The Outlander actor attended a panel with her co-star Sam Heughan this week and immediately social media was flooded with people asking if she was pregnant. Her response perfectly sums up why this question is never acceptable.
Let’s do a quick poll, shall we?
When is it OK to ask if a woman is pregnant? It’s a trick question, actually. Because it’s never OK. Speculation as to whether or not a woman is pregnant is insensitive and uncalled for. A woman’s reproductive status is entirely her own business, and there are a myriad of reasons why she might, or might not, have children or even be thinking about having them. And to ask impertinent questions about whether or not a woman is pregnant is reduce a woman to the literal sum of her reproductive parts.
That’s what happened to Caitriona Balfe, the star of Outlander this week. The actor was at an event promoting the forthcoming fifth season of the show with her co-star Sam Heughan. After sharing a picture of herself, Heughan and, erm, 50-Cent to Twitter, Balfe says that she was inundated with comments from fans asking if she was pregnant.
“Cait are you going to be mom?” one fan wrote. “The photo looks like it betrays your pregnancy. If so, congratulations!!!”
Balfe responded swiftly with a tweet that perfectly encapsulates the problem with this line of speculation. “To all those who think it’s appropriate to ask,” she wrote, “No, I’m not pregnant. Just having my period and was bloated… So yeah… Thanks for asking. Not really. Not all stomachs are washboards.”
Balfe is right, of course. It’s not appropriate to ask whether a woman is pregnant. But it’s also not OK to think that the only non-pregnant stomach is a “washboard” one, as she pointed out. It’s 2019. Surely we can agree on the fact that women’s bodies come in all shapes and sizes?
But what’s more, this endless pregnancy obsession and speculation has to end, because it reinforces the toxic narrative that women only exist for one purpose. By remarking on whether or not a woman is pregnant, it suggests that her only function in this world is to make babies. Forget acting in a beloved television series watched by tens of millions of people around the world, forget the film roles in forthcoming movies like Ford vs Ferrari, forget the charity work… If these pregnancy diviners are to believed, Balfe’s sense of worth and value is entirely derived from her reproductive status.
She’s not the first person to fall foul of the vicious pregnancy rumour mill. The same treatment has been given to everyone from Meghan Markle to Princess Eugenie and Jennifer Aniston, who perfectly summed up how damaging this line of questioning really is in a blistering essay on the subject.
“The sheer amount of resources being spent by press trying to simply uncover whether or not [a celebrity is] pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful or unhappy if they’re not married with children.”
She continued: “We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child. We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone. Let’s make that decision for ourselves and for the young women in this world who look to us as examples. Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise. We don’t need to be married or mothers to be complete. We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves.”
Many fans rushed to Balfe’s defence, pointing out that those asking her whether or not she was pregnant were “wildly inappropriate”. “I despair that women still have to deal with this,” one fan wrote on Twitter. “I can’t believe how people are so obtrusive, rude and bad manners,” wrote another. “Repeat after me,” another added, “Whatever Caitriona Marie Balfe does with her private life is none of anyone’s business but Caitriona Marie Balfe’s.”
Others added their own selfies on social media using the hashtag #Notallstomachsarewashboards.
“Not flat, not pregnant, not your business,” one Twitter user wrote. Another said: “As someone who has never been small and has quite regularly been asked if I’m pregnant, Caitriona Balfe’s post today really struck a chord with me. Stop the body shaming… no matter what shape or size.” Currently, the hashtag has hundreds of posts, shares and retweets.
Balfe’s message is being heard loud and clear. Not all stomachs are washboards. A woman is so much more than the sum of her parts. And the only time that it is appropriate to ask if a woman is pregnant is never.
Images: Getty, Starz