by Kristen Hurst
The MILF acronym, popularized by 1999’s American Pie, is most often associated with teenage male desire for their friends’ “hot” mothers. Over ten years after the release of this film, even the casual cultural consumer could notice that soft-core MILF pornography has become prominent in pop culture, and with that, the sexualization of motherhood and pregnancy are on the rise.
Pregnancy fetishists and feminists alike may argue that pregnancy has always been sexy—it’s the natural result of heterosexual sex, after all—but a pregnant MILF’s body that has been dismantled limb-by-limb by an advertiser’s camera may only be sexy according to a troubling narrative, one which many feminist mothers would like to decapitate, even if they lack the tools to do so.
The main advertisement that I’m referring to, the 2009 commercial promoting HOTmilk lingerie, has been discussed widely across feminist blogs. As you can see below, a lingerie-clad mom-to-be greets what we may assume to be the father of her unborn child with a glass-shattering striptease.
Mom is so voracious that she is willing to break any dish or lamp in her belly’s way, but there is little in the video that lets the viewer know that the woman in question is pregnant. The editing and camerawork are handled in a way that would make Laura Mulvey more than cringe. While we see the assumed father’s titillated reaction to the tease on his face, the mother is revealed as an array of parts—a seam on the hip here, a bra strap there, a glove against the lip. She is a buffet of sexual consumables that you, too, can access, if you visit hotmilklingerie.com. She is sexy even though she is pregnant.
This even though is why HOTmilk still bothers me in 2013. Mom is hot in spite of being a mother, not because she’s a mother, which means that in the world of the MILF, it’s not motherhood that’s sexy. Yes, it’s great that this commercial acknowledges that pregnant women often feel very sexual, but whose definition of “sexy” is the mother in the commercial performing?
Adios Barbie points its readers to HOTmilk’s website, which features a “Men Only” section. While I agree that the website is as troubling as the video, I don’t entirely agree with Marjorie Ingall’s point that advertisements like this are about “selling sex.” Yes, they sell sex in that they reaffirm a dominant sexual performance that some women may put on because advertisements and television shows and books and blogs have already reaffirmed that being consumable is the one way they can be sexy and therefore loved.
But the presumably male gaze of the camera serves to do more than sell pregnant women lingerie—it markets to men, apparently in competition with their unborn children who have “hijacked” the woman’s body, the product of the pregnant woman.
This makes sense because, as I stated before, we are used to women being objectified. We are used to the camera chopping up women’s bodies. As Noah Berlatsky of The Atlantic points out, men and women are both “much more comfortable thinking about women as looked at than they are thinking about women as lookers.” In other words, we live in a society that positions women to be pleasing to look at, no matter who the looker. “Pleasing” is a narrow category defined by the subjects and heroes of our binary cultural narrative: men.
What does this mean for pregnant women? There is undoubtedly some power associated with being able to assimilate and be considered “sexy” according to dominant conventions, but this is an empty victory that only reaffirms a persistently male subjectivity.
Some theorists, such as Judith “Jack” Halberstam, might insist that a uniquely feminine perspective would completely eschew our culture’s pervasive hero narrative, but what would that look like? Would it incorporate a connection between sex and, well, reproduction, and could it do that without supporting a problematic “natural” connection between women and the “natural” world? I don’t like to think that the only way women can be truly “empowered” is to either reject the concept of “power” entirely or to objectify other women—and men, as you can see in this Kraft advertisement below:
I may be without answers, but I know it must be helpful for women to be aware of whose sexy they are performing, and to imagine what a sexual motherhood might look like on their own terms.