Our endless obsession with the fertility of celebrities (and, now, politicians) is getting hard to stomach "What's going on downtown, ladies? And by downtown, I mean your uterus!"
That's an odd question, yet not uncommon these days. No other body part, neither rectum nor toenail nor elbow, invites the same level of public investigation, especially (but not only) if said uterus is inside a celebrity – and even more so if it's in the proximity of a celebrity penis.
This was clear when recent unconfirmed reports emerged that Megan Fox was pregnant with the baby of her husband, actor(ish) Brian Austin Green. The "occupied" sign above the belly button seemed only a matter of time, as their courtship perfectly followed the contours of the modern celebrity love story: After a few dates, tabloids and gossip sites began screaming about wedding planners, and the nuptials were immediately followed by all-caps cover lines speculating about a BABY! A year from now, Fox will be contending with baby-weight-loss judgment − TOO FAST! or TOO SLOW! Either way, SHE'S SCREWED!
Famous pregnancies feel like a hunk of meat thrown to a frothing media, the only way to stem the tide of scrutiny. Beyoncé and Jay-Z (but especially Beyoncé) were forced to demur through years of inquiry until, finally, Beyoncé appeared at the Video Music Awards, rubbing her full belly onstage. Jessica Simpson, recently naked and pregnant on the cover of Elle, has been asked about her reproductive plans for more than a decade – and she's only 31. Certainly no one feels the heat more than Kate Middleton, whose uterus is actually the subject of novelty bets placed by bookmakers in the U.K.
But what if there's no baby at the end of the narrative? Jennifer Westfeldt and Jon Hamm are a high-profile couple with a credibility pedigree: He's the star of Mad Men; she's the writer-director of small, critically acclaimed films like the recently released Friends with Kids. The film, about two pals who make a baby together, directly addresses the question of parental ambivalence and reconsiders the traditional family. Yet, while doing the press rounds, Westfeldt, who is 42, was asked often why she didn't have children. She ducked and weaved admirably, finally telling The New York Times Magazine, "I never thought I'd be this age and not have kids. But my life has also gone in a million ways I never anticipated."
Westfeldt could simply respond, "It's personal – move along," but why is she being asked this question at all? Successful men without children usually get a free pass (Hamm is an exception, stating recently that he'd make a terrible father). A recent study by the University of Iowa and Pennsylvania State University tried to explain why. Researchers examined the way that 50 heterosexual married couples dealt with news of infertility. They found that, if the man felt stigmatized, both partners disclosed less. Couples protect the husband's public persona, affirming that infertility is a woman thing.
In some ways, the fascination with celebrity reproduction is an extension of general celebrity infatuation: I like this good-looking, talented couple, so I want them to have kids in order to create more good-looking, talented people for the planet. Also: I associate kids with joy and I want these people I admire from afar to be joyful. It's the same projection that causes fans to feel bad when cool celebrities get divorced (be happy, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon).
We are living in a "pronatalist" culture. Pregnancy today has the power to launch a thousand businesses and rehabilitate a celebrity's image. Bad girls Angelina Jolie and Madonna are never more beloved than when toting their broods through airports.
But the fertility fetish can weigh on non-famous women who aren't mothers. One in six Canadian couples will be affected by infertility, according to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society. A blogger named Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos has called the time on either side of Mother's Day – fast approaching − "hell week." After years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, Tsigdinos stopped, becoming an online hero for documenting her journey away from motherhood. In the book Silent Sorority, she writes of the infertility stigma: "It is supremely personal, involves sex organs and is one of the last arenas where it is fair game to heap scorn. That's because conventional wisdom today leads many to believe that infertility is self-inflicted, or a byproduct of feminism gone bad – ergo it's okay to withhold any sort of compassion or show of interest."
Surely Alberta Wildrose Alliance candidate Danielle Smith, running for premier, felt this reality when a Conservative staffer tweeted, "If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn't she have children of her own?" Reducing a female politician's platform to her fertility is both hideous and unsurprising: Maybe all women are celebrities now, open for invasion.
Follow Katrina Onstad on Twitter: @katrinaonstad