• Wed, Feb 23 2011

How Reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis Was Mommy-Shamed After Biebergate

The fallout from Biebergate is pretty much over (phew!), but there’s one piece of it that still stands out in my mind.

Vanessa Grigoriadis, the reporter who interviewed Biebs for “Rolling Stone,” caught some heat for asking him questions about abortion in the first place. She graciously and succinctly replied to her detractors via Twitter, saying that “A 16 year old kid, to be 17 in a couple weeks, who has control over a large population should be asked all questions.”

In response, a Canadian radio host named Marlo (as far as I can tell she only goes by that one name) tweeted the following to Grigoriadis: “Vanessa do you have kids? Just wondering why you think a teen boy is capable of answering on weighty topics like abortion/rape.”

And this, ladies, is a pet peeve.

Because here’s the thing. Asking a woman the question, “do you have kids?,” specifically when you’re trying to make the point that the way she’s interacted with a quote-unquote child is wrong, is a deliberate invocation of the sleeping giant that is our society’s widely accepted belief that women without kids are somehow deficient.

The idea is, if you had kids, you’d have the accompanying mommy chip — you know, the chip that makes you maternal, understanding and nurturing — and your instinct to protect any and all young would preclude your instinct to get the facts. And, P.S., that would make you a good woman.

(In this instance, Marlo adds insult to injury by her feigning of wide-eyed innocence, on display as she begins her next sentence in the offending tweet with the words “Just wondering…” You were not just wondering, Marlo. You were making a point. And now you’re being passive-aggressive.)

Of course, the kicker here is that if Grigoriadis hadn’t asked Bieber those questions, she wouldn’t have been doing her job. Yes, Bieber is young, and no, he didn’t know what he was talking about. But giving him the tools he needs to speak intelligently when talking to reporters (a huge part of his job, BTW), isn’t the job of every woman on the planet, and it certainly wasn’t Grigoriadis’ job in this case.

All of that makes Marlo’s comments even worse, because they become a roundabout insult to working moms. The flip side of what she’s saying is that the maternal instinct can — and should — get in the way of being effectively assertive in the workplace.

This whole Grigoriadis/Marlo interaction might not stand out to me quite as much if I hadn’t heard other moms pull this kind of shit, in (obviously) different situations. Rolled your eyes at the kid screaming in Target? You must not have kids. Believe that, say, marijuana should be legal? If you had kids, you’d feel differently. Apparently, the mommy-shaming so prevalent on mommy blogs begins before you even have children. All you need is a womb and you’re expected to be a good mother.

Look. I know that a lot changes when you have kids, and some of those changes are scary, and some women are forced to rethink their whole identity. But in dealing with the new feelings that motherhood brings about, no one needs to go around subtly suggesting that women who don’t have kids are somehow inferior. That’s not the way this whole thing works. We all get to deal with our own bullshit ourselves, not project it onto the closest target.

That is, of course, if we want to set a good example for our kids…

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  • emma

    Marlo clearly has low standards for her own children. 16 year old boys should be able to at least think about ‘weighty’ questions on abortion and rape. Her use of the world capable makes me think she’s very out of touch with the experiences of teenagers in North America these days. What is her age threshold for critical thinking on issues that frankly permeate a lot of our society? And why would she discourage teenager’s ownership of their opinions as if they lack the the capacity to be agentive. This does not mean i’m agreeing with printing the opinions of 16 years olds to be plastered all over international media outlets.

  • ellie

    16 year old boys -and girls- discuss issues like abortion in many schools for anything from citizenship classes to writing assignments.

  • Mary

    Ironic how that woman must have children to be fulfilled, but only if they aren’t single moms, because they’ll ruin society.

  • Eva

    Great article! Thank you for taking Marlo to task.

  • Liz

    The “if you had kids you’d understand” comment is not about being a good parent or being deficient if you’re not a parent. It’s about exposure to and familiarity with kids and their stages of development. You could sub in “if you were a teacher” or “if you were a pediatrician” or any extended experience with and around kids.

    It was an inappropriate and irrelevant question, which the kid was not equipped to handle. He should have been trained to say some version of “no comment”, but she should also have known better. The fact that she didn’t shows a certain lack of experience in relating to the age level she was interviewing.

    • Marissa

      I don’t think it’s inappropriate or irrelevant. I think it’s very interesting to learn what this teenager who is a role model to many thinks about an important issue. Whatever his answer was, the audience gets a perception of his depth as an intelligent person. “Can he formulate a thought-out opinion,” might as well have been the real question. The answer was no, and I think that’s interesting, as do millions of others.

      I also don’t think the reporter went in thinking, I MUST KNOW WHAT BIEBER THINKS ABOUT ABORTION, so calm down.

      Lastly, I had a solid abortion opinion by the time I was sixteen and could voice it intelligently.

    • emma

      I completely agree with you. I think it’s inappropriate that this reporter used 16-year-old Justin Bieber as a vehicle to further the abortion debate going on in the States right now.

      Ask the average 16-year-old what their stance on abortion is and you’ll get a million different answers, most of them not what a 30 year old would answer.

      I don’t believe that it is Bieber’s responsibility to be prepared for questions like this. He’s not a would-be politician. Keep in mind he is also from Canada, a land where women’s rights over their own bodies are currently protected.

  • AP

    Why can’t a 16-year-old boy comment on such weighty issues as abortion? Yes, he’s younger, but by stating that 16-year-olds don’t have the capability to comment on more difficult issues, we are lowering expectations for all teenagers. Adolescents, like adults, are constantly inundated with news (at home, in school, etc) regarding difficult, polarizing issues. To make a blanket statement that 16-year-olds are too immature or unable to have and express these opinions is patronizing.

    That said, certainly we should take Justin Bieber’s opinion with a grain of salt – just as we should evaluate the background, education, and elocution of anyone who speaks his or her mind and expects people to listen.