And yes, obviously it’s a bad idea to get pregnant if you are on TV at the moment of conception… but what I want to talk about here is how when female characters on TV shows get pregnant, things tend to go badly for them, in ways that seem influenced by misogyny and a fear of women’s bodies.
I just discovered a brilliant Youtube series called Tropes Vs. Women, about how TV and movie themes depict women in very stereotypical and sexist ways. My favorite so far is about “The Mystical Pregnancy,” which is when “writers use to create drama and terror by invading, violating and exploiting women’s reproductive capabilities. Often these female characters have their ovaries harvested by aliens or serve as human incubators for demon spawn. Sometimes they are carrying the Messiah and other times Satan himself.”
It sounds creepy, but it’s surprisingly common in TV and movies. And even though a lot of the examples discussed do not come from TV that is set in the real here-and-now world, the ways in which pregnancies are depicted are strongly patterned, and are clearly in a relationship with the real here-and-now world. As the author points out, women’s reproductive rights are under attack in the real world, and in the fictional worlds, we also see women’s bodies under attack: graphically degraded, violated, punished for having wombs.
I feel as though pregnancy is already scary enough, without having to see possibly triggering and traumatic images of women’s bodies being taken over, used, and tortured. However, I think this tendency in the media dovetails with a more general tendency in contemporary American culture, which pathologizes women’s bodies. For example, you go to the hospital when you’re sick or injured… or pregnant, which apparently counts as a sickness or injury? I’m aware that hospitals and doctors have contributed to the increasing safety of the birth experience, but it wasn’t always that way: doctors didn’t always know what they were doing (which in decades past included rendering women unconscious during the entire birth procedure!), and sometimes medical procedures that are unnecessary or even harmful are administered to women giving birth. For more on the medicalization and pathologization of women’s pregnant bodies, I recommend the works of folklorist/anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd.
So next time you see a “mystical pregnancy” in movies or TV, ask yourself if it’s really necessary for the plot, or if women’s bodies are once more being used as a vehicle to tell the kinds of stories that reinforce sexist stereotypes.
Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.