I’m working on a conference proposal this week about a subject that makes me rant: the portrayal of motherhood as weakness in modern speculative fiction. I’m posting this blog in the (perhaps insane) hope that a few brilliant authors will agreed with me, and want to be on the panel to discuss it with a group of fans.
In mythology and religion, motherhood has been treated as a position of strength as well as gentleness. While depictions of meek mothers certainly abound, strong mothers are also present. The Hindu goddess Durga is a wonderful example. Durga is a fearless mother, who protects with weapons clutched in her eighteen hands. Fierce and feminine, this divine mother rides a tiger into battle.
Historic maternal figures like Queen Isabella of Spain or Queen Victoria, who continued to show their strength after having children, should provide ample inspiration for speculative writers. Even criminal mothers like, Ma Barker who famously took care of gang members, even eventually shielding them from prosecution, could become a fine character. But where are they? Too often having a baby signals the end of a character’s ability to grow and develop in any direction except a maternal one.
Only two decades ago science fiction had a wonderful example of a mother-warrior, Ellen Ripley. She’s tough. She can fire a gun and run a loader, but at the same time she comforts Newt, connecting with her as she washes the child’s face. She’s exactly the role model I crave: competent, strong, and caring.
She’s also probably lonely, as I can’t think of another strong mother like her. Doctor Who’s Amy Pond can fight off any number of space monsters, but she completely ignores her daughter for several months after the infant is kidnapped. Padme Amidala fires her blaster and works in the intergalactic senate… until she has kids, then she’s too weak to survive heartbreak. Sarah Connor can take down a terminator but we never see her making her son laugh or taking care of him.
Hopefully I’m wrong and the comments will be filled with a thousand examples of characters that don’t suddenly lose the ability to think, fight, or be fierce simply because they’ve managed to reproduce. If I’m not though, and you’d like to talk about why there aren’t any tough mothers in genre fiction today, drop me a note. With luck I’ll find a few brilliant authors, and along with a handful of creative fans, will generate some solutions to the problem.