By Anna Valdez
Art by Nico Kohler
Recently Adam Levine has become one of the most disliked people on the Internet. He has been called an asshole, cheater, and Chipotle bag look-alike. The anger began when Instagram model Sumner Stroh — who he admitted to “cross[ing] the line” with — made a TikTok video claiming they had an affair (although Levine refuted this). Celebrity affairs are not at all uncommon, but the detail that enraged the Internet this time was the fact that Levine’s wife, Behati Prinsloo, was pregnant. The only unanimous opinion regarding the drama was that Prinsloo and her children were the only real victims, an opinion shared by the five women who Levine had been “flirting” with. The women who came forward were attacked, called liars, exaggerators, and attention seekers. Before I really begin, it should be noted that, because I am initially looking at this topic through the relationships between Levine, Stroh, and Prinsloo, the critiques being made are of the dynamics in monogamous cisgender heterosexual relationships, even though those are not the only types of relationships that this discussion could apply to.
Although reliable statistics regarding infidelity in marriage during pregnancy are hard to come by (perhaps because self-reporting would be unreliable), it is much more common than people might think. A Daily Mail article claimed that “one in ten husbands cheats on his pregnant wife.” Tristan Thomson, Kevin Hart, Future, Offset, Tom Brady, and Eddie Murphy — just to name a few — have all had stories publicized of them cheating on their pregnant wives. While consulting “women’s magazines” such as Parents and The Buehler Institute, I looked at how people view this type of infidelity. The main excuses surround the husband’s discomfort. He needs to avoid his negative feelings; he is feeling pushed away as the mother-child bond is being formed; he is not having his sexual needs satisfied, or he possibly does not want to hurt his wife during sex. These articles encourage forgiveness from the pregnant wife, almost justifying the cheating and even suggesting ways it could have been prevented, one of which is to “reassure your mate that he’s still a priority, too.” I find this all absolutely ridiculous.
While I was considering the psychological perspectives on this, Freud, unfortunately, came to mind. His perspective on successful marriage is that a husband is a child to his wife. Consequently, when a woman is pregnant, that balance is disrupted, and the marriage suffers as the woman becomes more focused on her child.The husband feels neglected and has to (God forbid) do things for himself. Saying that men cannot emotionally survive without feeling more special than their own in-utero child and describing them as completely incapable of communicating their feelings to the person they are about to have a child with is frankly insulting to their intelligence. Men are able to survive without sex from a person outside their marriage. Pregnancy is difficult for both people in a partnership, but cheating is a choice.
Being cheated on while pregnant happens, but why does it enrage people so much more than when the victim is not pregnant? It could be because she is vulnerable and sacrificing her body to create life, but it seems to me that the main reason is that pregnant women are viewed as a communal good in society. Yes, pregnant women get doors opened for them and seats given to them, but they also lose part of their bodily autonomy. Everywhere they go they get unwelcome advice, and their stomachs are touched, something that is not socially acceptable outside pregnancy. For pregnant women, “wandering through the world ‘minding one’s own business’ is a virtual impossibility” because of other people’s obsession with their pregnant bodies.
This view of pregnancy is pretty recent, as the shift from pregnancy as shameful (since it was proof of sex) to empowering occurred around the same time as the Roe v. Wade decision and the growth of the mainstream feminist movements of the 70s. However, in both situations, pregnant people are still being treated as lower-class citizens and people who cannot stand up for themselves. This view of pregnant women as a “social good” that exists to make babies instead of human beings connects to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The government feels confident in their ability to control a group that a misogynistic society does not view as deserving of making their own choices. Maybe people love pregnant women because they are fulfilling the role that they have had set for them for centuries: to have kids. Or maybe they love pregnant women because they feel some subconscious level of ownership over their bodies.
This feeling of ownership is justified by the redefinition of pregnant women as pregnant before women; it is a new kind of objectification, a new way to demand access to women’s bodies. People don’t seem to see pregnant women as human beings; they are more and less than that at the same time. They are congratulated and treated with more respect than usual while expected to have neither boundaries nor bodily autonomy. In turn, when it comes to people outwardly hurting pregnant women, people get enraged because they do not view pregnant women as fully-functioning adults, and therefore they must be defended. This idea has been encouraged by how pregnant women are presented in the media. They are shown as having almost no control of their emotions and needing constant support and reassurance. They are not shown as fully-functioning adults: for example, when pregnant women have to make huge, exaggerated efforts to get themselves up off the couch or when they are shown to be constantly lashing out at the people around them. A specific example of this is Amy Duncan from Good Luck Charlie. When she is pregnant with her son Toby in season three she is portrayed as crazy and incapable of performing basic tasks, all for comedic effect. Women’s bodies and brains change during pregnancy, but in television and movies this is taken to a comedic extreme that creates an inaccurate view in the communal mind of what pregnant people are capable of. During pregnancy, women’s brains change: they do experience some memory problems and mood swings, but they also get better at recognizing what other people are feeling and have enhanced caregiving behaviors. They are still fully-functioning adults.
This defense of pregnant women unfortunately does not extend to all pregnant people. Individuals who are transgender, non-binary, not conventionally attractive, or teen mothers generally do not fit society’s idea of what a mother should be and are less likely to be viewed positively and defended by the public. The group I will focus on as an example of this is women who do not fit society’s beauty standards, specifically regarding their weight. While gaining weight in pregnancy is a normal response to growing a human being inside you, there is a pressure to stay thin while pregnant. This attitude has been exacerbated by celebrities like Demi Moore, Rihanna, and Kim Kardashian who showed off their fit pregnant bodies on social media and in magazines. In 2004, a survey involving affluent Baltimore-area women found that 21% of them engaged in behaviors to restrict their weight during pregnancy, and I have no doubt that number has grown. A 2020 study found that 21% of women who were surveyed indicated they had experienced weight stigma from immediate family, while 25% indicated they had experienced stigma from media. Weight gain while pregnant is normal, and restricting food can be dangerous for the mother and baby. This is just further evidence that people do not care about pregnant women as people, just about how they fit into the idea of pregnant women that they have in their head. Because of this, the public does not come to the defense of fat pregnant women because they see them as less deserving of defense. Society expects pregnant women to look and act a certain way, and the support they receive is dependent on certain standards being met.
Behati Prinsloo is a Victoria’s Secret model: she fits the standards perfectly, and that is one of the reasons that people were so quick to come to her defense. She is the “right” kind of pregnant woman: a beautiful helpless object in need of protection. That is why people got so interested: she was the kind of woman that they wanted to protect. Levine and Prinsloo are still going strong, and although she was upset that he was flirting with several younger girls, she has begun forgiving him and she plans to stay with him for now. It should be noted, however, that the outrage that the Internet showed was short-lived because, a few days after, the Try Guys/Ned Fulmer cheating situation took the center of the Internet’s attention. The fact that people moved on so fast suggests that it was not actually about Prinsloo being hurt because almost everyone stopped caring when something more interesting happened. It was not about Prinsloo as a person: it was about her as a pregnant woman whom people did not want to see wronged.
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