How I Met Your Mother and Whitney demonstrate the culture’s mixed feelings on a babyless life

Just a few weeks ago, New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley observed that there’s “a babying boom on television.” Prime time, she said, has an “unquenchable fascination with parenting.” Her colleague Neil Genzlinger riffed on the “harrowing” depictions of birth in six different current shows. No matter how much screaming and swearing went on in those birthing scenes, the message on television still remains: Having a kid is a pivotal, perhaps necessary landmark in a woman’s life.

This message was driven home this week by the way two prime-time shows—How I Met Your Mother and Whitney—dealt with female characters who say they don’t want children. While this may be an uncommon choice on an American sitcom, it’s of course not an uncommon choice in America; the share of American women who don’t have kids has doubled since 1976. But neither of these characters—Robin (Cobie Smulders) on HIMYM and the titular Whitney (Whitney Cummings, also the show’s creator)—was allowed to fully embrace her desire not to have kids. Though Robin’s conflicted feelings about baby-rearing were treated in a much more enlightened way, it’s telling that on both shows, the characters who don’t want babies are women who like shooting guns and talking dirty, but who are grossed out by feelings. These shows are implicitly saying: Of course only a woman who’s not really feminine wouldn’t want to be a mom.

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