"Baby Mama"'s baby haka*

Historiann.com reader and commenter ej writes in with some thoughts on the new movie, Baby Mama:  “I think Historiann should tackle the topic of women of a certain age not being able to get pregnant. I love Tina Fey, but I’m so tired of the media perpetuating this myth that women who wait ‘too long’ to have a baby, usually because they’re busy pursuing their careers, find themselves s.o.l. when their biological clock stops ticking.  This is nonsense. I was after 35 when I got pregnant, and both attempts were successful on the first or second try. Other friends who are my age hit the jackpot on the second try. Not to mention that fact that infertility studies have proven that 40% of cases are the result of the man, but no one makes a movie about that!”  (When you think about it, movies about male infertility promise to be so much funnier than movies about female infertility!  All of those spank mags and masturbation jokes, y’know.  Speculums?  Not teh funny.) 

I think ej’s right that the “ZOMG I forgot to have children and now it’s too late because I’m not 29 anymore” plot is a little played out, and actually not true.  (Then again, Seth Rogen having a chance with anyone who looks anything like Katherine HeigelNot true, either!  It’s only in the movies that men who look like Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Rogen have any kind of sex life at all.)  Given the fact that the modern movie industry is designed to cater to the warped fantasy life of 14-28 year old boys and men, I’m inclined to give this movie the benefit of the doubt, mostly because it promises to be something we haven’t seen a lot of lately–an actual female buddy movie that doesn’t end in a suicide pact!  There are so few decent roles for women actors that don’t relegate them to the male lead’s wife or girlfriend these days, let alone a movie starring TWO FUNNY WOMEN, without the Judd Apatow the-(female) hottie-and-the-(male, undeserving) nottie plot. 

Another thing to like about Baby Mama:  In an interview with Amy Poehler in Salon last week, she affirmed in no uncertain terms that “absolutely I am!” a feminist.  Salon‘s review of the movie was blandly positive, calling it an “essentially sweet-natured picture that doesn’t go as far as it could in satirizing both our child-centric culture and the fact that, now that there are so many scientific advances to help people conceive and bear children, sometimes the basic desire to have a baby can turn into a desperation bordering on mania.”  The New Yorker’s review was similar, although it did feature this strikingly odd passage: 

Angie [Poehler] is skinny to Kate’s [Fey’s] curves, loose-tongued to her zipped-up sense of fun, fertile to her barren jealousy. Angie wears pedal pushers and tank tops, whereas Kate stalks around bare-legged in skirts that lurch to a halt two inches above the knee, which is a length that Christy Turlington would struggle to carry off. It’s possible that Fey, like other television stars, is unused to being framed in full length, and, though in complete command of her delivery—dry, spiky, but unthreatening—she hasn’t yet made up her mind how funny her body is meant to be. She isn’t big enough to make a joke of her ripeness, like Bette Midler, but she’s no Lily Tomlin, either. She could do worse than steal a trick from Lucille Ball—a lovely, elegant figure who taught herself to be graceless.

Is Anthony Lane actually suggesting that Tina Fey is zaftig?  Oh, no he di’nt.  Reading this review is like shopping at Barney’s, the store that unfailingly makes me feel fat and poor.  (And did he really write the phrase, “fertile to her barren jealousy?”  Hmmm.  Standards really have slipped, haven’t they?  Is no one, you know, editing the magazine any more?)  Comme toujours, Jezebel has a comprehensive roundup of reviews.

Have any of you seen Baby Mama yet?  I haven’t had the pleasure, but may have to make a point of getting out one of these days to see it.  (What do you say, ej–shall we take in a matinee?)

*haka is a term I’ve borrowed from Corrente.  They use the term to mean a coordinated and usually very loud message meant to intimidate those who hear it despite the lack of truth in the message.

0 thoughts on “"Baby Mama"'s baby haka*

  1. No, I haven’t seen “Baby Mama” yet, but I have seen a few episodes of “The Return of Jezebel James,” which is basically the same premise except it’s the younger sister who is serving as the surrogate. I didn’t find it very funny, despite the casting of Parker Posey. Could be because of the material (the jokes are pretty lame), could be because it’s network and they have to reign things in, could be because Posey is better in the wacky improv world of Christopher Guest’s comedies, or could be because the premise just isn’t that funny.

    What I have seen and read of “Baby Mama” is somewhat annoying in that it perpetuates class bias in subtle ways (I have the same issue with “My Name is Earl” even though I find the show very sweet and funny).


  2. Thanks for the post Historiann. I think Knitting Clio also raises another issue-that of class. According to reviews, the successful Tina Fey character not only hires someone else’s womb, but she finds someone who is clearly supposed to be rather “white trash”. I’m not sure if there are any references in the movie to the potential economic exploitation going on here, but clearly that’s another by-product of surrogacy. The NYT has had some interesting pieces lately on the surrogate boom in India, which raises a number of questions about ethics and the practice. Have we actually started to outsource pregnancy?

    As someone over 35 who was able to have a baby naturally, I’m not trying to judge those who resort to alternative methods. I’m just frustrated by society’s attempt to portray me as selfish for wanting a career and a family. No one seems surprised that my husband, who is older than I am, waited “so long” to have children. And I’m fairly certain that no one has ever asked him if he was planning on working after the baby was born…

    Also, the review in the NYT notes that Amy P. is almost as old as Tina Fey, which makes one question the premise of the film. Perhaps those two very talented actors should have found a different buddy film to make.


  3. Ah, yes–class. But, class issues are less visible in this film, where both of the lead actors are thin, pretty, white women who are the same approximate age! (Whatever insane movie-induce view of women’s bodies Anthony Lane has, in the real world, Tina Fey is THIN!) There are fewer disturbing power issues to deal with so long as your surrogate isn’t too young, isn’t from a developing country, and is of the same ethnicity. In the dentist’s office last week, I picked up a Newsweek that had an interesting article about surrogacy now, and the fact that so many military wives are doing it. (I didn’t read the article myself–just skimmed it–but you can if you click here.)

    KC–hasn’t “Jezebel James” already been cancelled? I loves me some Parker Posey, but this dog looked like it would be euthanized before the pilots ran out.


  4. Don’t know if JJ has been cancelled — gave up on it after two episodes.

    re: class issues in Baby Mama — not following your observation. Are only upper-class women thin and pretty? Not in my experience. . .


  5. It is important to remember, I think, that while American culture as a whole treats the topic of women bearing children past 35 indelicately, there is an underlying biological basis for concern, as the risk of birth defect and complications increases after about that age.

    (“The only one who could ever reach me / Was the sweet talkin’ son of an OB/GYN”)



  6. Bing, you’re absolutely right. However, this risk is magnified in the popular media, and the risks that more and more very young mothers face (such as the dramatically rising risk of diabetic young women) never become part of the narrative of risk of childbearing for women.

    In the colonial era, women who gave birth through their 30s and even well into their 40s were celebrated–it was believed that fecundity was evidence of thriving health, so having a “teeming belly” (with perhaps a 6th, 9th, or 12th child, by the time women were in their 40s) was a status symbol for women. (Susan Klepp had an excellent article on the cultural interpretation of pregnancy in early America in the Journal of American History back in 1998.) I’m a little less clear on nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century history, but so far as I know, maternal age just isn’t on the map of cultural anxieties until women have the power NOT to have children until in their 30s or 40s (i.e. with the introduction of the Pill). Then, all of a sudden, the spectre of “geriatric primups” becomes something to worry about, something that’s doubtlessly bad for women and bad for children, etc. (Maybe Knitting Clio, who’s an expert on modern women’s medical history, will chime in with some thoughts or corrections, if she’s still following this thread.)

    All of my friends who were lucky enough to be healthy throug their 20s and early 30s (i.e. no endometriosis, no diseases or scarring of the cervix or uterus) and then decided to have children in their mid- to late-30s got pregnant really, really quickly. (Shockingly quickly, actually–hooray for 15-20 years of vigilantly using birth control!) A few friends in their late 30s took some fertility drugs, but then had healthy babies without resorting to more invasive reproductive assistance techniques. Of course, “my friends” are not a scientific sample–but our experiences suggest that there’s a perfectly happy narrative about getting educations, building a thriving careers, and THEN having adorible spawn, and that choosing that course (the way so many men do) doesn’t lead women to frustration, doom, and second-guessing.

    Perhaps there’s something that preserves youth when you go indoors and spend your 20s and early 30s in classes, libraries and archives? I thought it was just a good way to prevent more UVA/UVB sun damage, but perhaps it also puts those ovaries on ice? Or maybe it’s just a lifestyle that doesn’t leave room for too much partying? Wev.


  7. Clearly advanced maternal age is related to a higher incidence of medical problems, but its interesting that the media doesn’t really concern itself with that narrative. Its concern is inability to conceive.

    And its not women over 35 having children who are targeted, its women over 35 who are having their first child. A different story, no? At least, according to the media.

    And as a woman who was considered “high-risk” who happened to be one month past 35 when she got pregnant, I was resentful that I was target of concern, yet more problems arise from high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. In many cases, these things can be controlled, yet they seldom enter into the discourse about pregnancy.



    I actually just saw the movie last night, and class differences are evident. Fey’s character actually calls Poehler’s character “white trash.” And as far as the age thing, the movie starts with the premise that Fey’s character, Kate, is too old, but she actually has a misshapen uterus from medicine that her mother took when pregnant.

    What bummed me out was that it was a movie that emphasized motherhood = true personhood, or babies = happiness. No baby, no sense of worth. Sigh.


  9. Hey, thanks Charlotte for clearing things up from your experience actually seeing the movie! I think I’ll definitely have to get out this week to see it.

    Good point about the equation of motherhood as true personhood. Most mothers I know struggle with their identities and interests being subsumed by their children’s identities and interests–so it’s strange to think that parenthood = personhood. (It may of course = womanhood, which is a very different thing from personhood!)

    As for class: “white trash?” Ugh. I’m all for making that term as verboten as the N word and the C word. (Not criticizing you for reporting its use, but rather questioning its use in the movie…but I’ll have to see it to understand the context.)


  10. Pingback: Just like the mother-fucking Flintstones… « Blurred Productions

  11. I think the main concern in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century was infant and maternal mortality in general, not older mothers per se. I do remember seeing a brochure on the older mother in the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective papers at the Schlesinger Library. I didn’t read it that thoroughly because I was looking for something else, but apparently this was trying to reassure women while also pointing to the unique issues of women over thirty.

    I would agree that the word “white trash” is not cool, even if along with “redneck” it has been reclaimed by individuals who fit that demographic. [e.g. see http://www.whitetrashmom.com/%5D
    As you know from my blog, I didn’t particularly like being called a redneck by one of my colleagues (along with having my intelligence questioned — the two sort of go hand in hand).


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