It seems only fitting that Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” begins with a domestic scene that features a housewife vacuuming, for perhaps no time in recent history has been as evocative as the mid-20th century matriarch. Arguably trading potential for security, women were indeed presented with “overchoice” as hundreds of new products became available for consumers—but although the sheer number of choices available increased, one might also argue that the meaningful choices that a woman could make also decreased as society restructured itself in the years following World War II. Science fiction offerings by authors like Pamela Zoline and James Tiptree, Jr. point to various roles for women in America at the time, illuminating the narrow ways in which women could insert themselves into a world that was not their own. Moreover, the path highlighted society lay fraught with ennui, boredom, monotony, and despair—so much so, in fact, that Pamela Zoline’s Sarah Boyle attempts to disrupt her routine and, in so doing, bring about the heat death of the universe (and the end of her suffering).
Fast forward fifty years and we again see another batch of Desperate Housewives, who suffer from some of the same emotions as their 50s counterparts. Restless and losing a sense of self, the women on Marc Cherry’s drama attempt to illustrate that even well-to-do mothers living in gated communities still struggle to have it all.
And, in many ways, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror have dealt with the same issues throughout the years, with witches in the 60s like Samantha Stevens (Bewitched) going through the same sorts of domestic trials as the modern Halliwell sisters (Charmed). Important in both of these shows is the presence of the accepting/tolerant (White) male who, although occasionally lacking in comprehension of women or their magic, is certainly understanding. In the case of Bewitched, we see a male who puts up with his wife’s misdeeds and tolerates the existence of magic even as he discourages its use.
Additionally, we see women in these shows often struggling with the expectations of motherhood, which raises notions about feminine identity, female bodies, and reproduction. Explored by Octavia Butler, we are introduced to the theme of male pregnancy, which often results in disastrous consequences for men. Men’s bodies, it seems, cannot handle the task of birth as they are often destroyed in the process of labor.
Although uncomfortable, I believe that these types of fiction allow our culture to wrestle with pertinent questions about our relationships to our bodies. Although some scenarios seem impossible (at present, for example, biological males are unable to give birth to offspring), the idea that technology might eventually intervene and allow men to carry to babies to term does not seem to be out of the question. Should such a day come, we can refer back to fiction like that of Octavia Butler in order to better articulate our views on reproduction and sex as we come to see that what we have long considered “natural” is, in fact, merely socially constructed.
Let me start by saying that I very rarely get upset at American Dad. Okay, sure, I will often comment that it appears to be the less-funny cast-off sibling of Family Guy (and yes, I get that they have different premises) but I’ve never really had an issue with the show.
Until last night.
At one point the show depicted Francine, the mother of a typical family (you know, father, mother, son, daughter, alien), hysterical that she was pregnant. “You told me I was on the pill!” she lamented.
All right, I will admit that I laughed a little bit at this but then I immediately became upset (interestingly not so much with the show itself as with the character of Francine). “Take control of your own reproductive health!” I yelled back at the screen, disgusted. “Certainly nobody else is going to.”
As I began to pull together my article for the week, I began to think about the sentiment that I had uttered—although we might all hope that our partners have our best interests in mind, we can never count on it. This is not to say that we don’t love your partners or don’t trust them, but simply that we are making sure that we are making the right choices for ourselves.
The scene from American Dad also reminded me of one of the early episodes of Desperate Housewives when Lynette complained that she could not get her husband to use birth control and, as a result, ended up with way too many children. While I certainly sympathize with the stress of having to raise some pretty difficult kids, I also don’t—there should have been better communication to prevent this scenario from occurring if one of the two parents didn’t want children.
Truth be told, I’ve certainly pushed my own agenda in the bedroom and there have been times when I’ve gotten away with a lot more than I thought that I could. In retrospect, I assumed that all involved parties were comfortable with the various arrangements but I’m fairly confident that I never explicitly discussed anything before it happened—I took a lack of objection as an assent. Perhaps this wasn’t the best way to go about things, but some part of me felt that I was engaging in sex with someone who had a clear sense of judgment and I assumed that participants would speak up if they felt negatively about something.
Okay, so maybe I’m more of a stereotypical guy than I thought.
The moral of all of this is that I think that it’s important to empower each individual to be an advocate on his or her own behalf. When it’s just the two of you (or more, if that’s your thing) in the bedroom, there aren’t any judges to settle disputes or dictate how things will go—in this case, it’s up to you to voice your opinion about what you want to do and, somewhat more importantly, what you will not do. You should not feel pressured to do things that you do not want to do and you should feel comfortable expressing your opinion in bed. And, on the other side of the coin, I think that we all have to be able to listen to our partners and give them what they need. Ultimately, while it might be intimidating to speak out (actually, when is it not?) all of this is important because we are not just picking fights, but fighting to maintain our dignity and our health.