Went to the bookstore today, doing last minute Christmas shopping. They didn’t have “The Transparent Society” by David Brin, which is supposed to be a rivetting book about privacy and accountability, and which my husband James really really wanted, so I ordered it off Amazon, and as is inevitable when visiting their seductive clutches, picked up something else as well, a book called “Mother Nature” which purports to be an analysis of learned vs. instinctive maternal behaviors.
Since I don’t like kids and have no plans to have them, it’s probably weird, but lately I’ve been obsessed with the whole question of maternal behavior. I think it’s an outgrowth of my earlier feelings of wanting to do some kind of political art about abortion. In trying to take Pseudo-Manitou’s excellent advice of find some a story and illustrating that, I’ve been gnawing the issue over in my mind for awhile, coming up with storylines, mulling them over, discarding them. There’s plenty of documentation of women who are raped during wars, giving birth, and not realizing on any meaningful level that they have had a baby–they’re in pain, the pain eventually stops, there’s a bloody mess, they clean off the blood, get up and leave. Chimps do the same thing if they’re raised without witnessing parenting by other chimps–they treat an infant like some kind of weird parasite and try to get away from it. In this country, you get girls with no sex education who go into labor in bathroom stalls–the one side calls this pre-meditated murder, but I suspect it’s a lot more akin to what happens to the chimps. In many minds, these women (and possibly the chimps, for all I know!) should be punished for failing to be mothers–the notion being that they gave birth to a child, they’re it’s mother, and they have to take care of it. I think that’s the assumption that underlies much of the abortion debate–you’re it’s mother, you have to take care of it.
The thing is, I don’t think it works that way. Maternal behaviors are learned, in us as in chimps. Your body can get pregnant, the same way your body can get polio or the common cold or any of a number of things we’d prefer they didn’t do, but the mere fact that someone’s knocked you up will not turn a scared, stupid, functionally illiterate sixteen year old into a competent caregiving mother. Except that a large chunk of the populace seems to think it ought to, as if there is some kind of grace bestowed the moment a zygote divides–we actually talk about the “sanctity of motherhood” for god’s sake. So I mulled this over for awhile, and decided that that was the thing that was nagging at me most, the assumption that all women are, by definition, potential mothers. I, for example, am not. Like our hypothetical chimp, I was raised in relative isolation from examples of parenting other than my own–I was an only child, had no fecund relatives, I have never changed a diaper in my life, and I have been exposed to exactly two babies for longer than thirty seconds at a stretch. (My experience is that they seem small, breakable, generate noxious odors and fluids, require constant surveillance, and cannot be reasoned with. This does not make me eager for the joy of parenthood.) I could probably learn it if I made a concerted effort, but it’d cut too much into my painting time.
So that’s where I am–having decided that mothering is a skill one learns, not some state of divine grace that is bestowed promptly to all owners of a uterus–and that women don’t deserve to be punished for not having this skill. And that, I think, is what I’d want any story I illustrated to be about–but the form still escapes me. I’ve mulled over everything from a mini-comic from the point of view of someone ignorant of all details of pregnancy (although my script immediately ran to fourteen pages and made me realize that ‘mini’ is just not in my vocabulary) to an episode of “Irrational Fears” with our faithful chupacabra playing battlefield midwife in the middle of war-torn Sarajevo (rejected due to lack of subtlety–because I hate it when comics stop trying to tell a story and start trying to preach a sermon, and I have no desire to turn Chu into some kind of freakish green Anti-Ziggy.) So I continue to mull. It make take months, or years, or it may never happen or I may be siezed with inspiration tonight at three AM, leap to my feet, and lunge for a pad of paper. The nice thing about being an artist is that you never know when inspiration will hit, but unfortunately, that’s also the part that really sucks.
In completely, totally, and utterly unrelated news, I tripped over this at VCL the other day, and after my rant about fat animals, (and because I love Anna’s work) I couldn’t resist sharing this little gem.
Hopefully she won’t mind…Check out the rest of her VCL gallery if you haven’t ever done so, or I’ll sic peeing vampire bats on you or something.