Women Against Women: How the Media Denigrates Moms

Anyone else tired of reading articles where women denigrate each other, name call, sling mud, and pit women against women?

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Today.com reported this morning that women who have children, according to their “online, unscientific” poll, hate their postpartum bodies. If you click on the article–though I urge you not to waste your time–you’ll see that the headline (‘Love my kids, hate my body’) is totally misleading: Only thirty-one percent of the some 3,000 moms surveyed said they hated their bodies.

Put differently, sixty nine percent of the women polled–the vast majority–presumably feel just fine about their bodies after having babies.

Why would Today.com blare such a misogynistic, skewed, ridiculous headline? Why does the American media encourage women to hate themselves and ignore the evidence that the majority of us don’t?

Perhaps because the beauty product industry that feeds off of, cultivates, and promotes women’s self-hate would have far fewer products to sell if moms felt good about their faces, their skin, and their bellies.

Perhaps because plastic surgeons, among the most highly paid medical professionals, would see steep drops in their profits from tummy tucks, boob jobs, and face lifts if women stopped falling for the totally offensive advertisements (like the one above for a mommy makeover) and stopped thinking there was something wrong with our bodies for looking, well, human.

As the New York Times reported in this article about mommy makeovers: “Many women struggle with the impact of aging and pregnancy on their bodies. But the marketing of the ‘mommy makeover’ seeks to pathologize the postpartum body, characterizing pregnancy and childbirth as maladies with disfiguring aftereffects that can be repaired with the help of scalpels and cannulae.”

The denigration of women is not limited to Today.com’s special forte of denigrating post-partum moms. As Jennifer Nelson, author of Airbrushed Nation: The Lure and Loathing of Women’s Magazines, reports on her excellent blog, this female editor of a woman’s magazine defends airbrushing models to make their bodies conform more closely to our conventional notions of beauty and this woman’s magazine takes our national obsession with conventional beauty to an all time low by suggesting weight gain during pregnancy causes low self-esteem.

The Today.com article is an example not only of bad journalism but also of the systematic denigration of American women in the interest of selling products, selling newspapers, and even selling website clicks.


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Categories: misogyny.


  1. James

    I had to check that the Today article was written by a woman–apparently one who has internalized the body image issues enough to read the study that way. That 69% of women like their bodies after childbirth is encouraging, given the current visual culture, wallpapering the media with shots of skinny young models airbrushed to look even more ‘perfect.’
    But sadly that culture has taken its toll on the other 31%. It’s a shame that all women can’t feel proud to be mothers: proud not only of their children, but of the fertile, womanly bodies that produced them. It reminds me of the paleolithic ‘Venus’ figurines that have been found scattered about Europe, dating from 10,000-35,000 years ago, depicting an idealized female figure with wide hips, heavy breasts and rounded bellies suggestive of recent or current pregnancy, representative of fertility and its blossoming in new life.

  2. sybilla cook

    Jennifer–I urge you to see and publicize AAUW”s film on Miss Representation! It says it all.

    Maybe there should be a disclaimer at the bottom saying “brought to you by those who want to make money out of your discomfort.”

  3. Myra V.

    Jennifer, I have a picture of that ad on my iphone! I have driven by it so many times and wanted to document it so that I could later do something about the feelings it brings up in me as a mother of 2. Thank you so much for writing about this.

    My sister-in-law had an elective C-section because she didn’t want to “get stretched out”, and chose not to breastfeed so that she wouldn’t “sag”. It is so sad to me, and ads and products like that billboard don’t help matters.

    And thank you James for your perspective on the matter.

  4. Teena Jo Neal

    Do you know of my friend Jade’s work on this issue?


    I think it would make an illuminating piece, if you were you to delve into this subject further, to look back historically and cross-culturally…the political picture that emerges is one of an explicit strategy to “divide and conquer” women in the name of greed. To keep women away from political life (be that decision makers in their own life, warriors in an anti-colonial struggle, active in their community, etc.). I think such a take on the issue is empowering in itself – to see the great lengths that have been gone to to channel women’s energies away from social justice.

    I studied specifically about European women, colonial politicians’ wives in particular, devising various strategies to keep Kenyan women in the ’50s away from organizing in the anti-colonial Mau Mau resistance movement. They founded Mandaleo ya Wanawake – basically a group to “teach” Kenyan women how to be “proper housewives” including drop-in inspections of their homes, many crafty classes, prizes given for cleanest house, etc. The colonial records of the time were very explicit in the strategic need to move women away from political engagement. Super intense to read!

  5. at 64 with 6 children born at home my body still beats those of much younger women who never had children. tho’ frankly i never (or very seldom) use this measurement…divide and conquer is why the largest minority in the world (women) never coalesces. how many are familiar with CEDAW? the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (cedaw) how does this Treaty Work?
    A. Countries that ratify the CEDAW treaty commit to take action to end discrimination against women and girls and affirm principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women and girls.
    The Treaty offers a practical blueprint to achieve progress and ensure basic human rights for women. CEDAW is very clear that it is up to each country to determine how best to bring their policies and laws in line with ending discrimination against women and girls.
    In countries that have ratified CEDAW, women have partnered with their governments to improve conditions for women and girls in a range of areas, such as the following:
    Reducing violence against women and girls, including stopping sex trafficking and domestic violence and recognizing sexual assault and rape as crimes.
    Providing educational opportunities, including access to education and vocational training.
    Ensuring political participation, including the right to vote, serve on juries, and hold public office.
    Ending forced marriages and child marriage, and ensuring that women have a right to inherit property.
    Helping mothers and families by providing access to maternal health care.
    Ensuring the ability to work and own a business without discrimination.
    Q. Why Should the United States Ratify CEDAW?
    A. CEDAW strengthens the United States as a global leader in standing up for women and girls. CEDAW is a landmark international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women and girls.
    CEDAW is a practical blueprint for each country to achieve progress for women and girls. The American public strongly supports the principles and values of equality, fairness, education and basic human rights.
    Almost all countries have ratified the CEDAW agreement – 187 out of 193 countries have ratified. Only six have not ratified, including the United States, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and two small Pacific Island nations (Palau and Tonga).
    Women around the world are calling for U.S. ratification of the CEDAW treaty to send a strong signal to other governments that women’s rights are human rights. Ratification would add the United States’ influential voice when the United Nations discusses the status of women and girls in places such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
    Ratification of CEDAW would continue America’s proud bipartisan tradition of promoting and protecting human rights. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton achieved ratification of similar agreements on torture, genocide, and race discrimination.
    Ratifying CEDAW is an effective way to support women and girls, and there are no additional costs or new appropriations required with ratification. It is up to policymakers and advocates in each ratifying country to work together to determine how best to achieve the principles of CEDAW to end discrimination and ensure greater equality for women and girls.

    Q. Is CEDAW Relevant Across the Many Different Cultures?
    A. Yes. CEDAW is one of the world’s key human rights treaties and cannot be misconstrued as a “western” ideal only. The CEDAW treaty has been ratified by 186 out of 193 countries. Only seven countries have not yet ratified CEDAW: the United States, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and three small Pacific Island nations (Nauru, Palau, and Tonga).
    Q. What Success Has CEDAW Had in Other Countries?
    A. In countries that have ratified CEDAW, women have partnered with their governments to engage in a national dialogue about the status of women and girls, and as a result have shaped policies to create greater safety and opportunities for women and their families. For example:
    Educational opportunities – e.g., Bangladesh used CEDAW to help attain gender parity in primary school enrollment and has as a goal for 2015, to eliminate all gender disparities in secondary education.
    Violence against women and girls – e.g., Mexico responded to a destabilizing epidemic of violence against women by using CEDAW terms in a General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence. By 2009, all 32 Mexican states had adopted the measure.
    Marriage and family relations – e.g., Kenya has used CEDAW to address differences in inheritance rights, eliminating discrimination against widows and daughters of the deceased.
    Political participation – e.g., Kuwait’s Parliament voted to extend voting rights to women in 2005 following a recommendation by the CEDAW Committee to eliminate discriminatory provisions in its electoral law.
    Q. What Is the Process for Ratification?
    A. In the United States, ratification of international treaties requires two-thirds of the Senate (67 of 100 Senators) to vote in favor of the treaty, providing the Senate’s advice and consent for ratification. But before an international treaty reaches the Senate floor, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee typically reviews international treaties and votes to send it forward for a consideration by the full Senate. Then the president signs the treaty and ratification is complete.
    Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton achieved ratification of similar agreements on torture, genocide, and race discrimination. Ratification of CEDAW would continue America’s proud bipartisan tradition of promoting and protecting human rights.
    Q. How Would CEDAW Affect U.S. Laws?
    A. American women enjoy opportunities and status not available to most of the world’s women, but few would dispute that more progress is needed at home in certain areas, such as ending domestic violence and closing the pay gap. Ratifying CEDAW would not result in any automatic changes to U.S. law. CEDAW provides an effective blueprint to achieve progress for women and girls and an opportunity for policymakers and advocates to work together on how best to end discrimination and ensure women’s full equality, for example in areas such as:
    Domestic violence: the landmark Violence Against Women Act, has done much to prevent domestic violence and meet the needs of victims, yet two million women a year report injuries from current or former partners in the United States.
    Maternal health: the United States ranks 41st among a ranking of 184 countries on maternal deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, below all other industrialized nations and a number of developing countries.
    Economic security: U.S. women continue to lag behind men in income, earning on average only 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes.
    Human trafficking: the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has played a pivotal role in combating human trafficking. However, estimates suggest that there may be 20,000 women, men and children trafficked into the U.S. each year.
    Ratification of CEDAW would provide a catalyst for the U.S. to examine areas of persistent discrimination against women and develop strategies for solutions.
    Q. What is the role of the CEDAW Committee?
    A. Each country decides how best to achieve implementation. The CEDAW Committee has no enforcement authority; it can only make recommendations highlighting areas where more progress is needed in a particular country.
    Countries that ratify CEDAW agree to take all appropriate measures to implement the treaty’s provisions. Ratifying countries submit a report on how they are implementing the treaty one year after ratification, then every four years thereafter. The CEDAW Committee reviews each report and comments on each country’s progress.
    The CEDAW Committee is comprised of 23 independent experts who are nominated and elected by ratifying countries to serve a four-year term.
    Q. Who Supports CEDAW?
    A. The Obama administration strongly supports ratification and has included CEDAW as one of five multilateral treaties that are a priority. In the U.S. Senate, the CEDAW treaty has been voted favorably out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee twice with bipartisan support: in 1994 with a vote of 13-5 and in 2002 with a vote of 12-7. It has never been brought to the Senate floor for a vote.
    The American public strongly supports the principles and values of equality, fairness, education and basic human rights. Millions of Americans are represented by the over 150 national, state and local organizations that are united in support of CEDAW. The groups include a broad range of religious, civic, and community organizations, such as the American Bar Association, Amnesty International USA, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, National Council of Churches Women’s Ministries, National Education Association, The United Methodist Church, Sisters of Mercy, and the YWCA.

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