Laurie and Debbie say:
… only a few knew about her pregnancy and the ensuing birth of her child, and explained that her decision to withhold information about it to the public stemmed from the ever-growing performative aspect of pregnancy.
“I have some friends who probably don’t know I was pregnant or that I had a baby,” she said. “I just feel like we live in an age when women are supposed to perform pregnancy. We don’t expect fathers to perform fatherhood.”
Adichie … refused to answer further questions about her child after her prescient take. When the [Financial Times] reporter asked about the baby’s name, she simply replied, “no, I won’t say,” accompanied by what the interviewer described as a “disarming smile.”
In this very audience-focused age, many human experiences have become performances. Most life performances, however, at least can be done by people of both genders. Pregnancy is limited to people with biologically female bodies, and is most commonly the experience of people who identify as women.
And like all things women do, it provides the patriarchy with an endless source of ways to oppress women. A pregnant woman is known as an “expectant mother,” and here are some of the things she can expect:
- Complete strangers will feel free to judge her failure if she drinks alcohol in public.
- Her boss and colleagues will simultaneously hold her to at least as high a work standard as she has ever been held to, and to a complete, unwavering commitment to being delighted at the prospect of having this child. Failing at either counts as failure.
- Her medical advisors will often hold her to a ridiculously high standard of diet, weight, and exercise, while also again demanding that complete commitment to delight. Failing at either again counts as failure.
- Everyone will feel free to tell her how well she’s doing, and where she’s falling short.
Historically, there have been periods when visibly pregnant women were housebound because they were “unseemly,” periods when maternity clothes were supposed to hide the pregnancy as long as possible, periods when (affluent and rich) women were instructed to do nothing during pregnancy and periods when they were advised to be extremely active, regardless of how they felt.
Most cultures have some level of claiming pregnant women as a social resource, an unspoken “You’re breeding for all of us, so we can manage your pregnancy.” In 2016, that claim takes the form of “let us see your performance so we can decide if you deserve a 10.”
Adichie is, in a very powerful way, refusing to play in the cultural sandbox. She claims her life as her own and no one else’s, and it would appear that she will do the same with her child’s life. She is forcing the world to treat her as the fine writer and thinker that she is.
We salute her.