Channel 10’s The Bachelor broke new ground in the realms of human stupidity last night by testing the mothering skills of the Bachelorettes.
And how did they test this complex, multi-dimensional skill? With robotic baby dolls.
The contestants were woken by the cries of ‘babies’, which they were then required to ‘care’ for during a round of mini golf. All of which makes perfect sense. As any new mother will tell you, the first thing you feel like doing after leaving the delivery suite with your newborn is heading straight on over to the putt-putt course for a few rounds.
What the show did get right about the realities of motherhood, however, was the perfect demonstration that everything single thing a mother does, or doesn’t do, is scrutinised and judged.
Host Osher Gunsberg informed the Bachelorettes that “[The babies are] loaded with sensors… they’ve been reading your every soothe, every hold, every change, every feed.”
Some of the contestants didn’t exactly excel at their mothering test, appearing visibly uncomfortable and flummoxed by what to do with a screaming ‘baby’.
And why wouldn’t they? Who among us can say that they’ve ever had to care for a sensor-loaded cyborg baby before? Not me.
The first time I ever had to look after a real baby was after I had given birth to that baby. The sum total of my baby experience before my first daughter was born was the obligatory holding of friends’ babies just long enough until I could give it back without causing offence.
The first time my baby cried in the hospital I looked at my husband and asked, “What do we do?”
He shrugged and said, “I guess we better pick her up.”
One of the myths perpetuated by The Bachelor and our culture more generally is that mothering is innate in “good” (read: “marriage-material”) women. Even though we no longer grow up in tribes or extended families, “real” women are just supposed to know how to care for children. This even applies to women who have spent more time in a boardroom than a nursery.
I hate to be the one to break it to the producers of The Bachelor, but babies don’t pop out with a manual along with the placenta. There is no automatic download of a mothering app into our brains.
Mothering is a skill that needs to be learned, just like any other. You have to practice, make mistakes, and you gain confidence slowly over time.
I have managed large teams of people and multi-million dollar budgets, but I have never felt more vulnerable and more out of my depth than when I first became a mother.
The transition to motherhood was made so much harder by the assumption that I should have automatically known what to do. I cried buckets of tears feeling like a failure and wondering why something that was supposed to be “natural” was so damn hard.
The fact that childcare is a learned skill, despite this persistent motherhood myth, is widely understood. We expect our childcare workers to be tertiary trained yet, according to The Bachelor, if a mother doesn’t automatically know everything about mothering then she’s not worthy of a rose.
Besides the highly offensive implication that a woman is only desirable if she can care for children, assuming that women are (or should be) natural-born mothers is like assuming that mechanical skills are natural in men.
It would be like measuring the competence and desirability of Bachelor Richie by how well he serviced a jet plane. After all, he’s a bloke, and ‘real’ men are good with machinery and reading instructions and fixing stuff.
Come to think of it, given the babies on The Bachelor were essentially machines, shouldn’t Richie have been the one tinkering under their hoods and looking for the off switch?
Perhaps one of the reasons the mothering-is-natural myth endures is because it makes life so much more convenient for men.
Why should men bother to put in the time and effort to learn how to care for their children when evolution has gifted their female partner with all the necessary skills and experience to do it?
We don’t expect The Bachelor to offer complex social analysis of motherhood, but it’d be nice if they could stop serving up offensive, insulting and outdated stereotypes to their predominantly female audience.
But, I guess if they did that, they wouldn’t have a show.