I have a new intellectual crush on LA Times TV critic Mary McNamara. She’s a feminist who’s not afraid to bring the sass and the cheek like a blogger. Check out the analysis she published today, inspired by her irritation at two television shows, Homeland and Jane the Virgin, headlined “The Tyranny of Maternity on TV.”
Although two very different shows with different audiences, “they share a troubling and unexpected theme: Socially Enforced Motherhood.” In other words, “despite their contrasting tone, form and intent, both shows insist that, deep down, every woman wants a child no matter the conditions, even when the woman in question has made it very clear that she does not feel this way at all.”
First, we have Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes,
For months, she denied the existence of the pregnancy, and then did not abort due mostly to psychological inertia and the writers’ need for her to have something nice to tell Brody just before his death. But Carrie never wanted the baby and, in fact, planned to put him or her up for adoption, a decision that shocked her sister, who then convinced her not to do this.
The same sister who, at the opening of Season 4, expressed intense frustration over the fact that Carrie still doesn’t want to be a mother. “You bring a child into this world, you take responsibility,” she says in the premiere, referring to the child Carrie, you know, wanted to put up for adoption. “There isn’t even a diagnosis for what’s wrong with you,” she adds, when Carrie fails to bond with baby Franny.
Yes, there is, it’s called Not Wanting to Have a Child. Something that might have been synonymous with insanity during the Inquisition but should not be so now.
Not that anyone told the writers, who could not resist throwing in a tempest-provoking scene in which Carrie contemplated drowning the baby. See? Insane.
The premise for Jane the Virgin is even more nonsensical:
“Jane the Virgin” opened Monday on the CW with a young woman so determined to avoid an unplanned pregnancy that she has remained a virgin into her 20s. At which point she is accidentally impregnated by a relationship-preoccupied OB/GYN! Hahahahahaha. A pregnant virgin!
So funny. Almost as funny as the social and personal fallout of actual “accidents” at fertility clinics, which dominate the news even as “Jane the Virgin” premiered.
But it’s OK because the show is based on a popular telenovela, which means billboards wink and TV characters come to life, so all those humor-challenged feminists can just back off: This is just a “fairy tale,” and we know fairy tales have never been used to dictate social mores or control behavior.
Jane must decide to have this baby because otherwise there is no show. So this tragic accident/instance of heinous medical malpractice is presented as a Huge Gift, a corrective to her previous plan of, you know, establishing a career and generally controlling her own life.
In sum, “there are so many things wrong with this scenario, it’s hard to know where to begin. First when did adoption become an evil to be avoided at all costs? (“Dear Adopted Kids: Sorry! Love, TV.”) Second, when did having a child under any circumstance become the most important and precious thing a woman could do?”
But here’s the best part. She refuses to mobilize her own motherhood in defense of her analysis:
A mother myself, I understand … wait, you know what? Never mind. The fact that I feel the need to use my own choices to establish legitimacy just proves my point. In a world teeming with overpopulation issues, too many of us still view women who don’t want to have children as broken and/or misguided.
They must hate children, have experienced great trauma or be irredeemably selfish; the best-case scenario is that they’re just not aware of how Truly Transcendent parenthood is and What They Will Miss if they don’t experience it themselves.
Busy day, gotta fly, but read the whole thing and have at it in the comments, especially if you’ve actually watched these shows (and I have not!)