A guest post from Queen_George
When I’m not hanging out on the Internets writing about patriarchy, I work as an assistant manager at a major greeting card store. Greeting cards can be a super-creepy thing to deal with day-in and day-out if you’re an angry feminist. Much like a lot of advertising, cards are intended to appeal to some vague person called “The Average American.” And, of course, my company believes that the Average American is white, straight, married with children, and Christian.
(When the company does venture to recognize that some people aren’t white, its attempts at inclusiveness put me in mind of this post on holiday gift giving guides for the POC in your life by Snarkysmachine at Shapely Prose.)
I could write for pages about the blatant offensiveness of, for example, Valentine’s Cards that perpetuate the myth of the doofy husband and the superwoman wife. But my store has recently started carrying a line of cards so disturbing that all my other concerns have taken a back seat. Behold, cards for a pregnant woman, from her fetus!
That’s right. I introduce to you the “Baby on the Way” collection, cards that feature a series of “heart-warming” (or gag inducing) sentiments from the fetus. You can view the whole collection, and read the story of the creator, at the link above. Note the tag line “Every baby on the way has something to say!”*
These cards creep me out for a number of reasons.
First is the obvious implication that the fetus (even at 1 month) already contains a fully formed, thinking and feeling consciousness equivalent to that of an adult. The line includes cards from the fetus at every month of life, as though tracking the development of its thoughts and feelings about the mother. So this goes hand-in-hand with the anti-choice tendency to convince women that their unborn fetus has already developed a complex emotional attachment to its parents. (Or its mother, at least. It probably goes without saying that the father is rarely mentioned, except in the “You’re going to be a dad” card. The possibility of a non-heteronormative parentage is beyond the pale here.) Most disturbing, though, is the condescending tone that the disembodied baby voice takes with its mother. In its various incarnations, the fetus speaks to its mother as though she were an over-emotional girlfriend sitting and waiting by the phone for her new beau to call.
(“So as you wait for me to write you the next letter/Just remember I am not alone, it will make you feel better…”) At other times, it reminds the mother that although her life may be hard, it is WAY HARDER to be a fetus (“I wanted to tell you that I’m working each day/ And I do it all without any pay” and “Sorry Mom about making you queasy/ but life in the womb is not always easy“). Then, as delivery grows near, the detached-fetus-voice speaks to its mother as though she is an outright hysteric who can’t handle the birthing process (“The time is coming, I’m getting ready/ We just have to keep our emotions nice and steady…”). In other words, this baby is a big ol’ mansplainer. (Fetusplainer?)
There is – of course – an eerie religious component. The card for Month 3 is called “God checks on me everyday” and includes a poem all about how god converses with the fetus in the womb to let it know that it must be patient. The card portrays god as a kind of pre-natal Santa Claus, making his list and checking it twice, being certain that all those seeds he implanted are still intact. There’s also an implication here that the fetus is close personal friends with god – again, implying that it already has more knowledge than the mother and must guide her through her pregnancy.
Even a quick glance through the months 1-9 cards will assure you that the creator of these cards is not exactly pro-choice. Or really even pro-woman. That’s not a surprise, given the theme of the cards. But what DID come as a surprise, for me, was the origin story. Franklin Signature Company founder Keith Franklin says that he first came up with the idea for the cards when his wife was going through a difficult pregnancy. (He refers to her pregnancy as “high risk,” but he never gives specifics. He does, however, mention that doctors had told the couple, “Time was not on [their] side regarding pregnancy.” Want to guess how old they were when they were married? 28 and 30. I turn 29 this year. Guess it’s time to get out my old maid clothes!) Franklin says that “I was like any other new daddy to be. Confused, uncertain and looking for something that could stabilize [my wife’s] emotions while showing her how much I appreciated her.” His answer? To write her poems in the voice of their unborn baby – poems that would eventually become the months 1-9 cards in the Franklin Signature line.
My problems with Franklin’s cards are numerous, as I’ve said above. But there’s something else about this origin story that gets under my skin. The poems provide the unborn child with a personality, thoughts, and feelings. Meanwhile, according to Franklin, his wife’s pregnancy was “high risk.” She was in danger of losing a baby she desperately wanted to have. How much more difficult would a miscarriage have been for her given that her fetus now had a distinct personality? I don’t mean to underestimate Mrs. Franklin’s intelligence. I understand she knew the baby’s “voice” was really that of her husband. Nonetheless, Franklin took actions to further sentimentalize the baby before its birth – actions that I can’t help but think would make the loss of that baby all the more difficult, had things turned out that way.
For the record, these cards sell very well. Every single person who passes them in the store says, “Oh, how sweet.” Many women have bought all 9 months for their pregnant friends.
Also, did I mention that the poetry in the cards is just really, really bad? I leave you with this thought, straight from an unborn child:
You just went to the doctor to find out if I’m for real
So now that you know, here is the deal
I’d first like to introduce myself as your baby
You can be certain now there is no more maybe…
As a former writing teacher, I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
(Also, props to philosophyerin who, when I showed her this website, pointed out that the silhouette on the front of the cards is just as skeevy as the content. A headless pregnant belly and a set of boobs? Really?)
*I should note that these cards are not produced by the major company that is my employer. The line is from an independent company, Franklin Signature. The link is to Franklin’s website. So if you have complaints to file about these cards, do so with Franklin itself. Although a lot of major card stores carry the product, the line itself is not a Major Unnamed Card Company product.