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Gender + Sexuality

Is Breeding a Sin?

Only if you have a litter, and happen to be poor.

Vanessa Richmond 11 Feb

Tyee contributing editor Vanessa Richmond writes the Schlock and Awe column about popular culture and the media.

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Separated by money not birth.

Let me get this straight. One spotlight hogging, serial baby-maker is a paragon of sexiness and virtue, and the other is a crazed lunatic.

They're doppelgangers, save one detail. But that detail seems to be a red herring, as red as a newborn baby's head.

When Angelina Jolie, had twins last summer, increasing the Jolie-Pitt brood to six, People magazine paid a record seven-figure sum for exclusive photos of the wrinkly grubs. Both halves of Brangelina have since said plenty about how six isn't enough: not only are new international adoptions in the works, but this week's stories say Jolie plans to be pregnant with their seventh child by summer. Despite reports that her doctors have encouraged her to wait, at least one article praises Jolie for "always managing to achieve what she wants." And when the famous baby-making duo talks about the magic number 10, the male half gets called the sexiest dad alive, and Jolie is celebrated as a kind of mother superior.

Enter Nadya Suleman, who gave birth to octuplets a few weeks ago, and met with a slightly different reception in the public waiting room. Revulsion, ridicule and death threats were there to welcome her new (almost) soccer team into the world. Time reports that a talk radio host called her a freak, and said his listeners were prepared to boycott any company that offered help to her or her babies. And Jimmy Kimmel joked that even "golden retrievers do not have that many kids."

Spot the difference...

Hmmm, let's review. Both Jolie and Suleman have long dark hair, oversized lips and fair skin, and there's been more than one comment about their striking resemblance. Both were born and raised in L.A. Both are 33 years old, born in 1975.

Both are unmarried in a legal and religious sense, even though Jolie and Pitt are in a relationship. Both Jolie and Suleman are divorced (in the same year, actually). Until recently, both had six children under the age of eight, (Suleman: seven, six, five, three, plus two-year-old twins; Jolie: seven, five, four, two, and infant twins). Both have reportedly relied on IVF for their most recent global population efforts, and are both on a course to raise the world's fertility rate from its overall average of 2.1 to about 10.

The similarities don't end there. Both have dysfunctional parents -- Suleman says as much in her own words and cites it as the main reason she wants to devote her life to parenting. Jolie is estranged from dad, John Voight, who left her mom when Jolie was two years old.

Neither mom parents single-handedly. Suleman's parents help raise the kids. Jolie has a staff of nannies, and of course, Pitt.

Both are media magnets -- Jolie is a movie star and master media manipulator who earns millions based on her image, and Suleman held her own against MSNBC's Ann Curry and has reportedly hired PR help in order to try to make millions out of her image -- like through a reality TV show (e.g. the Duggars of "17 Kids and Counting," or "Jon and Kate Plus Eight").

Both have similar priorities. Of hers, Jolie said last week: "I'd say kids first -- kids, woman to Brad, and then my work internationally, and being a kind of... trying to educate myself and trying to learn about the world and... trying to do some good things while I'm alive." As for acting, she laughed, "So what is that, fourth?"

Of hers, Suleman told MSNBC this week that her top priority is to be a good mother. "I'm providing myself to my children, I'm loving them unconditionally and accepting them unconditionally. I'll stop my life for them, and hold them... and love them." And said her next priority is to go back to school to improve herself through a master's degree in counselling, so she can provide financially for her children.

What about Mother Earth?

Moving on. In the last several days, the British government's environmental adviser declared it "irresponsible" to have more than two children.

And some go further than that. "Every single person has multiple impacts on multiple environmental resources," Alan Weisman was quoted as saying the NYT this week. The author of The World Without Us, a book which advocates a one-child policy to return the world to early 20th century population levels, says, "It's a no-brainer that the more people there are, the more stress there is on an ecosystem that doesn't get any bigger."

So, both Suleman and Jolie have polar bear blood on their hands. But still, if we're talking about footprint, a large family of modest means consumes fewer resources than a large family in which the children are regularly taxied between mansions on different continents aboard private jets.

So, why has Jolie ostensibly created the Garden of Eden and Suleman the Garden of Evil?

Cha-ching: the money card

I hate to show the pesky money card, but there's nothing left in the deck. According to the new bible of parenting, rich equals good and poor equals bad. Yes, Suleman declared bankruptcy last year. But she says she won't go on welfare, and will continue to accept help from her parents until she can return to work and support her kids herself. Her parents have no plans to evict her. Which means her kids will be fed, clothed and sheltered.

I'm not saying having 14 kids isn't crazy. I'm overwhelmed by the prospect of just one. I'm just saying the reasons for the insanity diagnosis seem a little shaky since similar public examinations and interventions aren't being done on the world's most famous over-breeder.

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