There will be spoilers.
I love feminist science fiction and fantasy fandom. I am part of feminist science fiction and fantasy fandom. And then I come across something like this in a post titled “I Hate You, Steven Moffat“:
Amy is instead a pale foil, along with bumbling Rory, and, of course, the vessel. Tropes leaning heavily on cis women as incubators are certainly nothing new in science fiction, but that doesn’t mean we should keep using them. What happens to Amy is profoundly dehumanising, at the same time it’s hard to feel affected by it as a viewer because she’s such a paper-thin character to begin with. Her identity, it turns out, is wrapped up around being a mother, a carrier, an object to hold something else.
This also popped up again in the Christmas special, which brought a side of gender essentialism to the trope with a storyline about how women are ‘strong.’ Not to defy stereotypes, of course, but because cis women have uteruses and can bear children, and a mother is the most strong and developed of all because she’s successfully had children. I’m reminded of people pacing around a horse auction, checking out the broodmares, looking for the ones who’ve been proven successful, to find the right one to take home.
Let me let you in on a little secret: Amy Pond isn’t “reduced to a vessel”. She becomes a parent–and she’s hardly alone in that this season.
A vessel is something that is passively filled and passively holds what it has been given. Amy doesn’t do that. She–and Rory–conceive a child. The implication is that it was done on purpose, though perhaps not without some ambivalence. In other words, they’re fairly normal for a young couple who wants children but are on a big adventure.
What happens next is a bit weird, yes, but only if you decide you have to take it literally. A pregnant woman feeling hijacked but trying to ignore it as she goes on with her pre-pregnancy life just isn’t that unusual. Strange people who look at you but don’t see you, institutional settings, lack of control, weird moments that tell you your life is going to change whether you want it to or not–welcome to modern pregnancy.
Is it dehumanizing? Rather, but not because Steven Moffat created the world in which it would be. Instead, he externalized those influences into something we could see without being blinded by our unexamined culture. That is, in fact, what science fiction is supposed to do.
Not only is Amy not some vessel filled by hostile forces, but she’s not even kidnapped because of anything special about her. She’s just like any other pregnant woman, except for one thing. A force of nature has had an unplanned effect on her fetus. Idris is the reason Amy is kidnapped. Idris exerts an influence on the developing Melody that changes all of her parents’ plans.
This, too, is hardly unheard of in real-life parenting. Once again, it’s a common fear externalized and held at a viewable distance.
This last season of Doctor Who is all about parenting, particularly the scary bits. It’s about creating new life that doesn’t conform to our expectations, in circumstances we can’t control, subject to influences we can’t dictate and can only hope to mitigate, with demands we might not be adult enough to handle or that might leave us with no lives of our own to live. There are children we didn’t mean to create, children who are not what they’re supposed to be, children who are hurt and scared and even attacked by their parents, and children we want to love even as we watch them destroy our worlds.
It’s also about it usually working out somehow, even though we feel totally inadequate to the task. Amy and Rory get their daughter back, and they have cozy family times, even if those look nothing like they expected. River is there when things go most wrong to reassure them that it can work out because it has worked out. Madge dredges up resources she didn’t know she had in order to–literally–pull her life back together, being much more than a vessel for aliens. Craig discovers that life doesn’t have to go perfectly in order for him to effectively parent; messing up doesn’t inevitably lead to tragedy.
Oh, yes. This season is as much about fathers as it is about mothers. Captain Henry rearranges his life and the life of his crew for the health of his son. Alex grapples with the fact that he can’t just fix things for George. Reg nearly kills himself trying to fulfill his promise to the kids to be home for Christmas. Rory adopts, protects, and tries to mold a new life form as well as dealing with all of the drama surrounding the birth of his own child. Even The Doctor copes awkwardly with the fact that River’s problems are caused by her being a sort of goddaughter to him. (Put that in your creepy pipe and smoke it.)
For whatever reason, however, none of the fathers provoke this kind of outrage. The mothers do, despite being more positive–and deconstructed–portrayals of motherhood than Jackie Tyler or Sylvia Noble or even Francine Jones, who can’t trust her daughter to figure out her own life and makes a huge mess because of it.
Of course, those mothers don’t demand a space on center stage. They sit in the wings, visited when their daughters feel like it. Center stage is reserved, by some sort of fannish right, for the women who walk away from all their social connections when The Doctor comes calling. They are somehow “independent” for leaving behind all the social resources that make them not solely dependent on The Doctor. (Still got your creepy pipe?) That behavior is considered radical where bringing family along into adventure and coping with the complications as they occur–because family is one of two things you’ve wanted since you were very young and never had–is not.
The fact is that parenthood still occurs with a great deal of frequency in our modern lives. It’s changed since the days that required Madge to be strong enough for many. It’s shared more often. Basics are more automated. We don’t have to chose as much between that and other activities. None of the changes make the outcome less uncertain or requiring less bravery, though. None of that makes it less than very hard work.
Certainly none of that puts it out of bounds for science fictional deconstruction. Once upon a time, externalizing such things as the medicalization of pregnancy would have given Moffat’s stories a spot on lists of feminist science fiction. Instead, the very presence of Amy’s complicated pregnancy as an important plot point is used to argue that she is unimportant and bland. I’m not a mother and don’t want to be, but even I’m insulted by that.
There is a certain amount of reducing Amy to her gender going on here, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t Steven Moffat doing it.