Maternal Instinct

An s2 episode of Battlestar:Galactica, The Farm, got me thinking, and here’s why:

Our heroine, Starbuck, has got herself stuck on a foreign planet. Using her resources, she meets with a group of renegades, only to be taken in battle by what appear to be a kindly hospital team operating on what resources they have.

At one point, a doctor points out that, given the population is at a critical low, the most pressing need is young females with working uterusus.

To which Starbuck says “˜frack you, I’m a fighter pilot’. She loves what she does, she aint trading it in for motherhood, regardless of weather or not humanity is down to its last gasp.

The episode raised interesting issues about the moral obligations of those who control the most needed resources when humanity is in crises. In the same circumstances, do those who are skilled at food production have the right to say “˜frack you, I’m a fighter pilot’? Or does everyone have a moral obligation to buckle down for the greater good of humanity’s survival?

Or is the definition of civilisation that people have the right to say “˜frack you, I’m a fighter pilot’ – go down, all colours flying, and all that?

What interested me about the episode was that BsG were actually in a position to call a moral dilemma: what’s more important, population growth, or women’s rights? They really were down to their last gasp – 50, 000 in the fleet, and less then a million if you rounded up every single survivor on every planet.

Which makes me realise how lame this argument I keep hearing about “˜women are meant to raise babies!’ is. We have a population of six billion and rapidly rising. There is absolutely no reason for women to have kids when they don’t want to. There is no need for population growth; if anything, we need to be looking at population control.

Is this preoccupation with mothers just a patriarchal value? That if women stop being mothers, they’ll start being fighter pilots, lawyers, doctors – every profession that men dominate, those “˜mothers’ can do just as well.

I suppose, if I’d managed to repress half the population competing with me for a millennia, and that half the population just realised they could do anything I did, well, I’d be pretty scared, too”.

Comments

  1. says

    I would definitely watch that episode, because it’s pretty important for later developments in the series.

    Earlier on the show, there was on episode where they debated whether or not birth control should be allowed to be given out anymore. I think they eventually decided it was okay. But it would change the dynamic greatly if some of the women who were in key positions got pregnant – because most of them are in their child bearing years.

    As far as social and moral obligations – I agree with what you’re saying that it’s coming out of left field.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    What bothered me in that episode – or one of the ones after it? – was that they equated her disinterest in having kids with her abusive childhood. They said abused children tend not to want to have kids, for fear they’ll scar someone else the way they themselves were scarred.

    That may be a statistical truth or even a literal one. But women characters are routinely subjected to more of this “back-rationalizing” than male. Why do some men not want to have kids? Well, why would they? Why do some women not want kids? OMG, something horrible must have happened to her! Let’s cure her, and then she’ll want babies!

    Which is nothing to do with your point, really, but the rest of this is.

    With a population of 6 billion, we’re in a fantastic position to leave parenting strictly to those who really want the job and are therefore likely to do well at it. There is absolutely no reason to assume it’s normal for men not to want kids and normal for women to want them – for whatever reason, some people are parent material and others not so much. From what I’ve observed, gender doesn’t make a difference.

    I will say this, though: if the population of Earth dwindled to 50,000 and someone insisted I help out by making babies, the population would dwindle a bit further by the time I was done expressing my disagreement with that plan. This is an extremely personal thing, and people can think it’s selfish if they want, but you know what? Species die out and get replaced. Maybe thinking it matters whether homo sapiens survives is selfish, too. It’s all a matter of perspective.

  3. S. A. Bonasi says

    There is no need for population growth; if anything, we need to be looking at population control.

    Eh…I’m rather uncomfortable with where the second half of that sentence goes. It always seems like when “population control” gets advocated, it’s only for poor women and women of color, ya know?

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Bonasi, it’s true that most of the time discussions of population control end up heading in racist directions (and some start out that way). I’m not sure the principal doesn’t stand despite that, if it’s applied strictly in terms of scientific theory regarding what happens when any animal species overpopulates an area.

    Or am I wrong?

  5. S. A. Bonasi says

    Well, isn’t the issue just as much one of consumption and distribution of resources as it is of strict population numbers?

  6. Gategrrl says

    From the little I understand of the issue, there’s actually *plenty* of food available for the population – but it’s politics and goverments’ behaviors and policies that create famines and so forth.

    And I agree, a lot of the problem has to do with consumption, as Bonasi pointed out.

  7. says

    I still keep wondering at what point Roslin will start mandating pregnancies or not giving out birth control or something, given the situation. (Abortion does get outlawed.) I am terrified for Starbuck at that point.

    Actually, when you think about it, which is more valuable?
    (a) Adult female without flight skills making babies,
    (b) Adult female Viper pilot who isn’t making babies.

    People who can even LEARN to fly Vipers seem to be in short supply even more than women in general are, I think. And they probably die off faster. And can the fleet really afford to have even one female Viper pilot take off for a year of pregnancy and a year of baby care (approximately)?

    I tend to think that if the priority comes down to that, female pilots might be allowed a bit more childfree-dom/birth control than the general population, unless they get injured to the point where they can’t fly any more. I’m surprised the show hasn’t done more with regards to this, but it would also freak out half the audience one way or another if they did. (Plus Ron Moore’s wife has griped that they tend to see things from a male-centric point of view despite themselves, so maybe it hasn’t occurred to them.)

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, my understanding is that the main problem is distribution, not actual shortfalls. And since the reason behind the distribution issues is some people feeling others aren’t entitled to the same amounts, I guess I see where there could be an inherent backdrop of prejudice to any discussion of population control, because to justify the need for population control you have to explain why we aren’t willing to distribute current resources (and convince us that would change if there were fewer people to distribute it among).

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    I cross-posted with Jennifer, so now to address her point:

    I just want to know what the hell society develops spaceships before they develop the artificial womb? I know we’re working on artificial wombs, in which you implant an embryo and it acts as a non-organic surrogate.

    If they had this, then they could take donor eggs and sperm and produce children to be raised by adults who have the time to do it.

    Sorry, it bugs me when sci-fi writers give an advanced society problems that our society is likely to have a solution for in another 50 years. I know you can construct a good reason why they don’t have this ability, but I say “urgh” anyway. ;)

  10. scarlett says

    And can the fleet really afford to have even one female Viper pilot take off for a year of pregnancy and a year of baby care?

    I hadn’t thought of it like that. And it makes my analogy to food production a moot point, because one would think you could spend a lot more time in food production while you were pregnant then you could as a fighter pilot.

    What bothered me in that episode – or one of the ones after it? – was that they equated her disinterest in having kids with her abusive childhood.

    I think this was the one when they first brought it up. There were allusions to it from the begining of s2 when she hangs out with Helo in her old apartment, but that was the first time they came out and say ‘Starbuck was abused’, then contined on that line of thinking for, from what I can gather, the rest of the series so far :(

    I just want to know what the hell society develops spaceships before they develop the artificial womb?

    ‘Coz, duh, then you eliminate the rationale for such a storyline. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was an interesting moral debate – free choice vs obligation to society – but the more I think about it, the more it’s based on some pretty shaky science.

  11. scarlett says

    I’d like to clarify:

    As far as my ‘food production’ reference meant, I meant in terms of BsG – they were a group of spaceships for whom scarcity of food often came up. Bad writer, Scarlett, for not making that clear and allowing the discussion to drift into food production on Earth 2007 :(

    And as far as population control goes, I mean that we, collectively, ought to get our population down and that there is absolutely no reason for us to be promoting population GROWTH. I hear a lot of ‘caucasions will soon be outnumbered so every white person, BREED!’ Yeah, you want kids? Adopt one of those girls from China or India. Not only will it save a living being from suffering, but with any luck, it will mean a generation of people growing up seeing no point in the racial war.

    I personally have a friend who is ‘Koreon’ by decent but raised by ‘white Australian’ parents, and has the healthiest attitude of everyone I know towards, well, as Dr. King put it best, people ‘being judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’.

  12. SunlessNick says

    People who can even LEARN to fly Vipers seem to be in short supply even more than women in general are, I think. And they probably die off faster. And can the fleet really afford to have even one female Viper pilot take off for a year of pregnancy and a year of baby care (approximately)? - Jennifer

    Word. Word. Word. A thousand times, word.

  13. Cher says

    what’s more important, population growth, or women’s rights?

    The question they need to ask (as well as our society as large) is whether or not they want to actively further the creation of a society in which people are reduced to their parts, because after that’s done, what’s to stop that society from judging a person’s parts as worth more than the whole?

    The problem with the cult of the almighty uterus is that it dehumanizes women by reducing them to less than they are, and re-enforces that by saying it’s for the greater good. Once it’s been established that the bodily autonomy of lesser people can and should be compromised in the name of bettering society, then anyone deemed lesser is instantly at the whim of those placed above them be it based on sex, race, or economic standing.

    So whether we have a population of six billion or six thousand isn’t really the issue, the issue is what kind of society we wish to create for those people.

    Yeah, you want kids? Adopt one of those girls from China or India. Not only will it save a living being from suffering, but with any luck, it will mean a generation of people growing up seeing no point in the racial war

    I wouldn’t advocate international adoption in all cases as a means of dealing with global population problems simply because there are far too many cases of adoptees losing their heritage in the interest of “saving” them. Race and racial identity aren’t just stumbling blocks to privilege, they’re important signifiers of culture and they don’t change just because you live in a different country. Nationality doesn’t erase ethnicity and too many well meaning parents fail to realize that.

    Also there are a lot of horror stories of adoption regarding the way the children are obtained and even in cases where children are obtained through legal and moral means, that particular country is still losing members of its population. While that may not be as much of a problem in countries burdened by high populations, it takes an easily discernable toll in others. In some cases international adoption equates to a modern day Middle Passage.

    A better way to help would be working with the indigenous people to improve living conditions in those countries, thereby removing the need for “rescue”.

  14. Legible Susan says

    I came back here because Cher’s comment popped up on the “Comments you haven’t read” list (which is still misbehaving from the change in site structure, by the way). It’s a great thread, but

    modern day Middle Passage

    seems a bit strong to me. Cher, are you saying the children will be abused? Because if it’s about the removal of people, what do you call it when we in the North recruit trained nurses from elsewhere because we’ve neglected to train our own? Not trying to start a fight, that phrase just seems like a heavy weapon to use for this situation.

  15. Legible Susan says

    BetaCandy,
    It seems to be working now. Yay! Whatever you (or somebody) did worked, apparently. Thanks!

    PS I love being able to edit comments after seeing “that didn’t come out right”. Most places I’d have to delete and start again.

  16. Cher says

    For Legible Susan:

    Yes it’s about the removal of people, but also about the welfare of those children. In some cases they are actually stolen from their parents either through coercion, false documentation or a mix of both, and sometimes they are abused. And in all of these cases you must remember that adoption is a multi-million dollar business so there’s much more of an incentive than what’s “best for the child.”

    Recently Russian adoptive agencies have come under investigation for corruption and stricter adoptive procedures are being suggested largely due to the reported murders of 13 adoptees, 12 of which occurred in the U.S. Also Guatelmalan adoptions have been under fire for a while for corruption, criticized for using bribery and coercion to get mothers to give away their children.

    In other cases abuse is emotional, such as treating children like exotic accessories. Just recently there was the case of Jade who was adopted then abondoned by her parents for not “fitting in” after living with them since she was four months old.

    Because if it’s about the removal of people, what do you call it when we in the North recruit trained nurses from elsewhere because we’ve neglected to train our own?

    I don’t know what you mean by North, so I’ll assume U.S. or Canada, but correct me if I’m wrong. There is no comparison between between an adult choosing to move somewhere with with better job opportunities and a child being taken with little or no choice to another country to live with strangers. Strangers who may or may not trouble themselves to learn her ethnic language, try to give her a solid background in her heritage, or even acknowledge that such conflicts might arise.

    Although I acknowledge that there are probably plenty of happy international/interracial adoptees who love their new parents and famillies, there are also plenty who suffer in silence or whose lives are marked by tragedy.

  17. Legible Susan says

    For Cher:

    Ah, now I see what you were getting at. I thought

    still losing members of its population

    was more central to your point than it apparently is, and responded to that.

    By “North”, I mean the part of the world that calls itself the “West”. Here in Britain, the NHS was notoriously underfunded under the previous government, so we have a shortage of nurses, so trained nurses are imported from the global South (a.k.a. “third world”) because it’s easier to deprive places that have extremely low levels of medical professionals of theirs, than to train British (/European/etc.) nurses and then pay them enough to keep them in the profession. The individuals recruited from abroad come here because they expect to make a good living and send money home to their families, and they might even be right, but they aren’t putting their skills to work at home where they’re needed.

    This has wandered off topic a bit …

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