I bought this month’s edition of Vogue because Nicole Kidman was on the cover.
There’s something about Kidman that I’ve always admired; perhaps it’s that she seems like a woman of character or maybe it’s because she makes movies that she believes in that can be either light-hearted or heavy-hitting.
It seems, however, that John Powers has decided to paint this iconic actor in an uncharacteristically flighty and faddish light: as an airhead female actress who uses pregnancy and childbirth to monopolize the limelight and increase her personal marketability.
From the Spears boys, the Lopez-Anthony twins, to the Jolie-Pitt brood, American pop culture has become saturated with smiling mommies and pregnant bellies; “baby bumps,” “first pictures,” and baby names; it’s almost as if our societal biological clock has gone off: The whole country has gone bat shit crazy over babies.
Powers’ cover article, entitled Days of Heaven, depicts Kidman’s current state of mind as almost euphoric. She’s calm and centered; she’s working on the film of her dreams (an epic film by Baz Luhrman about and entitled Australia) and she’s *gasp* finally pregnant! *swoooon* Suddenly her life has “slowed down” and she’s ready for her life’s greatest work.
Before you run off to Babys’R’Us, may I remind you that she’s already a mother. There is a dangerous prioritization of natural childbirth over adoption that is occurring in both fiction and non-fiction; in the film Match Point, while the character Chloe laments her difficulty conceiving, a friend suggests adoption as another viable option– “Oh no!” she frankly and shockingly scoffs, “I want to have my OWN children!” Charlotte York-Goldenblatt in the SATC movie is finally blessed with her “own” child, and, in “real” life, women like Angelina Jolie and Kidman get more positive press once they’ve conceived. Slight problem: they. already. have. children! They AREN’T, as Powers puts it, embarking on “the most demanding roles of all” that of “happy [wives] and mother[s].” They already embody these roles on a daily basis!
And why specify “happy?” Because he’s furthering a harmful stereotype and causal relationship between women and motherhood: that women find a “natural balance” once they’ve had children, that women become calm, centered, and “happy” once they’ve fulfilled their life’s purpose. And Why is this harmful? Because it isn’t true! Scientific studies have proven that there isn’t a “maternal instinct;” that that which pop psychiatrists call “inherent” is actually taught and learned! And it creates an environment where women feel as though they’ve somehow failed when they don’t immediately know what to do when their children are born or when they face any obstacles in those first few days, months, years. PPD anyone? Don’t get me started.
And second, where are the fathers in this new baby-crazed world? Where is the lauding of fatherhood that should be occurring in tandem with this new mother-worship? Why aren’t men held up to the same level of scrutiny as women once they become fathers? Why don’t we see interviews in soft focus with men like Brad Pitt or K-Fed? Why don’t we hear about them ‘becoming comfortable in their own skins’ now that they’ve become “part of something larger than themselves?” Why don’t we hear about the trials that men like Tom Cruise face as they struggle with work-life balance? Why do we STILL expect women to do the lion’s share when it comes to child care?
However, I can’t prescribe the fault alone to the popular press and Paparazzi, or in this case Vogue and Powers, because Kidman herself discusses at length her new hobby of organic gardening and spending time “just sitting” at the Kidman-Urban farm in Tennessee where they also have deer and wild turkeys, and she is legitimately excited about carrying a child. What I can do, is point out that this so-called epidemic “slow down” isn’t occurring because she’s having a child (she got the farm pre-pregnancy and continued working the grueling hours on the Australia film after she found out), and it doesn’t mean she’s any less ruthless in her career. If anything, it’s showing that even the toughest actor in Hollywood needs time to relax. If anything, it shows that her first marriage sucked and she’s finally found some happiness with Urban. So why are we so obsessed with what’s growing in her womb? Why are we fixating on that to explain everything else away?