Celebrity news cutting stigma on being single mom?
Have the celebrity pregnancy news helped in reducing the stigma associated with being pregnant while being single? The recent issues of People’s magazine suggest so.
“Celebrities typically did not apologize for getting pregnant outside of marriage,” says Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk, an assistant professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo. “But the family model also changed over time. The early model dictated that you should marry by the time the baby is born. By the mid-2000s that had changed, and it became widely acceptable in the celebrity world to have a child without marrying first.”
Grol-Prokopczyk performed an analysis of over 400 celebrity news coverage in People’s magazine starting with the magazine’s inaugural issue in 1974 and came up with an interesting point. Her findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.
“I used People magazine because it’s reputable in the sense that it doesn’t publish fictional stories; it has been in continuous circulation for over 40 years; and it remains one of the most widely circulating magazines in the country,” says Grol-Prokopczyk. “It also has a strong online presence, with as many as 72 million unique views in a given month.”
“Academics often scoff at celebrity news, but in fact there’s evidence that celebrity culture is enormously influential in changing norms and has a very wide reach,” she says. “For example, after Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed after having her preventative mastectomy, a survey conducted weeks later found that 74 percent of Americans knew about her surgery and the decision.”
This came to be known as ‘Angelina Effect’ and was covered in the journal Genetics in Medicine. “That attests to the fact that decisions celebrities make reach us and affect our thinking,” says Grol-Prokopczyk.
We think she has a point.
“There aren’t many non-marital fertility stories in the 1970s, but when they do appear there’s almost always a promise that the parent will marry by the time the baby is born,” says Grol-Prokopczyk. “It’s like saying, ‘Don’t worry, readers. They’ll be married by the time the baby arrives.’”
A case in point is the May 1976 issue of People magazine featuring Goldie Hawn and the title of the cover clearly suggested that she was pregnant and single at that time.
“She’s laughing with a baby and a new hubby on the way,” to be exact.
“This includes women who were partnered but didn’t plan to marry the partner, but it also includes so-called ‘single mothers’ who we now know were in committed same-sex relationships, in particular Jodie Foster and Rosie O’Donnell,” she says.
“Based on biographies of them now, we know they were in long-term, committed relationships at the time,” says Grol-Prokopczyk. “People magazine was slow to show acceptance of same-sex parents, preferring to present them as single parents.
“This example shows that while celebrity media coverage can serve as an agent for social change—by de-stigmatizing non-marital childbearing or transgenderism, for instance—it does not always do so,” she says.