I stumbled across this 2005 article about Xena and it’s definitely worth a look: What We Owe Xena.
I’ve also been reading a few articles about Fable 2, in which it will finally be possible to play a female character, and in which “the woman you impregnate might be yourself” (according to Mighty Ponygirl.)
So, it started me thinking to see the following in the talk about Xena:
Yet while she pushed the limits of how much like a male hero a heroine could be, Xena was the first and probably is still the only action heroine who was also a mother — not counting warrior moms who fought only to protect their young, like Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in “Terminator 2.” She was, safe to say, the only one who gave birth and breast-fed onscreen.
I haven’t made it nearly this far in the show yet, but I can’t wait to see how it’s done. It’s always bothered me the way that adventure shows, movies, and games have acted like motherhood is completely incompatible with heroism.
Harvest Moon 3 (a farming game for the Gameboy Color from my childhood) gave you the choice of a male or female character, with the other gender as your partner and eventual spouse, but if you chose the female, your game would end as soon as the two of you got married. If you chose the male, you could get married and have a child, and keep playing for years, but somehow this was impossible for the female. Now, there may have been technical limitations for the game– it was really old– but as far as I know the later incarnations have the same problems, even though the male and female characters each have their own games.
This also makes me think of the Pirates of the Caribbean, where, at the very end (spoilers?), we see Elizabeth in a boring dress, waiting for Will with their son. The way they’re dressed, and the way they behave, they look like they’ve been sitting around in town the whole ten years! Elizabeth was a pirate king for goodness’ sake!
And her adventure just has to end because she gets pregnant? (And seriously, why does she have to get pregnant after the very first time she has sex? It’s possible, but kind of unlikely.)
It seems to me that there’s a pattern, wherein female stories end with marriage and children, but male stories can continue on even with those elements.
I suppose it’s an old fairy-tale narrative– girl has adventures, grows up, and gets married, The End; then, at the start of the next story, the mother dies tragically. After marriage, the stories stop. Certainly by the time there’s a child, the stories stop. We’ve been doing this for a long time, but it only gets more annoying.
Look, children aren’t the end of stories! They are beginnings. And they certainly don’t nail a woman’s (bare) feet to the (kitchen) floor for the rest of her life. Yes, pregnancy can be an awkward condition, and yes, children require care, but it doesn’t kill the mother any more than it kills the father.
In Harvest Moon: why not show the character getting larger over the appropriate number of seasons, give us the little cutscene we always get about the baby being born, and then hand the kid over to the father. He can stay in the house repeating the same three pre-scripted observation that the wives in HM always do. If that’s too “unmotherly” you can make it so the baby needs to be “fed” twice a day or some such (have her turn her back to us and breastfeed, or just get a bottle) and let the female character get on with her life– a life which now includes, but is not defined by, a child.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: there’s nothing wrong with dressing up to meet your husband for the first time. If you absolutely have to have her show up with his kid, start by showing them on her ship, returning from a successful journey, hurrying to look “presentable” before Will gets back. It could easily be a funny, lively, sweet scene– have them still cleaning up spots of blood or hiding tattoos or removing tell-tale jewelry up until the last second– and it would let us get to know the son better. More importantly, it would tell us what Elizabeth’s been doing for the last ten years! Motherhood is important but it doesn’t actually consume all of a woman’s time.
A female hero’s story doesn’t end when she gets married– the person doesn’t end when she gets married– and even though this is something that our current story-tellers are still unable to grasp, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that Xena has already gotten it right and proven them all wrong.
I can’t wait to see.
(for more posts on Xena, look here!)