A Woman Is Not An Incubator

Oh, Steven Moffat! We need to have words.
Publish date:
January 25, 2012
parenting, sexism, ladies can be anything they want to be, doctor who, Steven Moffat

Dear Steven,

How’s it going? It’s very rainy and cold here at the moment, but otherwise things are mostly lovely. As you probably know, I’m a big fan of "Doctor Who," and while I haven’t started watching "Sherlock" yet, it is on my list of things to do. Many people speak very highly of it and it seems like the sort of show I would like, although I am a bit disappointed that Sherlock has to be a boy, as it would be rather fun to have a lady Sherlock, don’t you think?

I wanted to talk to you about a quote of yours from an interview in The Guardian that ran last week, because, well, it was pretty terrible.

I was called a misogynist because I was reducing women to mothers. “Reducing women to mothers” – now there is possibly the most anti-women statement I've heard.

Steven, my friend, I cannot even begin to convey the level of wrong here!

Because, here is the thing: Throughout "Doctor Who," you have completely reduced women to mothers, whether it’s Amy Pond being an incubation vessel or the Christmas Special with the alien tree people that needed a human host body to escape their forest but needed someone “strong,” as in, a mother.

You’ve had, erm, rather a lot of storylines actually that basically reduce women to incubators specifically, not even parents; just objects for children to grow inside.

Now, mothers can be pretty cool! I think people who are pro-women would be on board with that, as you appear to be as well. But women can be so many things in addition to or beyond mothers.

Like, mothers can run popular media empires! And be archaeologists! And surgeons! And all sorts of exciting things! They don’t have to be defined solely by their experience as mothers, although being mothers might be an important part of their lives.

Some women are actually not interested in being mothers, as you may know. They experience a lot of social pressure to have children, and often get very uncomfortable in situations where they are reminded that some people see potential fertility as the only useful trait in women.

These women may do awesome, amazing, excellent things with their lives, but one thing they will not be is mothers, and that’s totally OK.

Other women very much want to be mothers but cannot, for a variety of reasons. And for them, storylines primarily focusing on women as mothers -- and erasing other aspects of women’s lives and identities -- are very painful, because they are reminders that they are not worthy. Storylines that suggest women are incomplete and not “strong” if they are not mothers are very, very hurty, Mr. Moffat.

A lot of people seem to believe that you aren’t a “real woman” unless you’re a mother. There’s a lot of rhetoric about how you will “change your mind someday” if you are not interested in being one; a man once told me once that women who didn’t have children looked “childlike” because they hadn’t undergone the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy that tend to cause some permanent shifts in appearance. Childlike.

Meaning: You aren’t a grown-up if you’re not a mother. Implication: You can’t engage in society if you’re not a mother. Of course, once you are a mother, you’re told you need to stay at home with your children or you’re selfish. Or you’re made categorically unwelcome in public places when you try to go out with your children.

Quite a doublebind there, don’t you think?

Wrapping female identities so thoroughly around motherhood or lack thereof is damaging to pretty much everyone of all genders. And that’s what people mean when they say that they are troubled by the fact that many of your storylines reduce women to mothers.

It’s not that being a mother is a bad thing -- it’s actually pretty awesome that some people can grow a tiny human inside their bodies, or can raise tiny people that grew inside the bodies of others -- it’s just not the only thing a person can be. And I live in a world where I very much want people to be whoever they want to be, and to do as many things as they want to do. Those things may or may not include parenting, but for those who do parent, it’s not the be-all and end-all.

I hang out with a lot of women, and I can assure you that I can think of many more anti-women statements, most of which are so impolite that I don’t really want to print them in this publication, or subject you to them.

But, trust me, people say lots of really, really terrible things about women. Saying that representations of women primarily as fertile vessels and nothing else are harmful? Is not an anti-women statement.

I hope that clears things up a bit, and maybe it will give you some ideas for fun things you can do with lady characters in the future! Because women are actually pretty awesome, mothers or no.


s.e. smith