Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s popularity amongst conservative women highlights the gender nuances of America’s Jim Crow era nostalgia. God’s body has both religious and secular overtones in the pop culture fixation on and battle over women’s fertility. Over the past decade there has been an explosion of super mom reality TV shows featuring tabloid ready teenage mothers, white suburban mothers of multiples, alpha nannies and mega breeders like the ultra Christian fundamentalist Duggar family. The vast majority of these programs spotlight white families and traditional straight two-parent households.
The intersection of voyeurism, fertility innovations, and reactionary family values has kept these shows profitable. Similarly, tabloid obsession with the pregnancies, babies and reproductive dramas of (generally) white celebrities have also become an integral part of mainstream discourse. Littering the Internet, the first titillating pictures of celebrity baby bumps have become the prenatal equivalent of porn money shots. Despite all the mainstream media’s chest-beating post-feminist rhetoric, it is implied that having a child is still the pinnacle of femininity. Tabloid validation of fertility becomes a female celebrity’s most coveted honor as websites breathlessly chart the progress of Beyonce, Britney, Mariah, Tori, Celine, ad nauseum. This theme is amply borne out in the train wreck appeal of popular reality shows like Teen Mom and Sixteen and Pregnant, whose young white “stars” are regularly featured in the pages of People, In Touch, and US magazines. Lauren Dolgen, mastermind of both Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant claims that both shows are supposed to be cautionary. The audience becomes absorbed with the experiences of young girls confronting the life challenges and hardships of premature parenthood. Many of my students confess that watching these shows has become a guilty pleasure. But as young black and Latina women they are quite clear that none of their friends will ever be spotlighted as sexy baby-to-bling Horatio Alger success stories in the tabloids ala teen mother and GOP evangelical poster child for illegitimacy Bristol Palin.