Thursday, November 18, 2010

obsession and imagery

I was watching Aliens last night, when it hit me: the movie is more than just a cool action sequel to a horror's also the perfect metaphor for pregnancy.

No, I don't really expect the child to come bursting out of the Spousal Unit's chest and snarl. While the movie monster is cool, what strikes me more about the whole Alien series is how the appearance of the bugs cause everyone in the area to freak out in a different way, albeit one uniquely suited for their character. Businesses turn even more bottom-line obsessed/evil, risking not just imprisonment but human life (there own and others) on the chance for profit. Scientists turn more "let's dissect, and damn the cost to human life." Marines turn more "hu-rah" and "let's blow up everything in sight." And particularly in the second, Ripley, the narrator, sadly enough, goes into "she's a girl, so she's going to become the snarling protective mom" figure over her own safety. Aliens, in other words, prompt extreme behavior.

This is what seems to be happening around me. Sometime in June, I will be a father. While I am fully experiencing the typical trials, stresses, and expectations of the addition, this is not currently the most fascinating element of the process. No, the freakiest thing in the whole deal is how an impending child causes everyone in the world around you to freak out. To be clear: everyone seems very happy for us, and that happiness seems perfectly genuine. Yet within many reactions of joy, I learn a bit more about those around me and the things with which they are obsessed.

The spousal unit and I first noticed the gendered nature of most congratulatory comments, particularly with the vehemence of assumptions on our respective roles. Whenever spousal unit told anyone about the upcoming urchin, she was often asked "How does Mike feel about this? Is he happy?" When I tell anyone, a lot of people wonder "Is your wife okay? Has she been throwing up much?" For many people, that must be who we, as expecting parents, are: a vomiting wife and a depressed husband.

I have particularly noted how the "depressed husband" bit seems pervasive in not just some acquaintances but in society in general. What, according to the literature, is my job? Well, when you're part of an expecting couple, people give you lots of brochures and magazines, and according to New Parent, I don't really have much of any role in this child process. All of the articles are written by women, to moms, and the only mention of fathers is that "the husband may be confused on how to help, so write him a 'to do, dear' list." No wonder the father-to-be's supposed to be depressed...everyone thinks he's a neglectful moron. I'm also assuming that having to clean up all his wife's vomit might have something to do with his mood.

People also seem inordinately fascinated by the question of if we're going to discover the child's sex before the breaching begins. Right now, we're going back and forth (I don't care, while spousal unit has changed her mind at least once), but some folks are adamant that we should have either a boy or a girl...but they really should've submitted a request months ago. Both of our families are actively pushing for a girl for some reason and don't feel shy about telling us so. At this stage of the pregnancy, this line of conversation has morphed into a debate on whether the urchin's high heart rate means it's a boy or a girl. Personally, the level of obsession leads me to believe that most of my friends own stock in either blue or pink pigment manufacturing processes. Sorry, y'all, we're going with gender-neutral colors.

The biggest weirdness catalyst so far, though, has been the ultrasound photos. When my spousal unit took them to work, she was unprepared for the political ramifications they brought up. In particular, there were co-workers that, after expressing congratulations, made them into salvos in the pro-choice/pro-life debate and started to reach at-the-throat levels...that is, after they asked if the photos changed how depressed I might be.

I also shared the photos with my friends (ah, e-mail...the blessing of the lazy yet ambitious communicator), and, as many of them are academics, this naturally stirred up a theoretical debate. That there was a debate was very unsurprising to me, and that there were views I found reasonable, views with which I respectfully disagreed, and views that seemed beside the point was also expected. However, throughout many of the responses lay an intense and not-so-subtle distrust of institutions: of communicative institutions, of technological institutions, and of medical institutions. There was co-opting, devaluing, and erasing. And this made me realize: man, I know a lot of folk who are truly paranoid, but only in a theoretical sense.

And to think that it was Aliens that brought it all home to me. I should note, incidentally, that I personally don't find any of this scary in the slightest. Instead, I am amused intently by all of the reactions. I really haven't, for the record, found anything about the impending fatherhood to be scary at all...except the realization that I'll probably have to patronize a Babys-R-Us in the future. The horror!


Anonymous said...

1/ Read Barbara Creed's "The Monstrous Feminine" for a good analysis of Alien/pregnancy.

2/ Not paranoid, I've just seen the way such images have been used to completely erase a pregnant woman's right to bodily integrity and selfhood. See the National Advocates for Pregnant Women to read stories of the ways in which multiple pregnant women have lost the right to decide what to do with their own body

Jen M

themikedubose said...

1) I've heard the Alien/pregnancy thing before...yep, I don't always have the original metaphors. In fact, one of my old profs also talked about this.

2) The paranoid comment wasn't aimed specifically at anyone, let alone you. My thoughts: while I don't doubt that such things happen, I wonder if they are indeed the norm...and I am leery personally of condemning entire industries. Not that I was/am accusing you of any of this, but I notice within academics a tendency to only place diversity within the population at large while looking at the "haves" part of the equation as monolithic in aims and goals (which is something I've been working on for a while).

Anonymous said...

Good Article