Tina Fey plays the double messages of modern life better than anyone, particularly those that relate to women. On 30 Rock, her character Liz Lemon is a catalog of contradictions, constantly (and hilariously) battling the differences between the ideal and the real, her ‘shoulds’ and her ‘wants’, her convictions and her appetites, etc. She mines those discrepancies for laughs, and in doing so, has become something of an icon for (a certain kind of) modern woman, a walking commentary on contemporary gender politics. She adds just enough straight-man self-deprecation to get away with some fairly subversive comedy, and whenever 30 Rock veers from that mold, it gets pretty shrill/snobby, pretty fast. Anyways, Fey recently put her considerable skills to work for the New Yorker, examining the question of whether or not to have a second baby, “Confessions of a Juggler” [full text here]. The piece, which is really very funny, doubles as a crash-course in moving-target Judgment, both the internal and external kind, and the fruit it produces: sleepless nights, canker sores, counter-judgments, etc. It should come as no surprise that Tina can do the self-justification dance with the best of them, laughing to herself as she switches partners – the lady is clearly a master of the craft, another reason her comedy works so well. But perhaps the most interesting part comes in the final paragraph. If you substitute “minister” for “gynecologist,” (and assume Christ as the basis of the assurance in question), you almost have Law/Gospel treatise on your hands… I’m only sort of kidding:
“What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? ‘How old are you?’ ‘What do you weigh?’… No, the worst question is: ‘How do you juggle it all?’ ‘How do you juggle it all?’ people constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes, ‘You’re screwing it all up, aren’t you?’ their eyes say. My standard answer is that I have the same struggles as any working parent but with the good fortune to be working at my dream job. Or sometimes I just hand them a juicy red apple I’ve poisoned in my working-mother witch cauldron and fly away.
The second-worst question you can ask a woman is: ‘Are you going to have more kids?’ This is rude. Especially to a woman like me, who is in her ‘last five minutes.’ By that I mean my last five minutes of being famous is timing out to be simultaneous with my last five minutes of being able to have a baby. Science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty. When my daughter says, ‘I wish I had a baby sister,’ I am stricken with guilt and panic. When she says, ‘Mommy, I need Aqua Sand’ or ‘I only want to eat gum!’ or ‘Wipe my butt!,’ I am less affected.
I thought that raising an only child would be the norm in New York, but I’m pretty sure my daughter is the only child in her class without a sibling. All over Manhattan, large families have become a status symbol. Four beautiful children named after kings and pieces of fruit are a way of saying, ‘I can afford a four-bedroom apartment and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in elementary-school tuition fees each year. How you livin’?'…
The ear-nose-and-throat doctor I see about some stress-induced canker sores offers, unsolicited, ‘You should have another one. I had my children at forty-one and forty-two. It’s fine.’ Did she not hear the part about the stress-induced canker sores?”
…I debate the second-baby issue when I can’t sleep. “Should I? No. I want to. I can’t. I must. Of course not. I should try immediately.”
I get up to go to the bathroom and study myself in the mirror. Do I look like someone who should be pregnant? I look good for forty, but I have the quaggy jawline and hollow cheeks of a mom, not a pregnant lady. This decision cannot be delayed.
And what’s so great about work, anyway? Work won’t visit you when you’re old. Work won’t drive you to the radiologist’s for a mammogram and take you out afterward for soup. It’s too much pressure on my one kid to expect her to shoulder all those duties alone. Also, what if she turns on me? I am pretty hard to like. I need a backup…
I try to think about anything else so I can go back to sleep. I used to cling to the fact that my mom had me unexpectedly at forty, only to realize a couple of years ago that I had the math wrong and she was thirty-nine. A world of difference, in my insomniac opinion…
“I have a great gynecologist, who is as gifted at listening as she is at rectal exams. I went for my annual checkup and, tired of carrying this anxiety around, burst into tears the moment she said hello. I laid it out for her, and the main thing I took away from her was the kind of simple observation that only an impartial third party can provide. ‘Either way, everything will be fine,’ she said, smiling, and for a little while I was pulled out of my anxious, stunted brain cloud. ‘Everything will be fine’ was a possibility that had not occurred to me.”
For more of the Gospel According to Liz Lemon, go here.