as the latter fulfills and completes the former. This does not nearly occur as concurrently in our ideas of manhood and fatherhood.
For example, think of the tabloid narratives that build our image of Jennifer Aniston’s existence. She’s pregnant! She’s adopting a baby from Mexico! She’s so lonely! This preoccupation with the childless single woman as an incomplete and unsatisfied entity, despite her, in this case, earnings of $24.5 million in her film career alone is one rooted in and perpetuated by sexist and heteronormative thinking.
Fey’s piece on the double standard and our culture’s dilemma of balancing a family and work as unique to women has been explored through contemporary cinema, most memorably in the 1987 Nancy Meyers film Baby Boom starring the greatest actress of our time Diane Keaton (love). In it, corporate powerhouse JC Wiatt is about to become partner of her business and is driven and completely consumed and defined by her career, fulfilled, but consumed. When a distant cousin of hers dies in a tragic accident, she inherits Baby Elizabeth and is heaved into motherhood. Extremely hesitant to her new role, JC comically and clumsily navigates her way to capability and enjoyment of her new identity as a mother, but is forced to make career-killing sacrifices in the process. Eventually she is able to reconcile her business savvy and her newfound maternal instinct and she creates and heads the enormous growth of a baby food company made from apples from her orchard at her newly acquired Vermont cottage.
At the time the film was lauded by critics and feminists for illustrating the dilemma posed by the new woman’s career mobility and biological determinism, now as much as ever, seeming like a ticking time bomb. But the movie definitely preaches the idea that a woman is not fully satisfied in her life without experiencing motherhood, even when she is thrust into that role having expressed aforementioned lack of interest in it. (This is a set up repeated in later films like 2007’s No Reservations or the most recent Life as We Know It.) Satisfied, childless women either do not exist or are just lying to themselves.
Fast forward 20 years from Baby Boom and we have 2008’s Lorne Michaels production Baby Mama starring maybe-probably feminist comedy writer Tina Fey. If you’ve seen both of these films then you’ll know that the answer to Dana Stevens’s question of, “Have our ideas about working, parenting, and the formation of alternative families really changed so little since 1987?” is, unfortunately, no.
In Baby Mama we have Kate (Fey) who is a 37-year-old very successful single woman who opens the movie with her baby fever setting her into full-on hallucinations during board meetings where all of her co-workers appear as infants (a vision that, I imagine, can take an unfortunately low degree of imagination to create, am I right working people?).
After consulting several condescending specialists, Kate opts to go to a high-end surrogacy clinic and accepts the first applicant, Angie (the delightfully cartoonish Amy Poehler) to carry her baby. Kate and Angie’s interactions play on Kate’s tightly-wound neuroses mixing with Angie’s low-brow and laid-back childishness.
Things get complicated when you discover Angie had been a bit disingenuous about the pregnancy and whose baby it actually was that she was carrying, all the while Kate grows closer and more confident with her decision to go with Angie. This is all going on while there is a budding romance between Kate and Rob (Greg Kinnear), former attorney and owner and manager of a local juice bar. The ending? Forget it. Just awful. To quote Stevens again:
Baby Mama‘s overdetermined happy ending — I won’t give it away, but you’ll know in advance anyway, thanks to half a dozen cues — does the movie’s theme a disservice by copping out on the whole notion of alternative family…what at first appears to be at least a mildly subversive vision of sexual politics soon reverts to an endorsement of heterosexual and biological norms.
Films like Baby Boom and Baby Mama paint this picture of this modern working woman’s paradox, having so many opportunities available to them in the workplace but only available when huge sacrifices are made. It is the aforementioned conflating of womanhood with motherhood that drives that paradox and so narrowly constructs the possibilities for women to ascertain fulfillment in their lives. It creates and moves forward this middle class anxiety that, despite the advances of feminism, still prevails in our cultural thinking.