Fourteen weeks: On the mystery of where brown babies come from

22 Feb

A clarification on my previous post, and how it led to an observation

After reading my previous post, my husband remarked that he thought it was a good post, but he didn’t see how it was particularly feminist.

I responded that it was totally feminist! Being a mother is supposed to be hugely aspirational. Reproducing is What Women Are For, after all. Having babies is number one on the list of Shit Women Are Supposed to Do, and we are supposed to be HAPPY ABOUT IT, DAMMIT. We are not supposed to be insecure, or admit to not enjoying being pregnant, or heaven forbid admit that the thought of a newborn in the house doesn’t fill us with warm tingles of anticipation 100% of the time. The dominant cultural narrative is that women who get pregnant are expected to be THRILLED TO BITS about it, and that’s really cracked. Because sure, some women might enjoy pregnancy. But there’s a lot of stuff that goes along with pregnancy that’s pretty inherently un-fun. Like puking! I’d argue that anyone who is SUPER THRILLED OMG about a medical condition that makes them puke all the time is maybe a little strange.

He then nodded and said that made sense, only he hadn’t gotten any of that from my previous post.

So I started thinking about drilling into that a bit more by looking at pictures of pregnant women. Before I gave up on pregnancy books, it was not lost on me that every single photo in all of these books showed women in various states of bliss. Not one of the photos was of a woman looking tired or overheated or miserable. Nope! All of the photos showed women who looked cracked out of their brains with TEH PREGNANCY HAPPY. Even the women who were incredibly, hugely pregnant! Even them!

It got more than a little surreal, especially when some of the books would have these photos inserted into chapters talking about unpleasant birth complications and the like. The text would be about this TOTAL DOWNER SUBJECT and then on the next page there would be BLISSED OUT PREGNANT LADY. Clearly this needed to be blogged about. …which is how I wound up getting sidetracked into writing about the mystery of where brown babies come from.

Pretty, pretty pictures

Since I was feeling too lazy to scan photos from the books I currently have checked out, I did a Google image search instead and came up with an abundance of search results. Only when I had all these photos together, I noticed something really odd. Apparently, only white women ever get pregnant. Well, okay, except for that one Asian. Seriously, check this out:

ZOMG PREGNANCY IS AWSUM!!!1!11!!eleventyone!

For fairness’ sake, I labeled the two that I thought might not be white (the small size made it hard to tell), although I’m pretty sure that it’s just shenanigans with the over-use of levels in Photoshop. But you can’t deny that’s a whole lot of white women. A whole lot of happy, happy white women. And when I flipped through the pregnancy books I had out from the library, it was pretty much the same thing. A lot of pregnant white women with the very occasional pregnant Asian woman.

[Side note: Even better is the bonus photo that I circled! After bitching about how all these women looked so incredibly happy, it really stood out to me. Look at that woman! She’s totally unhappy! Until I took a closer look and realized that she’s not happy because she’s NOT PREGNANT. She’s in the same photo as a blissed out pregnant lady who is WEARING WHITE because pregnancy is good and virtuous and good. And Not Pregnant Lady is WEARING BLACK and LOOKING UNHAPPY because she’s not pregnant and that makes her bad and defective and bad. (Yes I realize this paragraph has a lot of capitols. It’s just so messed up that I CAN’T HELP MYSELF.)]

When you Google pictures of babies, the results are pretty much the same, with an amusing difference…

Look! Down at the bottom! A brown baby! If only white women (and that one Asian woman) get pregnant, where the hell did that one brown baby come from? Is this is a thing that just randomly happens to white women? That occasionally they pop out a brown baby? “I’m sorry, ma’am. We’re not really sure why that happened. Sometimes brown babies just happen. We haven’t really figured that one out yet.”

…so that cultural narrative of pregnancy I was talking about? Look like it’s messed up in more ways than I’d originally thought.


16 Responses to “Fourteen weeks: On the mystery of where brown babies come from”

  1. Ivan February 23, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    OK it is 6 am in Serbia and I just did the same thing you did a search of images featuring pregnant women on Google and i just found one brown pregnant woman in the images that appeared after I did the search and no Asian women (why are we using words white and brown(or black) instead of Caucasian and African? And why Asian and not yellow?)
    and what I can see is: young white pregnant women like to have their picture taken with a smile (and because of the whole happy pregnancy propaganda thing those are the only pictures that you will find outside of pro-choice sites).

    And here is an interesting piece of information: if you want not-all-of-them-smiling pregnant women with more pigment variation in the pictures do an image search for serious pregnant women (because it seems that bringing a life into this world is not a serious matter all the time).

    • Ivan February 23, 2012 at 5:24 am #

      Facepalm, I am writing my thought process on public domain again.

  2. ellie February 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I pretty much agree with your general premise, but just want to add a caveat about Google search results – they personalize them based on your search patterns (and other secret things presumably). I don’t know what term you used, but I typed in just “pregnant” and had several pictures of pregnant men, lots of bellies with no faces and several women of color. (I’m guessing that is because my reading habits focus a lot on diversity issues.) I did the same search in a different browser that I rarely use and not logged in to my Google account and had only one picture of the pregnant man and only two people of color.

    I also searched “pregnancy” and my results looked more like yours with only one woman of color, and one man of color standing with his white female partner. But those results also had more medical drawings and still a lot of just stomach shots. Most of the women were smiling though. As I scrolled down, most of the shots of women looking at pregnancy tests looked distraught.

    • ellie February 24, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      I hit post too soon! After double checking, it’s my memory that is off, not the search results. Google does personalize your results, but this particular image search was not an example of that for me!

      • wundergeek February 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

        Also, I’ve disabled the personalized search features because I’m a luddite. 🙂

        • Ivan February 25, 2012 at 6:51 am #

          Define luddite please.

  3. Andrew February 24, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Hm, wish I’d read the comments earlier. I just spent ten minutes screen capturing 10 pages each of ‘Pregnant’, ‘Pregnant Woman’, ‘Woman’, and ‘Baby’. I still have the file, if you want to see it. Largely the same findings that the woman are predominantly white and smiling, but a few more exceptions/variation than what you’d seen. And (depressingly) one of the ‘not blissed’ pregnant women was also shown smoking/drinking, just to really hammer home the idea that if you’re not happily pregnant, you must be unhealthy/harming your child.

    All of that said, bully to them! I’m really glad that Anita read and commented on one of your last posts telling you that all of your feelings are normal (or at least similar to what she and others have felt). I (obviously) have no experience, but I can’t imagine that 9 months of progressively greater burdens (physical, emotional, etc) on a woman carrying a child can be consistently pleasant, much less blissful, so I hope you’re not letting the dominant narrative make you feel guilty. You, Anna, are a intellegent, wise, thoughtful, loving, geeky, wonderful woman, and I know that as your child develops, and after they are born, you will be all of those things both as a woman, and as a mother, to that child.

    I was also going to make a comment about Google customizing results, but I see others have done so, and you’ve accounted for it, Anna. Speaking of which, I seemed to get a lot of pictures of Wonder Woman on my search for ‘Woman’. This seems odd to me as I don’t read DC Comics, nor search for related content at all frequently. Anyone else want to try and tell me how many hits of Wonder Woman they get when they image search ‘Woman’?

    • Andrew February 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

      I just realized that in my writing of what kind of a person I think you are (end of second paragraph) I wrote ‘woman’, instead of ‘person’. To me, I usually see the terms as interchangeable when writing about a female (just as I see ‘man’ and ‘person’ as interchangeable for males). I understand that not everyone feels the same. So, my apologies if the term offended you or anyone else, and please know that you are an excellent person, and will, I trust, continue to be an excellent person, and mother.

      • wundergeek February 24, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

        No worries. I take the comment in the spirit in which it was intended. Thank you.

        • Andrew February 29, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

          I am relieved. Although oddly, I didn’t get a notification that you’d responded. Weird.

          • wundergeek February 29, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

            Weird! Sorry if you were stressing about that.

    • Beast of the Sea March 4, 2012 at 6:21 am #

      The first page (50 images on my monitor) of Bing Image Search results for “woman” has 14 Wonder Woman results, fifteen if you count the cosplay at the end. The next 50 have 17 Wonder Woman results. The 50 after that drop down to 12 Woman Woman results. Bing should NOT be customizing the search results to focus on comics, as I have done no comics-related searches on Bing.

      On the other hand, “man” has similar issues with Iron Man and Spiderman taking up a disproportionate number of search results, managing 13 hits on the first page for those two and 19 (!) on the next.

      I do see Wundergeek’s point about the overwhelming whiteness of the search results, though Bing seems to have several more serious-looking woman in their pictures than Google… The main difference from the results she posted is that I got a lot more shots that focused on the belly and cropped out the head. I, uh… leave that to Wundergreek to analyze.

      • Andrew March 8, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

        OK, I’m glad I’m not the only one getting excess Wonder Woman hits on my search. And I guess it makes sense that it works both ways.

        Oh, and did you search for ‘Pregnant’ or ‘Pregnant Woman’. As I recall, the first returns mostly cropped belly shots. Indeed, something for Wundergeek.

        By the way, should that be pronounced with a German accent?

  4. Andrew March 1, 2012 at 9:17 pm #

    Only mildly. And I realized the reason was that I’d forgotten to click ‘Notify me of follow-up comments via email’ … oops.

  5. Anna November 24, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Interesting blog

  6. Cheap Vacation December 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    magnificent points altogether, you simply won a brand new reader.

    What would you suggest about your post that you made a few days ago?
    Any positive?

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