“Must…Have…Baby!” TV/Film Myth #2 about Women

All women feel at least some urge to have babies at some point.

I’d speculate that most people want to have kids at some point – men and women. And that’s even taking into account the vast numbers of people who probably really don’t want kids, but have been brainwashed into thinking they do, because… well, let’s face it. From birth, people tell you how someday you’ll have kids of your own, and they’ll misbehave as badly as you. And the pressure only goes up from there.

For girls, it’s worse. We’re given baby dolls that leak bodily fluids at both ends. We’re expected to babysit. And probably half the people a female meets in her lifetime will assume without question that she has maternal instincts. No amount of plant killing or domestic squallor can convince them otherwise: it’ll all be different once you have a baby of your own. The idea seems to be that if you’re equipped to have a child, you must therefore also carry the desire to have one.

Just like all tall people want to be basketball players. See? Life really is simple if you just don’t think!

In the real world, I do suspect most people want to have kids. But not everyone. And what’s weird is that, when it comes to men, TV and film are happy to show both sides – men who want kids, and men who don’t. And there’s nothing automatically wrong with men who don’t. But when it comes to women, you can just bet that if a character says she doesn’t particularly want kids, her “story arc” will be to realize how deeply unfulfilled she is without someone to care for.

It seems a man can be fulfilled by a heroic quest. By contributing to a better world through that quest, or an artistic quest, or a spiritual quest. But a woman who’s never had kids is portrayed as a bit tragic, no matter how fulfilling her life actually was. Imagine the story of Gandhi being punctuated by, “And yet, he was destined never to know the joy of owning his own taco stand”. I mean… yeah? So? Did he want a taco stand, and they just forgot to mention that part?

Oh, no. No, it’s just you know… he’s a man. All men want taco stands.

That’s pretty much the logic applied to women. Even TV documentaries of accomplished women pander to this attitude. I always find myself questioning, “Did she feel she was missing out on this? Did she care?” The question almost always goes unanswered.

There’s one deviation I can think of from this pattern, that I recall: Chris Cagney on Cagney and Lacey. There was an episode where Cagney realized she was close to the end of her childbearing years, so she gave due consideration to the possibility that she was missing out on something by not having a child. In the end, she confided to her partner that she just didn’t feel she was missing anything. That maybe something was wrong with her, but she simply didn’t feel it was fair to bring a life into the world on the off-chance that she might later regret missing out. Her partner – happily married with two (perhaps three by that time?) kids – responded that there was nothing wrong with not wanting a child, and agreed that it would be selfish to have one just because she felt pressure from society or her biological clock.

Other than that, the prevailing image of childless women on TV and film is that there’s something wrong or lacking in them. That they’re either unfortunate, or they’re cold and unfeeling. Childless men, however… well, they can be almost anything, can’t they?

Comments

  1. Chloe says

    I’ve been a fan of Hathor since I discovered it sometime last year!
    Just wanted to point out a minor thing I noticed – it’s Gandhi not Ghandi (unless we’re not referring to Mahatma Gandhi and I misinterpreted, in which case, my apologies!)

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