I recently started watching Torchwood for the first time, and I’m in love with the show. Unfortunately, I’m currently stuck in the second season, and I’m hesitant about continuing. Why, you may ask? Well, because the very next episode involves a mystical pregnancy, and that is one trope I have a hard time suffering through.
Trigger warning for brief mention of body horror.
We’ve talked about the Mystical Pregnancy trope before, and it should come as no surprise that we find it both sexist and horrific. The Mystical Pregnancy trope normally involves a female character who is impregnated against her will. Or, alternatively, if she does consent to the sex, the baby for some reason or another will be evil and/or dangerous to her health. Regardless of how and why the pregnancy occurs, the baby will definitely be unique by either being a scientific impossibility or by being exceedingly magical.
But what makes this trope so bad is that it turns cis women’s bodies into a thing of horror. It literally reduces a character down to her reproductive functions. As Lady Geek Girl put it:
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.
More often than not, this trope is used as a one-time thing—appearing in either one chapter or one episode of a story, and the victimized women in question appear to suffer little to no long-lasting trauma from the pregnancy. This goes to show a fundamental misunderstanding of women and their rights. No woman would simply move on after having experienced such a violation, yet that is what we see over and over again.
Let’s look at Charmed. At one point, Phoebe ends up pregnant with Cole’s baby. She consented to the sex, and the two were excited about the new addition in their life. Unfortunately, Charmed seems to operate on the belief that good and evil is genetic. Despite Phoebe supposedly being a paragon of good, Cole’s evilness is the more dominant trait, and therefore the baby is evil. Later on, her pregnancy is stolen by a sorceress—the sorceress uses a spell to remove the baby from Phoebe’s womb and put it in her own—and though Phoebe is upset for a little bit afterward, she ultimately just writes the incident off, and says one of the most senseless lines in the show. Paraphrasing:
It was always her baby, not mine.
No, this is a baby that Phoebe and Cole both wanted and actively tried to have. But the show then turns this around and makes the child inherently evil—even though the child is still in utero and there’s no way to actually know it’s evil—and then somehow also expects us to believe that Phoebe is glad someone stole it from her.
Sadly, other shows are worse than Charmed in this regard. Though
Charmed spent a good couple of episodes on this plot thread that ultimately went nowhere, that’s not the case for most stories. In Angel, for instance, there’s one episode in the earlier seasons dedicated to this trope. Cordelia has a one night stand with someone, and she wakes up the next morning eight months pregnant as a result. This is horrific for a number of reasons. Not only is her baby a demon that’s probably going to kill her, we can also view the pregnancy as a punishment for her daring to be sexual with a stranger of her choice. While Cordelia was the one to eventually kill the demon, this was still an episode I could have done without. And even after the fact, Cordelia, like most other women used in this trope, had little to no long lasting emotional trauma.
I think Stargate SG-1 handles this trope a lot better than the other stories mentioned here. The Mystical Pregnancy trope wouldn’t be that bad if the stories that used it actually addressed the mother’s issues and the standards and regulations that a largely patriarchal society places upon women and their bodies. Though Stargate doesn’t handle all these issues very well, it at least makes an attempt to show how a Mystical Pregnancy can affect the characters. Vala is mystically impregnated by the Ori, a group hellbent on spreading their religion throughout all the galaxies and murdering those who don’t convert. That said, despite being mystically impregnated, the rest of the pregnancy is actually normal. Vala doesn’t end up with her baby’s psychic powers—which is what happens in Charmed—and during the pregnancy, we actually do see the society she lives in ostracize, torture, and demean her, both for her own religious beliefs and for not carrying her husband’s child.
It’s only after giving birth to her daughter Adria, the Ori’s Chosen One, that Adria starts to grow up very quickly. This is something that is difficult for them both to handle. Adria experiences headaches and other adverse physical reactions to the change, and Vala who, during her pregnancy, had grown attached to Adria, is clearly upset and concerned by what is going on. Though Vala attempts to hide her emotional attachment to Adria all throughout the following season, we do see that this clearly affects her, and that even the thought of Adria dying is upsetting to her as well. Furthermore, Adria, despite doing evil things and becoming the show’s main antagonist, is not inherently evil herself. Even though Vala does not worship the Ori, Adria refuses to kill her own mother and even shows deep concern for her on several occasions. Though their situation is hardly pleasant and their relationship with each other is remarkably unhealthy, Stargate does a fairly decent job showing what kinds of emotional issues both these characters would have.
Mystical pregnancies are one of my least favorite tropes, because they are normally a one-time thing used for the sake of horror. Essentially, they portray a woman’s biological function as something inherently evil and use it to punish female characters. More often than not, this trope is used in a way that harms women, which is one of the reasons I’m now holding off on Torchwood. Though Stargate is not the best show at handling issues, it at the very least doesn’t brush them aside. I really wish that stories would stop using the Mystical Pregnancy trope, since so many of them fail to follow through on the emotional consequences, but so long as we’re going to have this trope in our stories, those stories need to make an effort to further explore women’s issues realistically.
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I wonder what you’d think of The Originals (the spin off of The Vampire Diaries), as the *whole show’s premise* is kind of a mystical pregnancy thing. A consensual one night stand where one of the participants is a vampire is supposed to mean you have no risk of pregnancy, but because the 1000+ year old Original vampire Klaus is actually a werewolf-vampire hybrid, his werewolf side impregnated the 20-year-old Hayley, who is also a werewolf, and is a girl who has been an orphan her whole life. She is kind of forced into going through with her pregnancy because it’s a miracle! and (SPOILERS for the series!!) she tries to sneak some wolfsbane to give herself an abortion but ultimately chooses of her own free will to go through with the pregnancy. The pregnancy lasts the entirety of season 1. Throughout, the unborn baby clearly has magical powers – the ability to make an army of hybrids, which means enemies of Klaus want to kill Hayley or at least her baby – but also the ability to heal her mother, on multiple occasions, and even bring her back from the dead because that’s what vampire blood does in this series. The unborn baby also is a descendent of a witch (Klaus’ mother is The Original Witch) so that gives it additional magical powers for plot purposes at some point.
Ultimately, at the end of season 1, the baby ends up needing to be given away – kind of like for adoption – it’s hidden away in a secret location being taken care of by Klaus’ original vampire sister, Rebekah, and Klaus and Hayley claim the baby has died and pretend to grieve… but their grief is real, they miss their child dearly. And they name her “Hope” as she is their (Klaus’ Original Vampire) family’s hope…
Going off what you said, since I haven’t seen The Originals—if I watched it, my opinion would definitely change, I’m sure—my biggest issue between those two characters would be their age difference, not so much the pregnancy. It doesn’t really seem like a mystical pregnancy to me, unless of course Werewolves also shouldn’t be able to impregnate people. Also, as you said, Hayley eventually makes the conscious decision to keep the baby which is a big plus in my favor. Also, the fact that Hayley does have an emotional connection to what’s happening is another plus for me as well. However, I still haven’t seen The Originals, so I can’t actually say for certain one way or another.
Did Klaus know that he’s part werewolf and just neglect to tell Hayley or wear any kind of protection, or was this baby a super surprise for both of them? Or was he planning on impregnating her without her consent?
Klaus, as well as his vampire brother and vampire sister all seemed quite surprised to learn Hayley could possibly be pregnant by his doing. Klaus was in denial at first – in the backdoor pilot for The Originals, a witch who is standing beside Hayley, 100% sure (because of her witch abilities) that Hayley is pregnant (with Klaus’ child) tells him:
“Niklaus, the girl is carrying your child.”
Klaus replies: “No. It’s impossible. Vampires cannot procreate.”
She replies, “But werewolves can. Magic made you a vampire, but you were born a werewolf. You’re the original hybrid, the first of your kind, and this pregnancy is one of nature’s loopholes.”
Klaus turns to look at Hayley and says: “You’ve been with someone else.
Admit it!” and soon after that Klaus think it’s a trick and is worried about letting himself feel happy that he might actually have a child and asks his brother to “Kill her and the baby.” He wants to kill Hayley and only his brother, Elijah, considers the fact that she will be the mother of the baby as important enough to make her one of the family. I mean, at first. Klaus matures a bit and gets a little less abusive toward her by the end of season 1.
So I mean no one thought this would be possible. The baby was thought to have been an impossibility. And that’s the premise for the show, basically, plus the baby *is* magical even when in the womb – generally in a positive way, and is the “hope” that the evil Klaus might become a good guy/redeemed through the baby… but there is always the risk of Klaus using the baby’s magic for evil. Lol.
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I feel like Demonic pregnancy wold make more sense for what these two articles complain about then Mystical. Mystical to me implies if anything the exact opposite, it implies an idealization of Pregnancy by supernaturally enhancing it.
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I just want to clarify a bit.
The mystical pregnancy can be seen as a reaffirmation of the biological function of women. BUT it may (and this phenomenon seems more common)be reformulated and be taken otherwise. I explain: many artists and several films depict female characters who are mystically fertilized, but instead of being reduced to its biological functions, the female character reveals ingenuity. The hansdmaid tale, Rosemary’s Baby, The left hand of the Darkness, The dispossessed, Lilith’s Brood … are all novels denouncing rape stemming from the mystical pregnancy.
I sincerely believe that we went elsewhere. The immaculate conception of myth is indeed a backstory that inhabits our collective imagination, but I do not think all the fictions that play with this concept are automatically anti feminist.
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