Baby Mama: Smart, Funny, Good-looking And It Can Cook, Too
What being a Woman is Really About

The modern road for women is, to say the least, complicated. More accurately, it is a road stabbed through the center with an unbearably torturous and, yes, still pink, fork. A fork in the road that, despite Yogi Berra’s immortal advice (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”), is not easily taken. It must, rather, be earned. And the going rate for this pink fork could easily cover any girl’s dream house, complete with wardrobe, shoes and dream family. But, that’s okay because the fork is all about trading in the dream life for the dream. Enter the new film, Baby Mama. It’s all about a woman’s dreams. In fact, it’s about a woman’s dream of dreaming or, in a grander sense, the dream of knowing for what to dream. You see, the modern woman’s struggle isn’t just about the babies and the blackberries because a woman can, theoretically, have it all. But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? Because what does that even mean and, more importantly, what does it make being a woman mean?

Lets leave modern woman aside, though, for a moment, with her sexual revolution and tank tops and consider the more relevant sub-sect: the Orthodox Jewish modern woman. Her problems are similar but more convoluted. For, coupled with her desire to have her home and live life too is the desire to fulfill Gd’s will. Of course, confusing the issue even more is the question of what Gd’s will is with regard to women; a question not easily answered, although it has been much discussed over the millennia. Many would have you believe that a woman’s path in Judaism involves lots of children and no options. They would be wrong, of course. While the Judeo-Christian model has women barefoot and pregnant, not to mention, oftentimes, in league with the devil, Orthodox Judaism is not so simplistic. First of all, we don’t even have a devil. But, more importantly, the commandment to have children – the first Biblical ordinance – is solely the responsibility of men. Women (though obviously practically necessary for the process) have no similar obligation. Which begs the question, why?

Ah, the essential question. Why aren’t women obligated by Gd to have children? The classic answers range from the physiological (childbirth is so dangerous that Gd did not want to command women to put there lives in danger) to the psychological (women already want to have children and so don’t need to be commanded). Neither is very satisfactory, to women or Torah scholars, because both suggest something untenable. For one, if Gd can’t command women to do something that would put their lives in danger, how can He command men to do something that would put women’s lives in danger? And, second, many commandments reflect a person’s natural wishes; those laws are considered almost kindnesses from Gd for they allow us to fulfill a mitzvah and follow our hearts at the same time.

Furthermore, although there is a sense that women are not obligated in the mitzvah to have children, a woman’s relationship to the mitzvot is intrinsically linked to the assumption that she will make children a priority in her life. In fact, this reason is the one most often given to explain why women are exempt from many of the time constraining mitzvot; their time is otherwise occupied. As well, the history of the Jewish nation (pre and post nationhood) is filled with the tales of women who had difficulty having children. In each case, the sadness of the circumstances echoes within the souls of women who wonder if they too will suffer such tragedy or whether they too (as with many of the historical figures) will merit the eventual miracle of childbirth. Thus, both theologically and sociologically, the history of the Jewish female has been a history of motherhood.

So, that is her history, but is it her legacy?

Just as the Chalutzim, Zionist pioneers, of the early 1900s chose to highlight the Jewish warrior and downplay the Jewish scholar in an effort to shift the focus on to a part of the Jewish character that both suited their ambitious goals of Zionism and counteracted centuries of stories that had traded in might for meekness, modern Jewish women have turned their gaze to Devorah and Yael, Bruria and Esther. It is a noble gesture to attempt to flesh out the history of the less discussed gender. But, in doing so, to neglect Sarah and Leah or Hannah and Rachel is just as unfair as the notion that the Jewish kings were all Davids and no Solomons. We are, as a nation, many different kinds of people; diversity is almost our calling card. Why, then, should it be any less so with our women?

Which returns us to Baby Mama and the current dilemma. What are women meant to do? What are women meant to be? These aren’t exactly the questions one expects to find woven among Saturday Night Live alums and baby-proofed-toilet jokes. Yet, they are exactly what one finds. And, instead of facing an extended SNL sketch, the audience is treated to a feminine Odd Couple complete with the metaphysical analysis of the everyman from the joining of two extremes. Except here it’s all about the everywoman. Which, make no mistake, is not just an everyman in a skirt. This is not a female version of a male story; it is not simply a human story that happens to use women instead of men. It is a decidedly human story that is, simultaneously, necessarily about women.

I remember once learning that medical science used to teach female anatomy as the inverse of male anatomy, a policy that finally got abandoned when doctors realized that it was just plain wrong. Men and women are not opposites and they are not “exactly the same except…” Both perspectives sell a gender short and, more often than not, that gender is the one that has the ability to carry life. It is a perspective that has taken centuries to come to; Baby Mama is, perhaps, a pioneer in its perspective on women. This is not a chick flick. And it is a chick flick. It is not – in the sense that it is not all about romance and tears and what seems “girly” – but it is about womanhood and the particular issues facing women, as women but also as individuals, as members of a species.

It is possible that, while it has taken Hollywood a while to get there, Gd may have been there long before. After this movie, I have a new appreciation for the apparent limitations placed upon my religious development. Fewer ritualistic obligations means that I can theoretically pursue the corner office and the carpools. No obligation to have children means a Divine recognition that having both is not the same for me as it is for, let’s say, my brother. To be a woman pursuing Gd’s will is more complex a task than it seems and it will take a lifetime to make advances in interpreting what exactly that task entails. One thing, though, is certain: nothing will come of it if women continue to look over the mechitzah. For that is the greatest lesson of Baby Mama: to be a woman among men may, practically, mean a lot of confused professions of masculinity but, in reality, whatever it is to be a woman, it is never at all like being a man. The comparison is impossible. Gd created two genders at different times with different frames of reference. Thus Gd created two systems. It is not about who holds the blackberries. It is not about who has the babies. It is about being a woman and a person and a Jew and somehow following Gd’s twisted road, past the pink fork, to wherever such an individual is intended to go.

Dodi-Lee Hecht

2008 NISHMA