Sexualized Saturdays: Childbearing and Womanhood

Baby-having. It’s traditionally one of the societal markers of womanhood—women are supposed to have uteruses, and men aren’t, and if you’re a woman and fail to successfully grow a baby, for whatever reason, that makes you a failure at your gender.

I’m a cis woman, and society has told me from the get-go that one day I’ll be giving birth to the next generation. I spent the first eighteen or so years of my life plotting out elaborate (and often fandom-based) names for my future kids, and now today, when I tell people I don’t really know that I want children after all, I have to qualify it with a reassurance that I might change my mind—before they assure me that I will.

What this boils down to is gender essentialism. This method of thinking boils women down to what thousands of years of society says is woman’s defining trait, and sets that above everything else. Women who can’t have children are referred to as “barren”, a negatively connotated word which calls up desolate fields in which nothing living grows. (There’s no equally negatively connotated word for men—“sterile” just suggests cleanliness.)

Steven Moffat is so, so guilty of this.

Steven Moffat is so, so guilty of this.

It also moralizes the existence of women without uteruses or without the ability to bear children, making sterility into an issue of good and bad rather than just an apolitical medical condition. Trans women exist; they can’t bear children. Cis women who have had hysterectomies for personal or health reasons, or who are infertile for other reasons, can’t bear children. They are not any less worthwhile, or any less women, for this. Unfortunately, pop culture seems to disagree.

Spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Orphan Black, and Series 7 of Doctor Who below the jump.

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You Should Watch This: Call the Midwife

You know that mythical unicorn of a show, the one that has a mainly female cast, with diverse characters, women who aren’t defined by their relationships with men, and a high quality of production? Call the Midwife is that show. 

Call the Midwife might not be the typical geek show, but it’s one that all geeks (especially girl geeks) should pay attention to. It’s another period drama from the Brits, a BBC creation in the same family as ITV’s Downton Abbey, but for some reason it hasn’t caught the same popularity wave in the US. Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the show follows newly-minted midwife Jenny Lee as she dives head-first into serving the residents of the East End of London during the 1950s. Jenny lives and works with a group of Anglican Sisters (of the nun variety), whose primary work is nursing and delivering the hundred or so babies born each month in the Poplar district. The first series of 6 episodes aired in early 2012 in the UK, the second series of 8 in early 2013, and the first series aired on PBS in late 2012. A third series is planned for 2014. So far I’ve only seen the first series, via Netflix.

So why is Call the Midwife all kinds of awesome?

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