Mystical Pregnancy: Keep Your Tropes Off the Bodies of Female Characters

Mystical pregnancy. I have talked about this particular trope before, but only in conjunction with mpreg fics. This time I want to go into more detail about how harmful this trope is to women, especially since, beyond its popularity in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, this trope is being used more often in recent popular culture.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Mystical Pregnancy trope, watch this video first. Anita explains things better than I ever could.

Okay, so I’m going to disagree with Anita here a little bit about the Virgin Birth, just because I feel the need to educate people about religious things. Mary giving birth to Jesus is hardly the first mystical pregnancy story. In fact, many major religious figures before Jesus were born of a virgin. It goes all the way back to Babylonian, Greek, and Norse mythology.

That being said, even if Mary giving birth to Jesus isn’t the original mystical pregnancy, it is at least the one that most influences the Western world.

I should note I have no trouble with children that have powers or who are the chosen one. Even in religion, if you ask me about sexism in the Bible I won’t list Jesus’s virgin birth as a part of that sexism. I have a lot of issues with how Mary’s image is portrayed in Christian culture and even how that “ideal” was forced on women later (and to this day)—but the actual narrative of Christ’s birth? No, I have no problem with that. Why? Other than the conception, Mary’s pregnancy is natural, the birth is natural, and Jesus ends up being a good person.

But I’m straying into religious dialogue here… sorry, it’s in my nature! Back to pop-culture!

My biggest problem with the mystical pregnancy trope is that no part of the process is natural (usually) and often the woman is either a victim of some terrible monster/alien/whatever, or she herself is evil, and then gives birth to an evil baby of evil! Mwahahaaaa!

Because, you know, women, their natural biological functions and anything involving children must be scary and evil. This trope also portrays men almost constantly as aggressors and occasionally as victims. It also reinforces a general fear of both pregnancy and child rearing.

“But,” you say, “A magical pregnancy/chosen one baby is an interesting storyline and fits really well into the sci-fi/fantasy/horror world.”

Yes, I agree, but the problem is that it is not usually a storyline. It’s usually a one episode thing or if it is a storyline the baby is evil. Again I have no problem with magical kids, but these tropes always makes natural functions look evil and wrong.

Let’s look at shows that have gotten it right.

Charmed had two magical babies. Piper (a witch) and Leo (a Whitelighter) have sex and make a baby. Obviously, the child of an extremely powerful witch and a Whitelighter is going to be magical. Their oldest son even has a storyline where his future self is evil and his younger brother, who is also magical, comes back to stop him from being evil.

The reason I don’t hate this: each time, Piper and Leo have sex the normal natural way. The children are both conceived normally. More than one episode is taken for the pregnancies, showing their natural development on TV. Hooray! Though it still shows magical quirks because of the babies (like instead of craving pickles and ice cream something magical happens), they are otherwise regular pregnancies. The babies grow up normal while still dealing with their magic and the quirks of their day to day life. Even the oldest child possibly being evil actually fits into the plot and makes it not that “he was evil from birth” but instead that various magical forces are trying to influence this powerful kid to get him on their side and he doesn’t go evil.

This shows conception, pregnancy, and child rearing in a natural way, while still having the whimsical magical elements that the fantasy genre loves. The baby is magical, but not inherently evil, and instead is like every other person that has to make a choice between right and wrong.

Once Upon a Time, my new favorite show on television, has pregnancy of the mystical variety in it. Prince Charming and Snow White marry and get pregnant. This baby is destined to save them all from the Wicked Queen’s curse—this baby is the show’s main character, Emma.

The reason I don’t hate this: Snow White and Prince Charming conceive the normal way, Emma’s birth is normal, and Emma, despite being the chosen one, is completely normal. No magic, no nothing—she gets by with her wits and strength. Emma also has her own son Henry. Emma was going through a rough patch when she had Henry and gave him up for adoption. Everything about Henry is normal. He is a normal little boy and he is not the chosen one. The only thing special about him is that he knows about all the fairytale characters. The show even deals with the very real and difficult decision of adoption vs. abortion vs. keeping the baby, and how difficult each choice can be for the people involved.

That is how you do conception, pregnancy, and child rearing on TV. Thank you very much. Charmed and Once Upon a Time do not demonize women, conception, pregnancy, child birth, or child rearing. These shows do not make women and their natural biological functions seem like some sort of evil or scary place designed to destroy the souls of men—like most other shows seem to.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the shows that really have terribly used the Mystical Pregnancy trope in recent pop-culture history.

Well, though it’s not very recent I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up that Charmed isn’t always so great. Phoebe does conceive a baby with Cole, but does not give birth to it because the baby is evil. This story undoes all of the good that Charmed’s other depictions of pregnancy has done. The baby is evil because the father is evil, and because Cole is secretly drugging Phoebe to make the baby more evil. God damn it, so here a man manipulating, abusing, and drugging the women he supposedly loves to create an evil baby. Thanks, Charmed, we really needed a story about men manipulating women through their pregnancy.

A more recent example of this horrible trope can be found in Supernatural. In Season 7, Dean sleeps with a women who ends up being an Amazon, she gives birth, and the baby grows up within a couple of days. The whole episode centers around how the Amazon believe they need no men and use their evil powers to manipulate men, make more Amazons, and then kill the fathers. The children apparently don’t think for themselves either, because no one questions this, blindly following the Amazon leader and killing their fathers. The episode ends with Sam killing Dean’s evil Amazon daughter and the Amazons escaping, allowing the threat to all female fans that they may return in another episode. Again, this episode shows women and their biological functions as being something that is not only weird and unnatural, but dangerous to men. It further takes strong female characters like the Amazons and turns them into evil, emotionless manipulators, because any women that believe they can survive without men are evil.

But the absolute worst Mystical Pregnancy story that I have seen recently is brought to you by American Horror Story. I’m apparently the only one who doesn’t like American Horror Story, but I really just cannot stand this show and one of the main reasons is the Mystical Pregnancy storyline in the first season. Vivian is raped by a ghost in fetish gear, and then gives birth to literally the Anti-Christ. A large amount of the show is spent showing how scary and bad her pregnancy is and how Vivian is constantly manipulated by the ghosts of the house because of this evil baby.

Mystical Pregnancy is so dangerous because it really does attack women at a biological level. If women and their natural biological functions aren’t portrayed as evil, then women are forcefully impregnated and manipulated into giving birth when they don’t want to. The men around them use their pregnancy to control their lives. Throughout history men have tried to control and manipulate women through their bodies. This trope may not be so terrible if the writers of these shows dealt with pregnancy in a way that was accurate, or at least in a way that reflects women’s struggles to have control of their own lives, but often this trope is used to carelessly and pointlessly add drama, or to further a male characters story with no regard to the harm done to women through this trope.

Let me know what you think about the Mystical Pregnancy trope in the comments below.

10 thoughts on “Mystical Pregnancy: Keep Your Tropes Off the Bodies of Female Characters

  1. Well, I think there is a key part missing here from the “mystical pregnancy” thing and oddly enough, it has to do with mysticism. See, it isn’t so much about making women into their “base biological function” or what have you. The fact is that the womb is seen as a portal of sorts. It’s where, at least in spiritual terms, the soul enters the mortal world and gains a physical body. It’s the borderland where the immaterial becomes…material. This has long been recognized as a sacred ability of women, especially back in pagan days of old.

    That’s why monsters/spirits/outside beings/and others so often use the form of “mystical pregnancy” to get into our world, especially in fiction. It’s not a base biological function, but a highly unique spiritual function that is tied into an amazing biological function. Now, one can feel that this is needless and exploitative, but the fact is that mystically speaking, in order to have a being of human or higher intelligence and power come into this world, only a mortal woman will do.

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  6. There is a difference between a mystical pregnancy in the broadest sense and what a Virgin Birth means to Christianity. There were no Virgin Births before Jesus, before Christianity the idea was unheard of.

    BTW, we have ZERO written accounts of Norse Mythology that predate Christianization, Beowulf is literally the oldest thing we have and it refers to Cain and Able.

    • >>There were no Virgin Births before Jesus, before Christianity the idea was unheard of.<>Tales of virgin birth and the impregnation of mortal women by deities were well known in the 1st century Greco-Roman world,[75] and Second Temple Jewish works were also capable of producing accounts of the appearances of angels and miraculous births for ancient heroes such as Melchizedek, Noah, and Moses.[79] Nevertheless, “plausible sources that tell of virgin birth in areas convincingly close to the gospels’ own probable origins have proven extremely hard to demonstrate”.[80] Similarly, while it is widely accepted that there is a connection with Zoroastrian (Persian) sources underlying Luke’s story of the Magi (the Three Wise Men from the East who come to visit the new-born Christ) and the Star of Bethlehem, a wider claim that Zoroastrianism formed the background to the infancy narratives has not achieved acceptance.[80]
      As part of the conflicts between Christians and other groups during the 1st and 2nd centuries, statements were made by both Jews and pagans criticizing the Christian virgin birth narratives.[81] Early Christian, Justin Martyr, countered these arguments in The First Apology of Justin, and in Dialog with Trypho.[82] Perhaps intending to make Jesus’ virgin birth more palatable to non-Christians, Justin argued that “the extraordinary birth of Jesus is something that He has in common with Perseus”.<<

      Also, the idea that Jesus was a virgin birth didn't really become orthodoxy until the second century.

      You might also look at

      ..Because you really missed quite a staggering number of examples!

  7. >>Because, you know, women, their natural biological functions and anything involving children must be scary and evil.<>then women are forcefully impregnated and manipulated into giving birth when they don’t want to.<<

    I'm not really a horror fan, but isn't the genre based on things happening to people that they don't want? Isn't horror about the loss of agency and the struggle to get it back? I don't think anyone wanted to be infected in The Thing or eaten by the shark in Jaws. Again, if you want to make a strong argument this needs to be considered.

    ..The episode of Supernatural you described does sound awful. But that's not because it uses a standard literary tool (inversion) but because it's treatment of the Amazon myth is misandryist in a show that is already very White Guy oriented.

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  9. I actually really like the horror pregnancy trope; I just think more of these stories need to be written by people who actually have uteruses. I understand how the systemic fear of women’s bodies from a male perspective plays into most media which portrays pregnancy as something grotesque. But let’s not forget there are plenty of women who feel that way as well. I’m happy for women who can enjoy pregnancy as something beautiful and natural, but my feeling is that sometimes nature isn’t beautiful at all. It’s a very physically and emotionally taxing process with an agonizing finish, and before modern medicine, there wasn’t even a way for people with uteruses to opt out of it. Rape is still an ever-present threat, and there are lawmakers who seem hell-bent on depriving women control of their bodies. There’s still plenty to reasonably be scared of surrounding pregnancy, and I want art capable of speaking to those anxieties. The problem is that women who are thrust into this trope are often just pawns for the larger plot. I’ve rarely seen a story where the mystical pregnancy trope was applied specifically to explore a woman’s experience of losing control of her body. Forcible impregnation by an alien or a demon or whatever is a trope that really speaks to my experience as a woman and my relationship with my biology, and it kind of sucks that most of the media I’ve found portraying such a thing didn’t seem to actually be written with a female audience in mind. It sucks even more that when seeking out feminist think pieces about the trope, all I can find is across-the-board condemnation of portraying pregnancy as horrifying, and no discussion of how feminists can reclaim the trope.

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