We’ve all seen the now-infamous Time cover of the model-pretty mom breastfeeding her 3-year-old son, looking at the camera as if to say, “what of it, bitch?” Her conviction is actually kind of awesome (my philosophy on mothering is similar to the one I hold for feminism: There is no such thing as “the right way” and every woman reserves the right to make her own decisions for her relationships, career, body and family.) I take no offense to the image of a woman breastfeeding, even if her child is standing on a chair. And the article, its sidebars and even the supporting online content Time produced on the subject, attachment parenting, are great reads. They offer a well-balanced look at this social phenomenon that is certainly worth an expose in the nation’s leading newsweekly. It’s the words next to her that are offensive: “Are You Mom Enough?” the cover screams, presumably, at any woman who’s had a baby or is contemplating having one.
It’s provocative, it got everyone talking and sales and downloads of the issue broke records. Magazines are in the business of selling issues, so, job: done. I get it, I’ve often been tasked with writing headlines to do just that very thing. But this one teeters on an ethical tightrope. Tabloids and tabloid-y news media often prey on women’s insecurities to sell their content. But when the offending hook comes from a source that identifies as a serious, journalistic enterprise, there’s real harm being done.
Let’s look back at just a few of Time‘s recent scare-tactic headlines:
Nov. 29, 2010: “Who Needs Marriage?”
Nov. 30, 2009: ”The Case Against Over-Parenting”
Oct. 26, 2009: “Special Report: The State of the American Woman”
May 16, 2005: “A Female Midlife Crisis?”
In each case, if the headline doesn’t make it clear, the subheads and/or accompanying photo reiterate that the story is about something women have done wrong or need to fix. And oftentimes that’s not even the story angle once you get inside, to that real, investigative journalistic content that does, thankfully, still exist. Time can and should do better than this. It’s bad enough we have people out there conducting studies to tell us that women are unhappy and that women who have a career before children are too old to be having babies. The media needs to stop treating women, their lives, bodies and choices as a “problem” that needs a solution or even careful analysis. We grow, birth and nurture the world’s population, work in every industry, innovate businesses and work for tangible solutions to disease, poverty and war. We’re fucking awesome, so stop it with the looming question marks on your headlines already.