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by Marrit Ingman

On a news day the headlines should not read, in order:

Pennsylvania flooding forces evacuations

Insurgents offer to halt attacks in Iraq

Palestinians hoard food in fear of siege

Va. Senate race heats up over flag burning

Survivor says Sago miners expected rescue

Raptors take Bargnani with No. 1 pick

Pregnant Spears poses nude for magazine

So, Washington D.C. is underwater, those various violent people we categorize as "insurgents" are offering a truce, Israel has invaded the Gaza strip, and some idiots are trying to distract us with the usual gimmick of Our Values as Americans. Obligatory thing on the miners, some sports thing, and boom: Pregnant Spears poses nude for magazine. Nakey pics of Britney Spears are international news (I repeat: at the time of this writing, Israel has infantry on the Gaza strip, and Palestinians are hoarding food in fear of a siege. What, you're clicking on the link to Britney Spears?).

Oh yes I did. I looked at pregnant Britney Spears. I thought she looked pretty good, considering the run of bad luck she's been having since I don't know when. Then I wondered why I was looking at pregnant pictures of a stranger. I see lots of people’s pregnant pictures—plenty of them naked, but none with that net stuff over their heads and weird chunky jewelry—on moms’ boards; women share these things as part of a friendship. Why was Britney showing me hers?

I've never met her and I have no reason whatsoever to be involved in the narrative of her life. But I am. We all are. The woman is our official scapegoat--an object of scorn at which we fling our disgust in order to purge ourselves of our own flaws. We love it when she nearly drops her baby while holding fast to her drink. We love it when she drives SP around on her lap or buckled, hatless, into a wrongly-positioned car seat. We love the way SP’s babydaddy is trying to save the penny, the way she colors her hair while she’s pregnant. We love it when she falls apart on Dateline, when she has an elective caesarian because birth is so icky. We like it when she cusses with her mic on and throws milkshakes at the paparrazi. We like it when she almost has a manny, and we like it when SP topples out of his highchair.

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Now, I am not defending any of her decisions. Even I stopped coloring my hair when I was pregnant, and I couldn’t possibly do anything to a milkshake besides drink it. I had the nice people at the DPS checkpoint approve my car-seat installation. I thrifted at every store in town to find a hat that would stay on my kid’s head. I know this stuff is important. But such schadenfreude! We take such delight in watching someone else screw every single thing up so publicly. No matter who you are, you probably make better choices than Britney Spears does—unless, of course, you are Britney Spears. If you are married, you probably chose a better spouse than Kevin Federline, fresh off having a baby with another woman. You might have to sometimes feed your kids crap, but you are probably not widely gossiped about as giving your infant ice cream. You might have bobbled a kid but not dropped him—I had exactly one such misstep trying to wedge a squirming one-year-old into a sling with some of its fabric tucked up—but you probably didn’t do it in front of a whole lot of photographers (if a dozen photographers or more had been waiting for me to come out of Thrift Land and bobble my kid in his sling, I probably would have had a hysterical breakdown and cried for a gun. Well, maybe not a gun. But I’d have been a little edgy, I think). Your parents might be controlling and nosy, but Britney’s are worse. Her acne is worse. Her clothes are worse. Her diet is worse. Her driving is worse. Isn’t it great?

Why do we hate Britney so? Partly it’s the music. We want revenge for the music. For Crossroads. For that Pepsi commercial with Bob Dole. For her protestations of virginity despite her trashy schoolgirl costumes and Madonna kisses. Britney and her handlers have not been kind to the world’s people. Now we see the other shoe drop for her, and Americans love nothing better than savaging our celebrities when their luck is down.

But partly it’s motherhood. Mothers are notoriously competitive with each other for a complex set of reasons, not the least of which is how we’re always being egged on—encouraged to fight over our differences instead of allowing our similarities to unite us. Each of us abides with judgment: we judge and we feel judged by what our children wear, by their apparent health and size and temperament, by the state of our bodies and our minds, by our relationships, by our sleeping arrangements and feeding methods and discipline. None of us has the privacy Britney begged for on Dateline. At times we all feel, as Anne Lamott wrote, that we are merely babysitting and the “real” parents will show up any minute. At times we all fear that we’re screwing up our kids even as we exhaust ourselves tending to them and worrying about them. We are on alert for disapproving looks and rude comments in public—because we’re yelling at our kids and we shouldn’t or because we’re not yelling at our kids and we should; because we’re letting our kids eat some kind of unwholesome processed food or because we’re too uptight about diet and we’re going to give our children compulsions and complexes; because we’re sloppy and frumpy or because we’re vain and shallow; because we’re apparently too young or too old; because we’re too poor or too pampered; because we work too much or not enough. Everyone is entitled to an opinion of mothers and their mothering, and it is rarely communicated constructively.

Fortunately we all have Britney to serve as our Bad Parenting Barbie. She’s the world’s easiest target, and she takes the heat off everyone. She is white and young and rich and lucky and healthy, and she cleans up well, but she’s still screwing up. So we get to whisper behind our hands—can you believe she actually married that loser?—and forget about our own tender places, so vulnerable to injury. We like to think it’s fluff, as celebrity dish so often is, or that we have the purest of motives: concern for her well-being and for that of her children. But all of us have a vindictive streak in our hearts for Britney, too. It comes from the pressure to be perfect and the inevitability of failure.

Instead of yelling at Britney we should be teaching her. I learned the nuts and bolts of motherhood partly from my own mother but also from the world of mothers around me—the woman at the La Leche League who showed me how to use my sling without strangling myself, the friend of a friend who tactfully pointed out that the buckle on my car seat was actually padded and could be placed more comfortably on my infant son’s groin, the mothers and fathers who modeled good nutrition and discipline for me, who loaned me books and let me hold their children while I was pregnant and scared, who called me to check up on me when I was depressed and isolated. Britney doesn’t have that. She doesn’t have a tribe. She only gets the sucky parts: the sniping and snark, the parody on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, and the judgment. Oh, the judgment.
 About the Author:
Marrit Ingman
is a freelance writer, film critic, occasional educator, and constant mother. She is a frequent contributor to the Austin Chronicle, and her writing on popular culture has also appeared in Brain, Child, Fertile Ground, Alternet.org, Clamor, and Venus. Her first book, Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health out with the Diapers, describes her experience with postpartum depression and was published in 2005 by Seal Press.


I I I I I I I  

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