Martha Plimpton on being bugged about having babies

This week’s issue of New York magazine has a short profile of Martha Plimpton, the Broadway actress who you might also recognize from TV’s Raising Hope. At one point, Plimpton describes her frustration at how often she’s asked whether or not she wants, or plans, to have children.

Oh, God, this subject! You’re 40, you’re getting old, your ovaries are drying up. The gynecologist is like, ‘So, are you thinking about it?’ It’s just the question every¬body—no offense—feels like they can ask. Like, ‘So, what are you going to do with your reproductive organs?’

Something tells me that there aren’t a lot of men being asked intrusive questions about what they’re going to do with their reproductive material. Granted, it lasts longer, but the pressure on women to have children is far greater than the pressure on men – which means that women’s reproductive plans are considered fair game for public inquiry, discussion and advice.

It’s no secret that, once a woman is pregnant, her body becomes public property. Strangers feel entitled to touch baby bumps, or ask how far along a woman is, or inquire as to whether she’s having a boy or a girl (why wait until it’s out of the womb to gender it? Put a pink bow or a blue baseball cap on that fetus!). But Plimpton is right that when women hit a certain age and have not yet had kids, their un-pregnant bodies seem to be open for public scrutiny, too.

Tina Fey, who is also pushing 40, writes about the phenomenon in her book Bossypants, saying even thought her parents raised her never to ask someone about their reproductive plans – “You don’t know their situation,” Fey’s mother always told her – people ask her all the damn time. Fey observes that people she interacts with daily, some of whom she barely knows, like background actors on 30 Rock, would ask her all the time about whether or not she wanted a second child (she’s about to give birth to a second child now).

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?

Fey ends her book by embracing the cultural practice of asking complete strangers (women only!) what they’re going to do with their reproductive organs. “Either way,” she concludes, “everything will be fine. But, if you have an opinion, please, feel free to offer it to me through the gap of the door in a public restroom. Everyone else does.”

I suspect that Fey and Plimpton have both concluded that a snappy, snarky response is the only way to deal with this nonsense. One of my favourite books about body image, Real Gorgeous, by Australian comedian Kaz Cooke, takes a similar approach and suggests some witty retorts you can have up your sleeve for when people comment on your body (“You can get a book from the library to explain what shape women are,” or “Strangely enough, I don’t have time to go to the gym for five hours a day. Will I be arrested?”). Her book has a whole list of them, and they greatly improved my adolescent life.

So let’s pool our snarky resources, Feministing community. What are some pointed, witty responses to the inevitable questions about if, when, or whether you’re going to have kids/have another kid/finally become a real woman by fulfilling your biological destiny? Let’s make a compendium in the comments section!

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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