It’s 7:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day. I’m in Johannesburg, talking about relationships with a guy, a friend of a friend, I met earlier in the night. As in the United States, it’s impossible for a mixed group to get together and the conversation not turn that way.
This guy is talking about how his father’s two divorces have affected his outlook on dating. He’s getting pretty deep in his feelings, which doesn’t surprise me given the amount of liquor consumed in our revelry. I’m listening with undivided interest until he calls his own mother and his stepmother “baby mamas.”
“Ex-wives, you mean?” I say it the same way you would correcting a kid who has used improper grammar.
He looks at me funny because he doesn’t get it. “Same thing, no?”
No. It’s not the same thing. A wife is a married woman. An ex-wife is a formerly married woman. And “baby mama”? It started out being a demeaning term for a woman who has a child by a man she was not married to and where the “relationship” between the pair was just sex. It quickly evolved to a description of any unmarried woman who had a child. I’ve always hated it for erasing the idea of any commitment that may have once existed between a couple and reducing it only to functions related to the child. (For clarity, I hate “baby daddy” too, and for the same reason.)
This hood term went mainstream circa 2008, when Universal released Baby Mama starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Unfortunately, it’s become a catch-all to describe all mothers — including married moms. Take the guy above, who unironically called his own mother one. Or recall Fox News going way-out ignorant during the 2008 election and referring to then-would-be FLOTUS as “Obama’s Baby Mama.” Fox News didn’t exactly apologize, but the senior vice president of programming acknowledged “a producer on the program exercised poor judgment.” You think?
I thought again about how insulting the term was upon hearing the way Kanye West announced that his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian, is pregnant. On December 30, he declared to his concert audience, “Make noise for my baby mama.” I suppose “baby mama” is better than “perfect bitch,” West’s previous accolade for Kardashian, but it’s still pretty bad. Wouldn’t “my girlfriend” have been just as accurate?
No matter the current relationship status between a couple — married, divorced, committed, etc. — at some point they liked and trusted each other enough to lay down together and create a child. Women should be acknowledged with respect, if not for the former relationship, if there was one, then at least for the hard work of raising a child.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk