Saturday, March 12, 2005

Baby Mama Drama

Listening to too much radio yesterday because of driving too many places, I probably heard Fantasia's song "Baby Mama" at least three or four times. "B-A-B-Y M-A-M-A." If you've heard it, it's in your head now. On WKYS, my favorite radio station in DC, the song was almost always preceded with call-ins from local single mothers, expressing their thanks to Fantasia for performing the song, and I got to hear a bit of an interview with her, explaining why she chose to sing it. And, I can't decide if I like it or if it creeps me out or both.

Urbandictionary defines "baby mama" as "The mother of your child(ren), whom you did not marry and with whom you are not currently involved." In all of their sample sentences, it's a word to be used solely by men. In the tradition of "queer" and some other words I don't feel comfortable typing, Fantasia's reclaiming a word for a group traditionally used to demean them. Instead of the phrase"my baby mama" coming from a man's point of view, she sends her song "out to all my baby mamas." What's more, the song's encouraging -- offering sympathy for the limits of paternity support and the difficulties of being a single parent. So far, so cool . . . and yet. . .

Here's when I kick in to being a horribly conservative Daniel Patrick Moynihan/ Dan Quayle knockoff. I mean, I don't clearly. For one thing, no bowties. But I can't completely get behind a song that says, "Nowadays it's like a badge of honor/ To be a baby mama." I want to be supportive of everyone and their choices, and I'm certainly not recommending we bring back the Scarlet A, but it's tough shit to be a single mother. Or to be raised by one.

The stats are depressing. The majority of black children in this country now live outside of two-married-parent families. And, without trying to explain why or finding somebody to blame, I think that's got to be hard and that it's a problem. Not impossible, not set up to fail, and of course, not worse than living with a terrible husband. But it's hard.

Reading plays last month for the Young Playwrights' Theatre contest, I couldn't help but notice that the vast majority of the plays written by high school students in DC were about mothers and fathers who did not live together. Some were from the perspective of children of divorce, who shuttled between their mom's and dad's house. Some were from the perspective of children who never knew who their fathers were, until one day they dropped by to visit. And some were about teenagers, who had children outside of wedlock and were figuring out how to share parenting. The phrase "baby mama" came up more than once. The prospect of getting married was raised only once in one play, as a joke.

And then you throw into this world, a song about baby mamas on the one hand and an article about celebrating the pregnant bride on the other, and I don't know what's helpful and what's harmful. Fantasia said in the radio interview that 13-yr-old mothers come up to her at concerts and tell her thank you for making the song. Which I guess is good, and it's good that she's a role model of successful single motherhood, but still . . .

In the end, I think Fantasia gets the last word. Quoting Nietschze, she tells all her baby mamas,
"Remember: What don't kill you can only make you stronger/ My baby mama." True? Perhaps. But nobody should be satisfied with a childcare situation that gets compared favorably to murder. That's not saying a hell of a lot.

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