There is one reason, and one reason alone, that Kate Gosselin survived to dance her resoundingly terrible fox trot this week: she's a mom. Actually, it's probably more fair to say that she's a Professional Mom, in that her "stardom" is based, utterly, on having made the apparently radical choice to bear and raise children. The judges noted that at each juncture, Kate reminded audiences of it every time she opened her mouth, and her continued love from Dancing With The Stars voters convinced everyone from Brooke Burke to Niecy Nash to Pamela Anderson to Aiden Turner (i.e., everyone else with offspring) to either mention or show their children as part of their packaging.
But, when push comes to shove (or perception meets reality), the fact of the matter is that Kate Gosselin by no means made some radical or ill-respected choice to become a parent. Statistics show that fully 80 percent of American women have children during their child-bearing years, making the 39-year-old (and first to be eliminated) Shannen Doherty more of an outlier than Kate, Pam or Niecy. So why all the sympathy for Kate and her mommihood -- especially when voters hardly show Pamela the same consideration?
There's a whole culture dedicated to celebrating the choice -- some might call it a biological imperative -- to have children. From magazines that breathlessly (and, mostly approving) "report" on the contents of famous women's uteri to a mommy blogger culture that sparked a new regulation from the Federal Trade Commission to television shows dedicated to women with large families and even teenagers with new babies, popular culture still (and one might say increasingly) reflects the larger societal pressures placed on women to have children, be perfect mothers and do it all with at least some grace and while "keeping" their looks.
And yet, by and large, Kate's motherhood was played for sympathy, not celebration, as though being a mother was a difficult, society-bucking choice that viewers should celebrate and support with their votes. When she yawned her way through rehearsals, it was because her kids visited her in Los Angeles (although weren't we all told that she was rehearsing almost exclusively in Pennsylvania Wednesday through Sunday?). When she danced poorly, it was because she was a mother, not a performer (though, many mothers put on Oscar-worthy performances daily rather than show unhappiness or anger to their kids). When she didn't want to be voted off, it was because it would make her kids sad, not because she wanted to stay (though, when she did get booted, she was sad because she loved everyone else on the show and was enjoying herself). When she was testy with Tony, viewers were told it was because she was stressed out because of her kids, as a way of mitigating her unprofessional behavior.
The message from producers (and Kate) was "Vote for Kate because she's a mom and that's so hard and unique!" despite the fact that there are two other mothers in the cast (let alone Brooke Burke and all the fathers) who weren't remotely seeking the same sympathy or affirmation of their life choices from voters and viewers alike. Yet yet that message resonated with Kate's fans, as was clear from her continued presence. And while the judges called it an acknowledgment of the aspiration nature of the show for viewers, what the producers were really doing was reinforcing the perception that (certain) mothers are mistakenly looked down upon, put upon, judged negatively for being mothers and deserving of more forgiveness, understanding and consideration than anyone else in the competition.
On the other hand, Pamela Anderson is divorced and has two kids that she and her ex-husband have often gone to great lengths to protect from paparazzi attention -- and, despite the fact that the producers generously allowed Kate to play up her children for sympathy votes, the most Pamela did was laugh at how she didn't even ask her kids to vote for her after the first elimination dance. Niecy Nash has three children, is in the midst of a 3-year divorce and is flying all over the country to keep up with her other work obligations -- yet we don't see her yelling at Louis or yawning during her lessons, let alone playing her kids or divorce for sympathy votes (her soft spots and her jiggly bits are another matter). So why did Kate get all the producer attention? Motherhood sells, especially when the mother is more than willing to double-down with a victim card.
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