Rachael Ray and the mother of annoying questions

The multimillionaire and talk show host has no kids, but (gasp) is she missing something?

Published March 10, 2009 3:10PM (EDT)

I am no great defender of Rachael Ray, 30-minute peddler of EVOO and perpetual pep, but I was pretty aghast this weekend, when I finally sat down to watch a (week-old) clip of last Monday's "Nightline," in which ABC journalist Cynthia McFadden sat down with the talk-show host and convenient cook to talk about her life and empire. The interview had made some news last week when, in it, Ray defended her choice to pose in coyly provocative outfits for FHM, telling McFadden that though the photo shoot had horrified her mother, she remained proud of it, because she was not part of the magazine's roster of usual-suspect teenagers "in hottie bikinis," nor was she an actress, model or pin-up girl. Ray said that she chose to do the shoot because she thought it sent a good message to everywomen everywhere.

But that wasn't the part of the Ray segment that caught my eye. Instead, it was the interview's turn toward the domestic, in which McFadden shows the television star playing with her pit bull, described as "the light of her life," and planning dinner with her husband. "You have said famously that you're too busy for children," said McFadden.

"I'm not too busy for children in general," replied Ray. "I love working with them, I love hanging out with them, I love cooking with them. I think that I'm 40 years old, and I have an enormous amount of hours that have to be dedicated to work. For me personally, I would need more time to feel like I'd be a good mom to my own child. I feel like a borderline good mom to my dog. So I can't imagine if it was a human baby. Plus I also literally don't think ... I can't imagine anybody giving me three or six months off to go physically have a child and take even a baby break. There is too much momentum and I feel like it would be unfair, not only to the child but to the people I work with."

This sounded to me like an extremely full answer to McFadden's question -- one that probably wouldn't be asked of a man, but which is certainly fair to ask of a television host who specializes in the domestic arts. But McFadden's follow up was kind of beyond the pale: "Do you think you're missing something?"

What? Didn't you hear the lady say she has so much work and so many commitments that she doesn't have time or inclination to add motherhood to her list of responsibilities? Didn't you catch the part where she said that she likes kids but doesn't want them enough to clear space for them? What about her priorities to her colleagues, and her open and unapologetic evaluation of the limited energy she could spend on motherhood? If she felt like something was missing that she needed to add, does Rachael Ray strike you as the kind of retiring violet who would sit silently and suffer in her muted desire for babies? And also, what of this "Are you missing something?" question. Why is that only asked about children, or sometimes to single people about whether or not they long for romantic partners? Why doesn't anyone ever ask the married mothers who don't run media empires if they feel like they're missing something? Isn't everyone always "missing" "something" -- a friend or a partner or a parent or a child or a job or a hobby or a savings account or a sense of security or an extra hour in the day or a soul?

In any case, Ray dismissed the question with a quick sentence, telling McFadden, "I don't feel like I am. I really don't." And for what it's worth, and no matter my frequent gripes about her, to Ray's credit, she also gave a really classy answer to questions about her harshest critics, saying that for the most part, they're spot-on with their barbs. "I have a ridiculous voice," she said. "I don't make my own pierogies. They're all right."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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