The commercialisation of pregnancy

// 17 April 2012

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This is the second in a series of posts by Yasmin, a pregnant feminist who is sharing her experiences of pregnancy with us, in the hope that she is not alone in her thinking!

Photo of a white pregnant women getting a facial in a beauty salonWhen I have told many older women in their 40s and older that I am not finding out the baby’s gender, they are generally congratulatory. Indeed, a few of my pregnant friends are also choosing the surprise option. However, many also seem totally bemused that I am prepared to forgo buying everything in either pink or blue before it arrives. How will you be able to properly prepare for it?!

For me, the early discovery of a baby’s gender and the commercialization of the whole pregnancy process are, in some ways, linked. Most people on discovering their baby’s gender, like it or not, use this as an opportunity to begin storing up their nursery (if they are fortunate enough to have one) with gender “appropriate” toys and clothing. I in no way want to suggest that the sexist gender stereotyping products we have today are only a new phenomena; this is clearly not true. I do, however, believe it is much more pervasive than when I was growing up in the 1980s and ’90s.

Pregnancy is now a multi-billion pound industry. It increasingly pressurises women, at a time that they are arguably at their most vulnerable, to become the ultimate consumers. There are a wealth of reading materials, diets, clothes, classes, apps, you name it, that a pregnant woman can spend her time and, crucially, her money on. This is before we even begin to talk about nappy types, prams, cots, baby monitors… and the list goes on. The Baby Centre app for expectant mothers constantly reminds me that I should ‘pamper’ myself by taking time to have a pedicure or facial or to visit the hairdressers.

The underlying message here is that even at this time, you can still look your ‘best’. More importantly, in order to do so, regular worship at the altar of these bastions of the beauty industry is a necessity. This is not to say that I think quality time for yourself is something that can be scoffed at. My concern is that it is often framed within a capitalist consumerist context. “Well-being”, as pregnant women, is something we purchase at the beauty salon or from “sexy”, “trendy” maternity wear outlets.

It’s therefore unsurprising that when, as a feminist, I state that many of my new born’s clothes will be second-hand, this is greeted with incredulity: how can I not want the best for it? My feminist principles force me to recognise that, by virtue of being a western consumer, I play an important role in a global market place. A market place that allows sweatshops to exist. Places which, as we know, primarily employ cheap female labour and in some cases child labour, where people are forced to work under inhumane conditions. I do not get it right all the time, but I do try, and this effort in itself is frowned upon as a marker of how I am unwilling to give the “best that money can buy” to my child. I am invariably met with a glib dismissal of my way of thinking, the “do gooder” in me is talked of as something that will necessarily be compromised when the baby arrives.

This increasing emphasis on the material as a means to cope with the difficulties and emotional roller coaster that is pregnancy only serves to further undermine women. If you don’t feel and look great, then really who else do you have to blame when there is a wealth of consumer options available to you?

Comments From You

bayleaf // Posted 17 April 2012 at 4:31 pm

With my first we didn’t find out the gender and went to Mothercare to buy a few bits and bobs after my waters had already gone. This time round we did find out and it doesn’t make the tiniest bit of difference because baby no 2 will wear exactly the same stuff as baby no1. We gave all our newborn clothes to friends and family and are now getting it all back.

I breastfed for a long time and I still wear the 2 and a half year old in a sling, we still co-sleep and didn’t use a high chair. There’s easy ways of not being sucked into consumerism in order to ‘prepare for baby’.

Ditto pampering/spoiling myself in pregnancy I haven’t got the inclination/money/time.

If someone could come up with non-hideous but long lasting and functional maternity jeans I’d snap ’em up in a flash though.

Sue Barsby // Posted 17 April 2012 at 4:35 pm

I must say there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to telling people that my baby will be wearing reusable nappies that I’ve borrowed from a friend, just to see their faces… But yes, I agree – and how do they afford all that stuff? It’s not even practical to consume that much new. Babies don’t need half of it. It’s exploiting your excitement and taps into insecurities.

S // Posted 17 April 2012 at 4:49 pm

*grumble grumble, people thinking they can can “find out the baby’s gender” by looking at its body via scanner/at birth, grumble grumble*

Kirsten // Posted 17 April 2012 at 8:53 pm

A few years ago my mum told me that one of her colleagues was pregnant with her first baby. The pregnant woman had been talking about the things she was buying for the baby and mentioned that her own mother would be buying her a blender, so she could mash food for the baby’s weaning. When my mum suggested she could mash things with a fork (quicker, cheaper and no fiddly parts to be washed), the woman looked at her like she had two heads.

Rosie // Posted 18 April 2012 at 8:04 am

Pamper is one of my least favourite words in the English language and the amount of money women are encouraged to spend having ‘beauty treatments’ is disgusting, as ism er, the concept of a ‘beauty treatment’ itself. (I personally think beauty is innate and you can’t pamper yourself into it.) My Mum says the thing she resented most when I was born was no longer being able to read as much as she wanted, so I suggest you indulge yourself with lots of time to read – novels, not ‘how to be a neurotic mother and feel like you’re not good enough’-type parenting manuals. As for gendered colouring and buying all new stuff. Well, you’ll just have to ignore the people who tell you that unless you buy new thing you don’t love you child, because from what my friends with kids tell me, this is an extremely common refrain. Just be glad you don’t equate money with love and that your kid will grow up with the same meaningful values. And paint your baby’s room your favourite colour, even if it’s blue and – shock horror – they turn out to be a girl.

Ariadne // Posted 18 April 2012 at 3:06 pm

Don’t you mean the sex of the baby, as gender is a social construct?

diane cawsey // Posted 19 April 2012 at 8:50 am

My youngest is 14 – when I was pregnant I was not aware of ‘pampering’ and even had I been, I would not have been interested in being so self absorbed. When I had my children, getting dressed before noon would have been an achievement so I cannot understand the desire for pampering, your baby will not notice.

Both my children had second hand things (clothing, equipment) I even used my friend’s breast pump – we don’t need new stuff every time.

Babies don’t care what they wear but we make such a thing about outfits – why is this. If it’s clean/relatively clean, stick it on – who cares if it matches – babies just need to be warm.

It’s parents, driven by the media who perpetuate this vicious cycle of materialism – difficult to break, magazines don’t help as they reinforce the image of the perfect mother.

I want to say, enjoy being pregnant and love your baby because when they become teenagers, you’ll often ask yourself why did I have children!

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