Remembering Betty White as ‘America’s Grandmother’ Highlights a Double Standard
Since Betty White’s death, it has been difficult to find tributes that do not primarily describe her as “America’s grandmother” or “great-grandmother.” While it is widely known that White was the stepmother of her late husband Allen Ludden’s three children, it is important to remember that she was intentionally childless and therefore chose not to have biological children. So why, in remembering White, does the media lead with identities such as “grandmother” and “great-grandmother” in describing her life and professional accomplishments?
White’s professional highlights, rather than taking center stage, are often relegated to a subtitle.
For comparison, several male celebrities died last year. None of them were described as the father, grandfather or great-grandfather of the country, whether or not they had children (many of them had children and grandchildren and yet managed to escape these titles when the media covered their professional achievements). Worse yet, White’s professional highlights, rather than taking center stage, are often relegated to a subtitle, as if his groundbreaking 80-year career and work with animal rights weren’t as important as the public’s desire to see her primarily as a mother figure. .
White’s death is a reminder that America’s media remains obsessed with the status of a woman’s womb and desperately seeks to project their motherhood desires onto our cultural icons, even in the face of such a versatile and decorated (and nulliparous) career as that of White.
I remember sitting cross-legged on my living room floor and watching “The Golden Girls” with my mom and sister. I was born in the ’80s, and a lot of the humor and relationship dynamics of the show were over my head. Still, I was captivated by the idea of four vivacious women living together, and I envisioned this life for myself.
I later learned that White was one of the few famous women who chose not to have children, and this was a demographic I was particularly interested in. From Helen Mirren to Jennifer Aniston to Oprah Winfrey in White, I have been intrigued with prominent women who had made the unapologetic choice to become a mother.
I am 41 years old and I have also chosen the childless route. My reasons for this decision resonate with those of White. In an interview with CBS in 2012, she said, “I didn’t choose to have kids because I’m focused on my career. And I just don’t think as compulsive as I am as I could. manage both. ” I could never imagine creating and maintaining a fulfilling career for myself while being the kind of parent a child deserves (listening, caring and patient, among countless other qualities attributed to effective mothering. ). White said she never regretted not having children. Like White, I have never regretted my decision.
But that hasn’t stopped many friends, acquaintances, some family members, and even pearl strangers from suggesting that I may one day regret my choice to avoid motherhood or even change my functional mind, geriatric ovaries beg to be different). In the eyes of my staunchest opponents, my path to motherhood was simply inevitable.
Because I have dared to write publicly about being childless, I have also received my fair share of messages from misogynists suggesting that I am a failed woman for refusing to prioritize reproduction over building a quarry. I have seen with my own eyes how some people will stop at nothing to perpetuate the idea that uterine people owe the children of society.
Along with the belief that reproduction is a duty to the public (regardless of whether or not someone wants to become a mother), there is the notion that a woman’s life cannot be fulfilled without children. White clearly lived the kind of life that should – long ago – have ended this myth, but the media continues to project their maternity fetish on her resume.
In addition to his professional achievements, White’s decision not to have children was in itself a pioneer. White avoided motherhood at a time when the country’s birth rate was peaking. And yet, according to bioethicist Elizabeth Yuko, White “has always stuck to her decision not to have biological children – something so contrary to gender expectations that she has always been asked about it far beyond. from the point of being a physiological possibility “. Not only did White teach us that it is possible to live a fulfilling and joyful life without having children, but she also showed us how to do it shamelessly. These are also reasons to admire it.
In some ways, I understand how to bestow the title of grandmother on a beloved cultural icon is to give it heightened status. Perhaps this is a commentary on how much someone is loved and admired. Given her personality, she may have accepted being called “America’s Grandmother,” but the title always reflects society’s obsession with motherhood, no matter what the reality is. icon. If we are to honor White in the context of her professional accomplishments as well as her reputation as a stellar human and her ability to touch the hearts of millions of people, perhaps it would be more appropriate to thank her for being a friend. .
In the meantime, I’m curious to what celebrity the media might attribute the title of “America’s grandfather” to upon his death. But since we haven’t held the men at that level yet, I won’t be holding my breath.