This is the fifth of a six part series created for Bitch Magazine. Tropes vs. Women explores the reoccurring stories, themes and representations of women in Hollywood films and TV shows.
The Mystical Pregnancy is a trope 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.
Special thanks to Laura Shapiro for her wealth of fannish knowledge and invaluable help with research on this video.
Related Links and Articles:
- Check out Laura Shapiro’s vid about the Mystical Pregnancy called Stay Awake (and you can read my review on her vid at Political Remix Video)
- Pregnancy at the FanLore wiki
- While there is no Mystical Pregnancy entry at tvtropes (*hint hint*) there is FetusTrouble and ExpressDelivery
- The Dangers of Mystical Pregnancy as Entertainment by Crystal Coleman at Persephone Magazine
- Visit Naral to learn about reproductive rights and abortion legislation happening in your state and watch nineteenpercent’s excellent video about Planned Parenthood.
** This video is available to be translated into other languages by volunteers like you. Please visit the subtitling page on Universal Subtitles and click TRANSLATE to get started.
A trope is a common pattern in a story or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. A trope becomes a cliche when it’s overused. Sadly, some of these tropes often perpetuate offensive stereotypes.
One thing I love about speculative fiction is its ability to explore difficult topics. Because of it’s separation from our current timeframe, they can comment on socio-economic and cultural issues in really engaging and interesting ways. But one thing that I’ve learned from watching a lot of science fiction and fantasy television is you never, ever want to get pregnant on TV.
Some of the our most celebrated female characters come out of the sci-fi genre but it’s not all sunshine and roses. It’s common practice for Hollywood writers to have their female characters become pregnant at some point in their TV series. These story lines are almost always built around women who have their ovaries harvested by aliens or serve as human incubators for demon spawn – basically the characters are reduced to their biological functions.
I’m sure you’ve seen this trope many times before. Remember back in the mid 90’s on the X-Files when FBI Agent Dana Scully found herself abducted and forcibly impregnated – which, of course, later culminated in a hybrid human-alien child. More recently on the second season of BSG, Starbuck had her ovaries harvested by the cylons in an attempt to create human-cylon embryos.
Then we have Gwen Cooper, co-star of the Doctor Who spin off Torchwood, who is bitten by an alien one night and the next morning she wakes up to find herself extremely pregnant with the aliens’ spawn.
This trope was inflicted on Cordelia from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin off show Angel… not once but twice! Vala in Stargate SG-1 is forcibly impregnated and she is made to birth a rapidly aging child thing.
Clip: Stargate SG-1 “Flesh and Blood”
Child “Hello Mother”
Vala “I heard that children grow up quickly but this is ridiculous”
Xena and Gabrielle both have baby troubles of the mystical variety at different times in Xena: Warrior Princess. On the show Fringe, Olivia’s alternate reality doppleganger Faux-livia, finds herself at the center of a kidnapping conspiracy to accelerate her pregnancy in order to extract the blood of her newborn baby which will power a doomsday device.
Deanna Troi from Star Trek the Next Generation is perhaps the quintessential example of the mystical impregnation trope as her character’s body and mind are regularly occupied, borrowed, violated and invaded by alien beings. During Season 2 in the episode “The Child” Counsellor Troi is impregnated with a rapidly aging alien fetus by a flying ball of “space” energy. Imagine finding out you’re pregnant, giving birth 36 hours later, raising the child within a day and then it dies, or in this case vanishes. We don’t see Troi dealing with the long term emotional ramifications of such a traumatic event and the experience is never mentioned again throughout the series.
And my apologies in advance to my more religious viewers because we really can’t forget about the original Mystical Pregnancy narrative… The Immaculate Conception. As the story goes, an all powerful being descended from the heavens and impregnated a young woman with the Chosen One destined to save Earth and the souls of humanity.
It’s almost an unwritten rule that at some point during a science fiction or fantasy show, the writers will inseminate their female leads with some sort of ghastly pregnancy experience. The mystical pregnancy is one of the plot devices that I loathe the most because while other tropes represent women in stereotypical ways, this one hits us on a biological level. Yes some of us are physically capable of having babies but no that does not mean you get to take advantage of, and abuse, that for the sake of your story.
Fanvidder, Laura Shapiro calls the Mystical Pregnancy a type of reproductive terrorism because it makes becoming pregnant seem disgusting, frightening and nightmarish. Laura goes on to say, “The problem from my point of view is that pregnancy and birth are natural processes that are being distorted into torture porn, ways of punishing women and exploiting their terror to up the dramatic stakes.”
This trope can’t just be brushed off as “just entertainment.” Human beings since the beginnings of the verbal storytelling, used narratives to understand ourselves and the world around us. When we hear a story repeated enough times it can affect the way we think about reality. The Mystical Pregnancy is just another sexist narrative that exploits women for being “female”.
These stories are especially striking at this point in American history because women’s reproductive rights, which have always been threatened are currently under vicious attack by conservative and religious groups. Some states are trying to pass legislation that will criminalize miscarriages or make abortion procedures so strict and complicated that it renders them nearly impossible. Planned Parenthood is even in danger of being defunded through direct ideological attacks on women’s ability to control what happens to their own bodies.
So, all you Hollywood writers, you should all feel real guilty right about now for continually using the tired old Mystical Pregnancy trope to violate and degrade women’s bodies on television.
I sincerely hope that after this lesson you will stop terrorizing female characters with the magical-demon-impregnation-from-space-story-lines. You know, maybe you should just stop writing pregnancy altogether until you can do it with some respect and dignity and with the appropriate amount of emotional impact.
I’d love to see a show set in some dystopian future that deals with issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights as the core plot line, not just as some throwaway episode or for dramatic effect.
Pregnancy is not a “here one week, gone the next” kind of a thing, and it seems as though Hollywood might need to be reminded of that fact.
Now check out a clip of Laura Shapiro’s fanvid “Stay Awake” about the Mystical Pregnancy and be sure to click on the link so you can watch the whole thing.
Clip: “Stay Awake”
“Though the world is fast asleep
Though your pillow’s soft and deep
You’re not sleepy as you seem
Stay awake, don’t nod and dream”