[Trigger warning: discussion of pregnancy, abortion, pictures from horror movies, mention of suicide]
After my rant against the Manic Pixie Dream Girl being perceived as an evil to ban from all culture forever while avoiding to think of the issue of representation of women with mental health issues in films, which proved suspiciously popular, I decided to write my own defence of the Mystical Pregnancy trope, which was also popularized by a Feminist Frequency video. Despite the fact I have, at least in both these instances, different views, I want to make clear that I still recommend that series of videos which are accessible and thought-provoking. Sadly enough, I find them also, in some cases, too consensual and superficial. The mystical pregnancy trope is summarized very eloquently by a blogger in these terms:
“Hey we’ve got this awesome independent strong lady character what sort of story lines shall we give her?”
“Oh I know, how about we strip her of her bodily autonomy and reduce her to her biology by having the bad guys make her pregnant against her will with an evil baby”
“Genius! I can’t see any problems with that story line. It doesn’t sound hackneyed and hugely misogynistic at all!”
The problem I have with “banning” such storylines is that, like many women, I see myself as, or at least I aspire to be a strong woman; like many women, I have become pregnant against my will (although fortunately not by a bad guy or, I suppose, with a particularly evil baby) and I definitely felt stripped of my bodily autonomy and reduced to my biology. I am glad sci-fi and horror exist to show us an image of pregnancy that is not the happy pregnant woman, or the woman that discovers in the end pregnancy is not that bad, even if she does not want to be a mother (thinking of Juno here, which I like for other reasons, but not the idea that pregnancy can be fun and quirky after all), or, more generally, the woman whose pregnancy changes and defines her whole life, and that’s why Deanna Troi’s adventure does not bother me so much. I actually like the “oh yeah, she got pregnant, got a weird kid that disappeared mysteriously, well that’s never going to be mentioned ever again because who cares, she has other issues” aspect of it!
Since I was young, I have always likened the prospect of ever being pregnant with what you can see in the Alien movies, and if I am such a fan of those movies (yes, all of them, even whichever one you feel is a betrayal of the franchise) and along with them, of many of the stories cited in lists of supposedly anti-feminist stories based around the mystical pregnancy trope, it is because I feel they address my own anxieties about pregnancy, body-changes, reproduction and motherhood, more accurately than other attempts to portray these issues in media.
In the same way, I found David Cronenberg’s The Brood fascinating, despite the fact that it can easily be seen to have a Men’s Rights’ Activist subtext, especially when we consider it is a Canadian movie made 10 years before the Polytechnic massacre.
What society in general tells me is that I am an abnormal woman, or less than a woman, to have no desire to be pregnant, have a child or be a mother, and a whole branch of Feminism reinforces that. I am the monster, when what I feel is that pregnancy and babies are monstrous. I have never found a doctor that believes that not wanting a child ever is possible for a woman. A GP actually gave me some information about what is practically grief-counselling when I planned my abortion, and mentioned that I would “not be human” if I did not feel some kind of remorse. Well-meaning, but really confusing to me. And the half-amused “oh, you will see, you’ll come round!” is in many ways a lot more insulting than accusations of being monstrous as it is basically considering me as a child.
Being pregnant made me physically and mentally sick, it was a horrible experience which I do not recommend to anyone. I really wish my body had had a way to “shut the whole thing down” and maybe in some psychosomatic way it was trying its best. During that period, I went to see Prometheus at the cinema. In this film, skip this if you are a spoiler-hater, the protagonist performs a surgical abortion (ceasarean?) on herself to extract the monster gestating in her. At which point my friend turned to me to enquire if I was okay or wanted to leave. But I found it AWESOME. It depicted exactly my state of mind at the time, and I think that is the major reason why I am almost the only person who actually enjoyed that film. Later, we discussed the numerous things which do not make sense in that film, and he listed the fact that she has to self-operate on herself, as the surgery machine does not have software for female body-types. It is true that it would make logical sense that the machine would either only work on one particular body, or all, although justifications can be found. However, the real justification for that detail, and the reason why I strongly appreciated it, has to do with the fact it addresses, in a single sentence, powerful issues about bodies, medicine and gender.
I believe that if our society puts such an emphasis on how awesome pregnancy and babies are, it is not only because of woman-hating patriarchy, it is also to try and avoid women whose pregnancy make them feel like I did (like you are no longer yourself, like your body is not yours, etc.) killing themselves. Now that safer ways exist to end a pregnancy, though, this cultural insistence has obviously lost this positive role. But if we still fight for abortions’ rights, when no abortion procedure is entirely safe, when we don’t believe that DNA is something anyone can ‘own’, or that parenthood is in any way based on it, and adoption is an available option, then we have to recognize that pregnancy in itself can be a cause of intense suffering to women.
If the mystical pregnancy trope exists and is so popular, it is in my opinion because a lot of women, whether they intend to get pregnant or not, whether they decide to be mothers or not when they are, have deep, complex feelings about pregnancy, and sci-fi and horror is a space in which to address those feelings, while putting aside what is perceived like more “normal” issues surrounding pregnancy.