This article contains spoilers.
What if a fish wants a bicycle? Or a woman a man? The writers behind “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Be Single” dance with that latter question and answer it somewhat awkwardly.
In our culture, it’s become a matter of faith that women don’t need men, and in many instances, including financial support, we do not. However, that doesn’t mean women can’t, or shouldn’t, choose to have the right men in our lives, especially when children are involved.
Onscreen characters aren’t real women, of course, but they can reflect certain cultural truths. That raises this question: Can confident modern women concede that men have important contributions to make, especially to family life, without feeling like failures?
First Comes Divorce, Then Comes…Baby?
On the most recent episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” we watched Dr. April Kepner and Dr. Jackson Avery’s marriage unravel. We already knew that the loss of their baby, as well as April coping by running off to Jordan, had weakened their bond. We also saw for the first time how sharp a religious divide had persisted between them, with April’s ongoing, strong commitment to her Christianity and Jackson’s firm attachment to none-ism.
That alone made me think they shouldn’t have married each other. But my opinion flipped right back the other way at the episode’s end, because when they signed divorce papers, we learned that April was pregnant with Jackson’s baby.
Why didn’t April tell Jackson before signing? This wasn’t some one-night stand. He has been her husband; he has a right to know. Perhaps she thinks it muddies his decision about whether he really wants to be with her if she mentions the baby, and she worries he will only stay in the marriage for the sake of their baby. In a previous era, that would have been considered the honorable thing to do, but contemporary culture has told April it’s an outmoded, unsophisticated idea.
How will Jackson react when he learns he is about to become a father? Surely April must tell him, if not out of decency, then for practical reasons, because they work in the same Seattle hospital. Jackson, who was previously thrilled at the thought of becoming a father, will likely want to be involved in this child’s life. Even though he and April have struggled, they clearly still love each other. A baby on the way could push them to try to work out existing differences and heal wounds from the previous, ill-fated pregnancy. How would that be a bad thing for any of them?
Forget Securing the Baby His Father
The storyline in “How to Be Single” also involves a successful doctor but is different in most other respects. Meg is a 40-ish obstetrician at a New York hospital. She’s delivered 3,000 babies and only just realized she’d like one of her own. With no man on the horizon, she turns to anonymous sperm donation and in vitro fertilization, all of which is portrayed here as remarkably easy peasy.
The real challenge here is that Meg gets horny after she’s pregnant, and she still has no one to scratch that itch. Enter Ken, the noticeably younger, hottie receptionist she meets at her sister’s office holiday party. Meg is thrilled to have a one-night stand, and tries to blow off the very eager Ken afterward, although he continues pursuing her for reasons she can’t understand. They begin dating, but Ken still doesn’t know she’s pregnant—until he spots a visibly pregnant Meg shopping for baby gear one day.
Ken’s response is about as ideal and supportive as the writers might have dreamed up. He’s not mad at Meg for neglecting to tell him about the pregnancy or the circumstances surrounding it. For him, this is a moment to be excited about the baby they’ll have together. Even though they’ve only been dating for a few months, he steps up and offers to be there for the long-haul.
When Meg jokes about him raising the baby, Ken is thrilled and tells her he’d love to quit his day job to stay home and raise this baby. In fact, when he was eight, he dressed up as a stay-at-home dad for Halloween. Faced with Ken’s offer of complete and unconditional support, Meg shuts him down. In her mind, it’s bizarre, ridiculous, or offensive that Ken would volunteer to father her baby.
Ken is then out of the picture for the duration of the pregnancy. He would likely have stayed that way, too, if Meg’s sister hadn’t called Ken when Meg went into labor. It’s only in the calm aftermath that Meg and Ken can finally voice their love for each other. While we don’t know if they plan to wed, we suspect they’ll try to make their relationship work, and that’s good news for both Meg and her baby.
The Message: Women Must Be Alone to Be Strong
Like April and Meg, too many women have come to believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and further, that needing anyone—whether for love, or for help raising the children you’ve created—is a sign of failure.
This notion of modern womanhood and what it should look like—call it The Having It All Gospel—has clear downsides. Women feel like we must not only have it all (ideally at the same time), but we must also do everything ourselves. That to be a truly successful, a woman must not only be a rock star at work—say, an attending doctor at a major urban hospital—but she must also be ready to independently rock raising the next generation.
Some things are best done alone, like writing, and some things lend themselves to being team sports. I would put parenting in that latter category, and there’s no shame in that. If there’s a loving man who’s ready, willing, and able to contribute to a child’s life, why not encourage him, rather than pushing him away? Fathers have a lot to add to their children’s lives, and welcoming those emotional and spiritual contributions diminishes no one. Maybe it’s time we started telling women that sometimes a fish may want a bicycle, and that’s a good thing.