The first week of the new year brought with it the passing of Eve Arnold, one of the first women to earn recognition as a photojournalist in the mid-twentieth century. Though she is perhaps best known for capturing celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford in rare, unguarded moments, Arnold should also be recognized for the political and social commentaries her archives provide.
Today, new methods have replaced DeLee's, and yet popular obstetric interventions (cesareans, amniotomies, labor-inducing drugs, episiotomies, epidurals) are still designed to transfer control from the woman to her labor assistant. 33% of births in the United States are by cesarean, a rate that has grown significantly during the previous decade, in tandem with increasing rates of maternal injury and death. Yet representations of childbirth in television and film rarely show cesareans. Which is why I was so grateful for Reagan's recent childbirth episode on Up All Night.
I'm having a bad day. Last night, I had a nightmare about the Bella Swan birth scene from Breaking Dawn. (To summarize: I was Bella.) I'm suffering from BSO, birth scene overload. It all seems so hopeless. The woman is always suffering. She lacks control and agency; surrounded by men, she's told what's best for her and then chastised for making supposedly irrational demands. I just can't watch.
So I took a break from birth scenes to follow a lead (thanks @kristinrawls!) about last week's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic series about a group of survivors trying to avoid zombie bites. This proved to be terrible therapy for my BSO.
So I guess that's why the characters in the film keep talking about Bella's choice, huh? Weird stuff happens when you superimpose choice language into an anti-choice plotline. (Because of how it's only a "choice" when abortion is an option, too.) It's true that while the books create an anti-choice moral universe, nothing in the film itself suggests that Bella's options would have been limited even if her life wasn't in danger. But regardless of all that, everyone can agree that Bella's choices weren't appealing. Or, as Alex Cranz at fempop.com puts it—"'So women should choose eh? 'WELL HOW DO YOU LIKE THIS CHOICE?' was the feeling I was getting from the movie."
Which brings me to Game of Thrones, in which Daenerys "Dany" Targaryen experiences a birth situation that is (no joke!) eerily similar to—and just as bad as—Bella's.
To date, I've written 19 posts about representations of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care in the media. I've proffered examples from a variety of television series and films: Up All Night, The Office, True Grit, Glee, Knocked Up, Look Who's Talking, The Rachel Zoe Project, Raising Hope, Modern Family, Parenthood, The Borgias, Dexter, Baby Boom, Life As We Know It, and Desperate Housewives. While a handful of these shows include women of color in title roles (none of the films do), only one of these women has children: Gaby Solis, a Latina character on Desperate Housewives.
This isn't to say there aren't any examples of pregnant/birthing/infant-caring women of color on TV, but it's uncommon—and the scant representations that exist are usually rather limiting, to say the least.
In today's complex television landscape, it's easy to argue that traditional conceptions of "parenthood" are changing as we see fewer heteronormative nuclear families, which reflects demographic and social changes in the real world. Yet a closer look at parenthood in contemporary scripted television reveals that when it comes to family life, the perspective of the cisgendered male is still privileged above all others.
Welcome to Wisteria Lane, where every neighbor is a potential killer, every friend a potential enemy, and every woman victim to TV's most overused childbearing tropes. Join me as we take a tour of these tropes—we need not even leave Wisteria Lane.