For most of my life, I’ve made it clear that the very last thing I want in life is to get pregnant, give birth, and have kids. Yet throughout the way, a lot of people insisted that I’d change my mind, that I’d be a good mother, ask “don’t you want to get pregnant? it’s great!” and just generally be disappointed. But I made up my mind. I want to be free to be a successful woman who can focus on my own problems and responsibilities.
Too bad Hollywood doesn’t think that.
While it’s a little different for animated family films that focus more on budding romances, a lot of live action movies and shows seem to reinforce the idea of motherhood (specifically being a mother to your own children) as THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for any woman.
To name some examples off the top of my head, Black Widow feels worthless and ‘like a monster’ because she was made infertile. Not because her body was violated, but because ‘oh no I can never have any kids’. Even though Natasha never seemed like the motherly type, and she keeps bouncing between potential love interests (which would indicate she’s in no way ready to settle down).
The Bride from Kill Bill decides to stop being a mercenary and live a more peaceful live in the name of her unborn child, and the catalyst of the plot relies heavily on avenging the child she thought died in utero.
In The Girl on the Train, all the main women’s lives revolve around the ability to give birth. Rachel feels worthless and her marriage crumbles because she can’t get pregnant, and Megan decides to keep a baby that she had in an affair in order to ‘take responsibility’ after what happened to her last baby (even though not having the baby is also a responsible decision, and the movie makes it clear she’s not exactly the type of person you’d want to leave babies with).
Teen movies also reinforce this. In the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads, one of the main characters is a pregnant teenage girl who is going to give her baby up for adoption. When she loses the baby in a miscarriage, she is upset because she was planning on keeping it. Kind of a bad message to be sending to your teenage audience!
Family and children’s movies don’t focus on potential mothers (because what kid would want to see a movie about that), though there are occasions where this message does slip in. For example, at the end of Treasure Planet, Captain Amelia married Doctor Delbert and has not one but FOUR children with him. Not only is that incredibly sappy, but it doesn’t really fit Amelia’s character. But considering how Amelia gets injured and dependent on a man in the third act as a way to become softer and kinder, maybe it does fit!
And of course, in a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural films and shows, female characters often get pregnant (violated, really) with unholy demon spawn. Instead of, you know, aborting it, the female character just takes it. In The X-Files, Scully gets impregnated with alien spawn, gives birth to a daughter, and instead of feeling angry or hurt that she was made into a brood mare without her consent and almost died because of it, she feels a motherly attachment to her offspring. And of course, when she does grow to love her child, the child dies. She has another child with Mulder, she can’t keep it. So, you’re going to make this woman pregnant not once but TWICE, reinforce her as someone who wants to be a mother, and takes it away from her.
And of course, there’s the infamous Twilight installment(s), Breaking Dawn. Bella gets pregnant through impossible means and her fetus ends up literally draining the life out of her, but she’s still adamant about keeping the baby even though her entire family begs her not to because, hey, she’s a living, breathing human, she matters more than an unholy fetus. When she gives birth in a very graphic scene, she actually does die. It sort of works out in the end because now Bella is a vampire and married to Edward and has a domestic family and blah blah blah, but still…who the fuck wrote, directed, and edited this shit without throwing up? Why did this need to happen? Why did Bella need a child with Edward (when a child with Jacob would’ve been more interesting and probably less creepy and wouldn’t kill her)? Why did she have to become a vampire without her knowledge or consent? Gross, gross, gross.
This is just a handful of ways media reinforces the idea that somehow every single woman, even strong, independent women, all really want to be mothers, and that in a lot of cases, their worth or character development hinges on the ability to have children. Adoption is rarely brought up and abortion is only used in dramatic, negative situations (see the above Twilight example). We live in a world where reproductive rights are constantly contested and not always guaranteed due to unscientific, religious, patriarchal beliefs that a potential person matters more than an actual, existing pregnant person, and where women’s sexuality and sex lives are constantly scrutinized.
I want more stories that say it’s okay to not want to be a mother. Where it’s okay to not have to remain pregnant or keep a child. Where, if they DO want to be mothers but can’t, they can go out and adopt a child. I want women (and anyone who can get pregnant, really) to be told that they don’t HAVE to get pregnant, give birth, and raise a child in order to be important or valid. Don’t make them suddenly maternal for plot or character development reasons. Show them happy, successful, and childless and don’t make it look like a bad thing. Motherhood should be an option for women who really and truly want it, not something that must be a requirement for a woman’s worth.