... Or, Is It Actually Mandatory to Wear Pastels On Becoming A Mother Now? Is It Some Manner of Law or Statute?
[Blogger's disclaimer: In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that this is one of my favorite episodes. Riddled with problems, to be sure, but still--I do love it so. Somehow, whenever they tackle Sacred Events in the Life of a Woman: weddings, honeymoons, baby showers, etc., I am always made happy--even when said tackling is distinctly problematic, as it sure as sugar is here.]
So 0ne of the ladies' friends from yore and yesteryear, Lainey, is having a baby shower thrown in her honor, to which the women are all invited. Turns out Lainey used to be a wild and crazy party girl, but has since married, moved with her investment banker husband to Connecticut, and is now poised to Bring Forth Life. The baby shower (to which Samantha and Miranda bring a bottle of Scotch and condoms, respectively, as gifts--how thoughtful!) stirs up all kinds of feelings in the four women.
Carrie's period is late and she is (understandably) rather rattled by the prospect of (potentially, unexpectedly) becoming a Bringer Forth of Life herself. Miranda (whose mantra, Carrie informs us, is "Marriage + Babies = Death") is generally discontented about being dragooned into attending this event, and says so on every possible occasion. Sam loves her life just as it is, and resents being made to feel inferior because she is not (and never will be) a Bringer Forth of Life. Charlotte, on the other hand, is itching to be a mother, and is made to feel quite sad by the shower--her sadness getting headily mixed up with anger when she learns that Lainey plans on using the secret baby name which Charlotte had long ago invented, Shayla (blech, seriously? Isn't that one of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel's kids' names?) for her pending daughter. Oooh. That's low.
In the end, things resolve themselves more or less tidily (as tidily as can be done given the inherent untidiness of the feelings under discussion, that is.) Lainey visits the city nine months pregnant, and tries to reclaim her pre-marriage, pre-pregnancy life and self by resuming her wild antics--but she can't. And she's miserable. Soooo... envying her wasn't necessary, then? Charlotte, who temporarily lost faith that her dream of one day becoming a wife and mother would come true, gets said faith back. (After meeting a cute boy at a party. Isn't that always the way?) Sam throws an "I Don't Have A Baby" shower to take the bad taste of Lainey's soiree out of her mouth ("I don't have a baby, everybody drink!") Miranda... pretty much remains where she is, convinced that motherhood is a "cult," while also seeming quite sure that she herself will join said cult one day. (Ding ding ding, we have a winner!) Carrie muses a great deal about what motherhood means for women--does becoming a mother mean resigning part of one's self? How does becoming a mother transform a woman's life? How would becoming a mother transform her life, specifically? At the very end of the episode, she gets her period, and has very ambivalent feelings about it--she is relieved, sad, wistful, the lot. Complexity.
Persistent Refusal to So Much as Acknowledge That Such a Thing as Abortion Exists Watch:
Carrie: So, if it turns out that I am actually pregnant, what kind of mother will I be?
Miranda: Because clearly, if you are in fact facing an unplanned pregnancy, your only alternative is to continue that pregnancy.
Miranda: Because it's not like that in this ostensibly shockingly candid, "we'll take on anything daring and controversial" HBO series, which theoretically provides a hard-hitting, realistic look at how women think and talk about sex and their bodies, abortion could even be mentioned.
Carrie: Clearly not.
Miranda: Even though at least one third of American women will have an abortion by age 45.
Miranda: And even though, as we learn in Season Four (spoiler alert!), you have in fact already had an abortion. So... are consequently aware that abortion exists as an alternative.
Carrie: Exactly. My only realistic response here is to assume that if the little stick turns blue, or pink, or whatever the heck color it's supposed to turn after I pee on it, I'm still not clear on that, Motherhood Is Inevitable. There are no other choices. Women should think about "choice" primarily in terms of which pair of cute shoes to wear on their next date with their duplicitous, emotionally stunted boyfriend, am I right?
Miranda: You are.
Carrie: Good, glad we cleared that up. And now, onto the pregnancy test aisle, where we can make punning jokes about our ovaries, and perpetuate the silence and invisibility surrounding a decision faced by millions of American women each year!
Miranda: Hooray for ovary puns, and cowardly, disingenuous shrinking away from the realities of women's real, complex reproductive lives, experiences, and decisions!
Mothers=Boring? Watch?: In an episode which spends so much time trying to deconstruct our culture's stereotypes about motherhood, I am a little troubled by how mothers themselves are represented here. When Miranda describes motherhood as a cult ("They all think the same, dress the same, and sacrifice themselves to the same cause--babies"), the episode in some ways suggests that she's not that far wrong. The mothers at Lainey's baby shower are all clothed in dowdy pastels and frumpy florals (it's like Laura Ashley exploded in there, I kid thee not), unlike our glamorous, black-clad heroines. The mothers are all baby talk, all the time, unlike our sophisticated, intellectually engaged protagonists. (Miranda: "I spoke to a woman who has a master's in finance, and all she could talk about was her Diaper Genie.") Hmmm. By suggesting that the mothers are all rather dull and dowdy, isn't the episode working against its own ostensible goal of moving discussions of mothers and motherhood beyond flat, one-dimensional stereotypes? I answer my own question by saying... yes. It is. Thumbs down.
Motherhood=Resigning One's Independent Life? Watch:
1) This episode creates a pretty clear "single, childless women in the exciting city"/"married women who are mothers in the dull suburbs" dichotomy.
Caveat to 1) Okay, there is one mother in the episode who lives in the city.
Caveat to Caveat to 1) But she appears for approximately two seconds, and is wearing dirty overalls during said two seconds, which, in the SATC universe, is a fate almost worse than living in the dull suburbs.
2) The episode suggests that it might just be impossible to become a mother and remain oneself--the mothers Carrie meets at Lainey's shower seem to have given up a lot of things which they actively mourn and deeply regret to become mothers--their city lives, their lives in the paid workforce/their professional identities, their ability to dress marginally fashionably, etc.
Caveat to 2) But... maybe this is a kind of commentary on the fact that our society still expects motherhood and sacrifice/selflessness to go hand in hand--maybe it's not saying that motherhood is a sacrifice of all that one has and is, maybe it's saying "isn't it messed up that our society expects motherhood to be a sacrifice, expects mothers to be paragons of selflessness, makes it really hard for women to easily combine motherhood and careers in the paid workforce, and so on, and so forth"?
Caveat to the Caveat to 2) Hmmm. I wish it was that, but I don't think that it is, actually. The episode seems to be saying, "You can be a glamorous single lady with a career outside the home, who lives in the city, or a respectable matron who lives quietly in the country as a full-time homemaker (which is clearly a fate worse than death), it's either/or, make your choice and stick with it/make your bed and lie in it. [Insert "provided that you have the class privilege to make these kinds of decisions about motherhood in the first place, which the overwhelming majority of American women do not" here.]
Motherhood=Complicated Watch: With all of my numerous reservations about the troubling representations of mothers/motherhood, and my intense displeasure about the dead frickin' silence about abortion noted, I am now free to also note that I think this episode actually does do some really interesting things in its discussions about motherhood--what we as a culture expect of it, versus what it's really like. For one thing, it makes the point that mothers are actually people, independent of their motherhood. Not that radical of a point, you say, but still--one which does seem to constantly need making. Turns out, mothers are not just mothers, but women with desires, hopes, and aspirations of their own, independent of their children. SHOCKING.
At one point, Carrie goes around asking the mothers at Lainey's shower what their secrets are, and we hear their answers (frustrations about having left the paid workforce! Longing for an abandoned lady lover! A continued desire to smoke pot from time to time!), which helps to undercut the "mothers are all dull Laura Ashley fiends, rather than interesting people with complex inner lives" subtext of the episode--if not quite enough for my liking.
The episode also makes it clear that the picture-perfect, white picket fence, wealthy husband, beautiful home, baby-on-the-way life isn't actually so perfect, after all. Because it turns out that Lainey is miserable in her new life, and feels robbed, cheated, and baffled by how different it is from what she'd expected. (Who knew, a fairy-tale life on paper might not actually be a fairy tale in reality!)
In this regard, I think that the episode (narrowly) avoids falling into the "marriage and motherhood are either the solution to, or the source of, all of your problems and unhappiness" binary by suggesting that Lainey has always been unhappy--that her problem isn't "Marriage + Babies = Death," but that she expected marriage and motherhood to bind up all of her old wounds and magically make her life painless and perfect... and they didn't... and they can't. And here I heard from every romantic comedy produced by Hollywood in the past ten million years that they would, and could!
Childlessness=Not Necessarily a Sad, Hopeless Pit of Sadness and Hopelessness Watch: I kind of love that Sam throws herself an "I Don't Have a Baby" shower in this episode. One of my other very favorite episodes of the series (coming down the pike in Season Six) makes the point that there aren't really any holidays or celebrations explicitly for single, childless folks in American culture. (Carrie: "Hallmark doesn't make a 'Congratulations you didn't marry the wrong guy' card.") Now, I've had a considerable amount of fun buying wedding gifts and baby gifts for friends over the years. (I didn't know there was such a wide variety of ice cream makers, and who doesn't love the prospect of buying defenseless youngsters extremely goofy little hats which their parents can compel them to wear?)
But... did anyone buy me anything to celebrate my moving into my very first apartment as a single lady? Nope. Did I get a shower thrown for me when I booked my very first trip overseas? Not so much. (And hot dang, I could have used one... oh, the luggage I would have registered for...) It's kind of nice to see Sam being unambivalently happy with her childless/child-free/whatever terminology one wishes to use life, and deciding that she deserves to actively celebrate, rather than apologize for, it. I would have happily brought a bottle of champagne to that party!
Notable Quotables: Carrie, after receiving the invitation to Lainey's shower: "Let's be honest. Sometimes, there is nothing harder in life than being happy for somebody else. Like lottery winners, or extremely successful people who are twenty-seven."
Miranda to Carrie, on children: "I just realized... maybe it's maturity, or the wisdom that comes with age, but the witch in 'Hansel and Gretel'? She's very misunderstood! I mean, the woman builds her dream house, and these brats come along, and start eating it!"
Next Up...?: "The Drought," all about the terrible problems faced by farmers during seasons with little rain... oh, wait, sorry, it's actually about Carrie's panic at her and Big's sex life slowing down into a, well... drought. A matter of equal concern and severity, to be sure.