Content note: Fairly minor spoilers for a variety of SF movies, mention of trauma relating to infertility.
2015 and 2016 have been fantastic years for action-adventure heroines. Rey saved the universe in Star Wars (despite the dearth of merchandise featuring her), Mad Max: Fury Road was filled with kick-ass women, Supergirl saved the world while her cousin was hypnotized, and Doctor Who’s Clara Oswald basically became a Time Lord. But there’s something missing. Perhaps it’s asking too much, too soon, but Hollywood, I ask of you – give us some geeky heroines with children!
Let’s get the obvious argument out of the way. Supposedly no woman would be getting in danger so often if she had kids at home.
But that justification falls apart when you look to the dads in SF. From Kick-Ass with Hit-Girl to Hawkeye from the Avengers, plenty of men get to be fathers and involved in the action. In some cases, their children mysteriously disappear except during plot-convenient times. (I’m looking at you, Sara Diggle from Arrow.) In others, their children are actually involved in the super heroic activities. Either way, there’s never an implication that parenting and being a hero are in conflict, or at least no more so than the typical “everyone I love is in danger” angst.
In addition to biological children, male superheroes frequently serve as surrogate fathers to their mentees or sidekicks. Batman – a terrible father – mentors teenage Robin. Professor X is in charge of a whole house full of kids. In these cases, the young adults are almost always put in direct danger. While one wouldn’t want to bring a toddler adventuring, there’s no reason a teenage girl couldn’t come along with her mom.
No, instead, action adventure heroines are often actively denied the ability to have children. For Black Widow, her training by the Soviet Union included sterilization. In Agent Carter, Ana Jarvis suffers injuries that render her either unable to get pregnant or give birth. (It isn’t specified.) Going old-school, Scully on the X-Files undergoes some invasive alien procedure that causes infertility. In contrast to their characters, both Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Gillian Anderson (Scully) were actually pregnant while playing those roles!
Meanwhile, I don’t know of a single time where an injury causing infertility to a male hero has ever been a plot point. It’s just a privilege of the ladies.
It’s not like it’s impossible to have a SF heroine with children – they do exist. As far as I can tell, the list of SF movie/TV heroines with living children is: Sarah Connor from Terminator, Elastigirl from the Incredibles, Sarah Jane Smith from the Sarah Jane Adventures, Lt. Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii from Battlestar Galactica, Beverly Crusher from Star Trek, and Gwen Cooper from Torchwood. All of these women have important, interesting relationships with their kids while also maintaining their unique personalities and actions outside of them. Nonetheless, that’s a pretty damn short list.
While I’ve never had a problem imagining myself in the place of people very different from me, but as a mom of two children, it would be nice to see myself reflected on screen. Moms struggle with work / life balance constantly, regardless of whether the work is paid or not. We want our communities to be safe, just, and stable for our children. Sometimes we go over-the-top in our pursuit of that goal. In many ways, superheroics are such a good metaphor for motherhood that can’t believe someone hadn’t done it already.
So Hollywood, are you ready to get on board?