Monday, January 14, 2013

"Baby Mamas" and Not Wives

I've had a lifetime of experiences living in my brown skin.  Deeply Micronesian - I'm proud to be of this race, even though I unfortunately come face-to-face with stereotypes and racism.   One of the most productive ways to understand this issue is to talk about it and hear how others experience it, even if it causes discomfort.  This next series of posts is about Stereotypes and Racism, and I'm honored that one of my closest family friends, Bethany Matson, is here to share her story.  This particular experience that she describes opened my eyes to yet another subtle incident that goes unnoticed (unless of course, you are the person who is offended).  I love her reflective and casual voice, and the way in which she relates her story.  Read on and get some perspective on something real . . .

                Everyone gets asked personal questions about themselves.   It's how you get to know someone, make connections, and maintain small talk (which I’ve never been good at doing).  In my personal and professional life, dating (well, trying to), and meeting new people - basically you get similar questions about your age, kids, relationship status, siblings, etc.  I have noticed for a long time that people rarely ask me if I’m married or if I have children; they always ask me, “How many children do you have?” 

Now it might be easy to say that this is more of a societal issue in that women of a certain age are supposed to have children.   Or maybe since I work with children people expect that I have them.  However I rarely get asked if I am married, how long I’ve been married or if I want to get married.  I may get asked if I am single or if I have a boyfriend, or want one, but NEVER  about a husband and I almost always get asked about kids before I get asked my relationship status.  Again, some people might say there is a devaluation of marriage in our society or talk about the proliferation of unmarried co-habitating couples. 

For me it goes beyond that.  It goes back to this idea that many women of color, specifically black women, are thought of as only being “baby mamas” and not wives.  Thinking about the controversy over the Oxygen network airing a show about the rapper with all the “baby mamas”  - it’s called “All My Baby Mama’s”.  There’s a big controversy over the show, but there is an almost exact show called “Sister Wives”, that has proven to be quite popular. 

I know there was controversy over the polygamy aspect of the show, but not about this man having multiple children by different women.  On Sister Wives, there are 16 kids between 4 women, all living together as a family.  This is basically the premise for both shows.  Whatever the controversy, the white women get the title of “wife”, even though they aren’t all, if any, married to that guy, but the black women are “baby mamas”.  Again you could say there is an added aspect of polygamy or religious difference, but really it’s all the same.  Yet, these women are viewed differently.  I’m probably not the first person to notice this difference, but it’s pretty disturbing to me.  I don’t watch “Sister Wives” and wouldn’t watch “All My Baby Mamas”, (well maybe if they did a crossover show together I’d tune in, just to see if they could interview that many kids).   The point is that both have the same concept. 

People are always surprised when I say I don’t have children, but they don’t flinch when I say I’m not married.  I’ve noticed that white women around my age, at work or friends, get asked about their relationship status and rarely get asked about how many children they have or even if they have children.  There are probably tons of statistics and charts about how few black women are married and are single parents that someone could quote to justify themselves, but honestly unless there is a new abundance of cultural anthropologic statisticians, for the most part it’s just people making assumptions.   (Super random, but whenever I use the word “assumptions” I think of Samuel L. Jackson in “A Long Kiss Goodnight” when he says, “When you make assumptions you make an ass out of you and me” LOL, Classic.) 

Black women can always be viewed as somebody’s mama; I’ve been complimented on kids who are not mine on several occasions.  Vera often talks about people not realizing that she and Brad’s children are their children, because of their varying skin tones or assumed ethnicities.  Recently my sister Melissa took her daughter Jada, Misa, myself, and my other niece out for manicures.  Melissa referred to Jada as her daughter and a woman pointed to Misa and said “and this is your daughter too?”  And Melissa politely corrected her with, “no, no I just have one”.   Then in December for Jada’s birthday we all were at the Nitty Gritty with John-Pio and when I took Jada and John-Pio to the bathroom a  woman tells me, “oh my gosh your kids are so cute!”  I politely corrected her with “oh thanks they aren’t mine, but they are super cute!”  No one hesitates to assume that just because a child is with us, they came from our wombs. 

When I tell people that I don’t have kids, even if they haven’t asked me how old I am, they assume something is wrong:  “Oh, you can’t have kids?” Or my favorite ,“Oh are you a lesbian?” (so funny because I know more lesbian women/couples with children than without).   Like it can’t be a conscious decision for me not to have kids.  I notice that when someone who is not black gets asked the same questions they tend to get more follow up questions like,  “Well do you want children?“, “When are you going to get married?”, or “Are you still looking for someone to marry?”  And there are far more personal questions or assumptions (there’s that word again) about their fertility issues or sexual identity.    I’m not given that choice about children or marriage; there is just an assumption that I am not married , never will be, and maybe don’t want to be.  That,  I’d probably just be content being a “baby mama”. 

Maybe this is not an experience everyone has, but it is something that I have noticed.  I don’t mind being asked about how many kids I have; I LOVE kids and being a parent is one of the most challenging (and rewarding) responsibilities any of us will ever have, so maybe it is complimentary that people look at me and assume that I could take on that role (I needed to throw some optimism in, New Year’s resolution).  One day though I hope that someone asks me first if I’m married, and when I say no, they say “well I have the perfect guy for you, he is 6’2, funny, a head full of hair,  and a closet full of cardigans and bow ties “(I know I don’t have very high standards!).  But until then I’ll just stick to my answer for the “how many kids do you have” question with and flash of my ring finger while singing, “first comes love, then comes marriage, THEN comes the baby in the baby carriage!”

Bethany is a social worker who advocates for the rights of children and families.  She received her undergraduate degree from Lakeland College, and her graduate degree from Edgewood College.  Along with being dedicated to the work she does, she enjoys shopping, reading, and watching true crime shows.  The Naputi-Werntz family loves her for her style, brains, and heart! 


No comments:

Post a Comment