Actress Jennifer Aniston has opened up to the public with one simple request: that we get out of her uterus. In the open letter, she talked about the awful feeling of having people obsess 24/7 about her body, her pregnancy (or lack thereof) and her life as a woman dealing with the pressure to become a mother. As a woman, it was impossible to not relate.
If nothing else, Jennifer Aniston’s open letter is proof that our society refuses to give up its grip on the bodies of marginalized people. It’s a power grab. It’s “you owe me.” It’s the idea that we are not our own; we somehow own the bodies of those less powerful than us, and even Aniston, an extremely accomplished and famous actress, cannot escape the people who want to own and control not just her body but her life and her narrative.
She explains this succinctly in her letter, saying, “We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies.”
But the unfortunate truth is that right now no one cares what decisions we make. No matter how many letters Aniston writes, the paparazzi will still stalk her to see if she has anything even close to what can pass for a baby bump, and media will still obsess over said baby bump, imagined or fake. And if she does have children, they will be stalked and obsessed over. People will make fan pages and pretend to be not only her but her children. They — we — will build the narrative of her life.
And though for those of us non-celebs in the world the issue doesn’t always get quite so far, we are still subject to scrutiny when it comes to what we do and don’t do with our bodies. From our obsession with virginity to our obsession with birth, we seek to control the bodies of others, especially marginalized groups and especially women.
Because women tend to be the ones giving birth (though nonbinary folks and trans men are totally capable of doing so), much of the stigma around birth is linked to misogyny. We judge women if they do have kids. We judge women if they don’t. Women who can’t give birth and women who choose to adopt are judged by society for not being “real” moms. We judge moms who breastfeed and who don’t. We judge moms who work while pregnant and women who don’t.
Just like we judge women for having sex or not having sex, for dressing too “modest” or dressing too “slutty,” we continue to judge women for, well, everything. There’s no way to win, because women aren’t supposed to be able to win. The game is rigged against us.
Of course this, like all issues shaped by identity, is intersectional. Other identities, like race, ability and sexuality, impact how we talk about things like motherhood, birth and family. Black and Latina women are seen as “trashy” if they have children and are assumed to have been teen moms and to be unmarried. Disabled women and women with mental illnesses are assumed to be inherently “unfit.” Queer moms who queer the birthing process by adopting or build families in otherwise less accepted ways like having a sperm donor are judged too.
Again: There’s no way to win.
I do want kids but have no idea how I’ll make it happen, being queer and not having a partner who could impregnate me. Either way, neither of us is interested in giving birth.
I worry a lot about how this will impact our motherhood. Will people think our kids are less legitimate? Especially because my partner is a white woman and I’m a biracial woman, I worry enough that our kids just won’t look enough like the both of us to pass as our children. But the simple fact that they will be raised by two women means it’s pretty unlikely that we both will be viewed as their parents anyway.
It’s stressful, and it’s sad.
No matter how you feel about parenthood as a person with the potential to give birth, it’s impossible to not feel intense, crushing social and cultural pressure to have kids and to do it the “right” way, the “normal” way that will make people excited to throw you a baby shower.
The internal pressure is enough without ridiculous cultural expectations.
So get out of Aniston’s uterus. And get out of everyone else’s. Only we can decide the right way to build a family, whether that means moving into a suburban home with a white picket fence and having three kids and a dog, or building a family of friends. Family is personal, just like motherhood and parenthood are personal, and none of us has the right to judge someone for not doing it the way we would have.