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[personal profile] helloladies posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Ever since my kid was born almost three years ago I've been paying more attention to how moms are portrayed in the stories I consume-—or rather how we are not portrayed in SFF.

Because there are not a lot of stories about moms in SFF.

In my corner of fandom we often talk about representation mattering. This is the one aspect of my identity that I’ve wanted see represented in fiction, but haven’t found. I've been lucky enough to have other parts of my life and identity reflected in fiction for me, including other life stages. As kid I wanted to defy stereotypes like Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books or Cimorene from Dealing With Dragons. Later I looked to characters like Lirael form Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom and Cordelia Naismith from the Vorkosigan Saga as I struggled to figure out my place in the adult world. There are a fair number of coming of age books featuring young women and many romances. Fiction has helped me understand the ways people in my situations might feel. I've always looked to fiction to help me think about how I want my life to go and it was strange not to have that when I became a parent. I want to see this part of my life reflected in fiction. I want some fictional moms to be my role models. I want to feel like moms are worthy of being the hero of the story. I want to feel like motherhood is something worth talking about, something worth telling stories about. Instead when I look for mothers in fiction I find a blank place.

I rarely see SFF that centers the relationship between mothers and their children—and almost never from the mother’s view point. Fiction about the problems of parenthood that sees parents as real flawed people who are trying their best is so rare. Fictional mothers are either perfect mothers or bad mothers or most often not there at all. It doesn’t leave much room for moms to have complex and nuanced relationships with their kids. We see then from their children's point of view but rarely see them from their own. I’ve been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation recently, and there are more episodes focusing on the relationship between Picard and Wesley, than on the relationship between him and Dr. Crusher, his actual mom. It’s hard not to take this kind of thing to heart as stories saying that these relationships just aren’t that interesting.

I want to shout out to few of my favorite SFF moms. While there aren’t many good portrayals of moms in SFF there are a few that I really love. These include Ekaterin in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga; other moms that Bujold has written are better known, but Ekaterin is the one where she is raising a young child. Her relationship with her son Nikki is central to her character arc. I also love Isabella’s interactions with her son Jake in The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan. While this relationship isn’t central to the plot, I love that they explore and learn together, but also that Isabella feels conflicted about society's expectations that she care for Jake over her scientific career. In Record of a Space Born Few by Becky Chambers there’s not one but two viewpoint characters who are moms. One is a grandma who lives with her extended family and the other is raising two kids while her husband is away mining asteroids. I’ve also gotten into Steven Universe recently, and while Steven’s mom is dead, he’s got three adoptive moms who give me all the mom feels, especially Pearl, who always wants to explain things and keep Steven safe.

If you read a bunch of SFF looking for moms you’ll probably notice that there are a lot of stories out there with dead moms. So many dead moms, and when there's a living mom then she’s generally absent or abusive. I complained about dead moms in books so much that my friends have started warning me about books with dead moms. Every time someone tells me a book I was looking forward to reading has a dead mom I getting a sinking feeling. One more book I'll have to consider carefully whether or not to read, and if I do decide to read I'll have to brace myself. You just can't be an SFF fan these days without running into dead moms at every turn. I’ve been taking a break from fiction where the protagonist's mom is dead recently—and I that means I haven’t read a bunch of well received recent YA. For example Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pa, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge...I could go on for a while, and that's just YA.

Motherhood is an important aspect of many women's experience that very rarely shows up in SFF. I know there are people who want to see women get to have awesome of adventure of the type men have always gotten to have: exploring, fighting, inventing and so forth. That’s something I want too. But doing traditionally masculine activities shouldn’t be the only way women are allowed in stories. We should have stories that feature women doing traditionally feminine things too—like taking care of children. Reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s book of essays Dancing on the Edge of the World was formative to my understanding of the need to see work traditionally done by women in SFF. Le Guin talked about the value of such work and how we don’t tell stories that center domestic labor but that labor is vital for society. She talked about how valuable "women's work" and emotional labor are, and also about how stories rarely center these things because dramatic conflict has tendency to take over. I think part of the reason that motherhood is so invisible in fiction is that childcare is considered domestic labor.

Just recently Strange Horizons published a round-table on domestic space opera that digs into these topics. The round-table makes clear that in the future people will still need to eat and raise children. The article talks about including these aspects of life. The complexities of motherhood (and domestic labor more generally) are worth exploring in SFF. I want characters who are good at some parts and bad at other parts. I want complex mother-child relationships that feel real.

People say motherhood is isolating. I thought they meant physically, like having a kid makes it hard to get out of the house. But what I find isolating is the feeling that no one wants to hear about it. That motherhood is just too boring to tell stories about. There are a handful of SFF stories that feature moms who are complex people, who have their own adventures, who sometimes struggle with relating to their kids. I treasure these characters but I wish they were not so few and far between. I wish that motherhood felt like normal part of SFF, rather than something I have to search for. It's a complex state that is under-explored in fiction. I want SFF stories to really dig in and explore motherhood. SFF has unique tools with which to do this, and it's a shame they don’t get used more. I want stories about improvements to reproductive technology and how that changes and doesn’t change what it's like to be a mom. I want stories about queer moms using tech or magic to have babies together, I want stories about moms from lots of marginalized groups—trans moms, moms of color, disabled moms. Stories about clones and raising your own identical twin, or clones and raising identical twins born years apart. Stories about mom and kids working on futuristic science projects like designing an ecosystem together. Stories about what it's like to let your kids have magical adventures, stories about moms taking care of people and baking cookies in space!

Let's un-disappear moms form SFF and start treating motherhood as something worth telling stories about.

[personal profile] forestofglory is a fan, crafter, an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy short fiction, and a mom. You can find her on Dreamwidth and on Twitter at [twitter.com profile] forestofglory.
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