The commercialisation of pregnancy

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?

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