In March Jenna M. sent us a link to Vogue Italia‘s Vagaries of Fashion photo spread, in which we see a woman in a luxurious setting wearing high-fashion, elegant clothing interacting with, or more often ignoring, her children, generally with a drink in hand:






Occasionally she looks happier:



Of course, one solution is to hire a (non-White) maid:


Compare to other images of Black women tending White children here (also see the link at the bottom to the post about Black women tending White women).

It’s sort of an interesting portrayal, which seems to be using the idea that rich women who indulge in expensive high-fashion clothing are selfish, uncaring mothers, or at least, that’s how commenters seem to be reading it. Of course, there are lots of reasons a woman might look put out and annoyed by her kids, and I’m sure most mothers (and fathers) have looks like that at various points, unless that was just my mom.

The other thing that struck me in the comments to the post where Jenna found the original photos was the assumption of what a “good mother” acts like, which echoed my initial reaction–that is, “smoking and drinking around the baby–how awful!” But of course, most countries don’t share the American middle-class demonization of smoking or our concerns about the effects of second-hand smoke on children, or the idea that drinking cocktails around the kids is problematic (and remember, we used to give kids alcoholic drinks and Marlboros were marketed to moms). And many people don’t believe that children need to be tended to every time they cry or look unhappy–that’s a culturally and historically specific parenting ideal.

And please, play halfway nice in the comments. We long ago decided that we weren’t going to police the comments because of time constraints, interest in letting people have space to discuss, and so on. So I’m just asking…you know, stay generally within the realm of reasonable snark.


Commenter lightsout says,

…it is a shame you associate the concerns of smoking around a  child to American middle-class values, as if Americans just need to relax and not be so uptight.  Concerns of second hand smoke are not a function of American middle-class oppression.  It’s not like the rest of the world is blowing smoke in their childrens’ faces, and only in boring, close-minded, America is second hand smoke demonized.

Second hand smoke is bad for babies; that is a fact, not a conservative opinion of the American regime. This scientific fact is not cultural insensitivity, nor is it a uniquely middle-class American ideal.

I am not saying smoking around kids is ok. As I said in my commentary, my personal reaction was “ack!” There seems to be a misunderstanding of what sociological analysis is. I’m not saying whether, say, smoking around kids is ok, but rather pointing out that different groups may define “good” parenting differently. And like it or not, the U.S. is uniquely anti-smoking, which isn’t saying that other countries don’t have regulations, but that we stand out as particularly concerned, and women here who smoke around their kids are often portrayed very negatively.

My sister smokes around her kids, and it distresses me greatly. That’s not the point. The question I was asking is, would people from a different social location than me look at those images and have the same interpretation I did? And how have our ideas of good mothering changed such that we would demonize her when 50 years ago we probably wouldn’t have?

UPDATE: Reader Claire has a different take:

The message that motherhood might produce boredom, irritation, irreverence, and drive one to consume massive quantities of alcohol is one that I find refreshing, rather than appalling. Although this spread glamorizes the condition of being trapped within the confines of domesticity, can we not also interpret it as depicting the failure of domesticity and motherhood as a norm? And isn’t the critique of a norm a productive act?

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