Tropes: I Don't Want To Be Apocalypse Eve

[Content Note: Apocalypse, Self-Harm, Childbirth and Child Endangerment] 

Good morrow, future denizens of Tuesday. I am writing this from the bleak apocalyptic dystopia past of Sunday, and wish you good tidings. I also hurt like hell, which I am tired of saying and I would bet ya'll are tired of hearing. But that is why this post is not a proper post and is instead a rambly post on a trope that bothers me. I've been holding this post in brain-reserve for a rainy day, and I reckon we're here now.

So here's the thing: I don't want to be Eve.

Waaaaay back in 2011, I wrote a thing about The Road and how I personally feel that it's perfectly understandable to commit suicide when you literally have no future to look forward to because the apocalypse has happened and there is no food and no animals and no canned goods and no plants and no hope whatsoever for life continuing because living means eating and there is no food source anymore. Like, I didn't set down the rules for that particular apocalypse, but once those ridiculous rules are in place, I don't really see a dignified exit strategy as a bad thing. YMMV, etc.

Today I want to add to that position the less-controversial addendum that I also don't want to repopulate the earth after an apocalypse. And how very, very, very sick I am of that trope popping up in fiction.

Now, I don't necessarily mean that I have issues so much with people choosing to be Adam and Eve. If that's your thing, fine. I am more than happy to extend to others the reproductive freedom to create society from scratch via human reproduction as I am to demand for myself the reproductive freedom to not do that. Nor am I even really ripping on Earth All Along tropes, where you're expected to assume that the survivors of the space vampires or whatever were our ancestors. I mean, I'm not a big fan because overused plot is overused, but whatever floats your boat.

No, what I want to die as a trope is this Save The People With Uteri!! trope that comes up in fiction where an apocalypse happens and suddenly there's all this prioritizing of survivors based on the assumption that (a) continuing the human race is the most important thing ever right now, because while things may seem bleak with only 58 people left alive and the entire planet overrun with cannibalistic fungus obviously the highest priority to be had right now is babies, and (b) the people with uteri who are being saved for their baby-making ability will have any interest in churning out Human Race 2.0. Because with regards to that latter point, I sure as hell am not.

There are a million examples of this in fiction, but the closest one at hand is from Piers Anthony's Rings of Ice (which is a really dreadful book but, like many Piers Anthony books, didn't seem so dreadful when I first read it because I'd had so little exposure to genuinely good science fiction / fantasy that it seemed like I had to take whatever I could get, and it's only in retrospect that I'm able to gape with astonishment at just how horrible and creepy and dreadful and rapey his writing is), so I'll just copy and paste that in rather than have to type something else out manually: 

"At least they let me out!" Zena said. "I haven't been allowed to do anything useful for weeks!"

"You're lucky," Floy said, leaning heavily on her pole so as not to fall.

"What's lucky about it? Everybody has to pull his weight, and I'm eager to pull mine."

Floy shrugged awkwardly.

"Now don't you do it too!" Zena cried. "I haven't raised an issue about it because there's been no privacy -- but something's going on. What's the big secret?"

"You really don't know?"

"Of course I don't know."

"Well, Gus says there's going to be a lot more rain. Enough to drown the whole world, maybe."

"Gus is right, for all the wrong reasons. But -- "

"So we'll have to make more people. Babies."

Zena sighed. "Gus has had the making of babies on his mind from the outset. The mechanics of it, anyway. He and Karen -- "

Floy shook her head. "Karen wouldn't live through it. That's why she uses an IUD. And I'm too young, Gordon says. But you -- "

"That's enough!"

"Sorry. You said you wanted to know."

Zena paused beside a plain of bare bedrock, scoured clean by the water. "I'm not having any baby!"

"You're the only one who can. So Gus said to take care of you, because if anything happened to make you sterile -- "

"I said enough!"

You probably got the gist from that, but basically the entire world is permanently altered (think Noah's Flood but with nowhere for the water to go to dry up after because rather than this flood being supernatural, it was actually imported from space), nearly every person on earth is dead, pretty much the only thing available to eat is a moss of dubious nutritional value, and so clearly the top priority right now is to make sure that one-eight (or one-sixth, I forget who is and isn't alive at this point) of the remaining survivors not be allowed to help out with the whole surviving thing, because her uterus is too valuable to accidentally damage.

And I hate the fuck out of this trope. 

I hate the fuck out of this trope at least in part because it isn't occurring in a vacuum. Women are already treated like they are nothing more than baby-making body parts. (And women who don't have a uterus, or who are infertile, are already treated like we are less than nothing, and not "real" women.) "Pre-pregnant", or the concept that all fertile women should be treated like they are or soon will be pregnant, is an actual term that is actually used unironically (and that is a big fucking problem).

Tropes like this -- which prioritize the survival of fertile women not because of their humanity (which would prioritize everyone, regardless of fertility), or even because of their skills in ensuring the survival of the group (which would prioritize people based on their ability to see the survivors safely through the current danger) -- reinforce the belief that women are valuable only insomuch as they are incubators. Any other value (of their person, of their work, of the value they add to society, etc.) is so secondary as to not rank a mention.

But I also hate this trope on an in-universe level for condemning these pedestaled fertile women to a life that they may not want, for a "benefit" that will likely benefit them personally not at all. (After all, "ensured the survival of the human race" is a goal that a woman or man is more than welcome to have, but if there are any benefits to reap from that, they're probably long-term ones.) These women who have been "saved" especially for them to take the role of nu-Eve now get to experience childbirth, which is the second-leading cause of death for women, in an environment which likely lacks basic medical care. (Since your average zombie apocalypse is low on electricity, antibiotics, OBGYNs, etc.)

Then they get to do it again. And again. And again. Because if there's one thing we know about repopulating a ginormous planet with shiny brand new people, you're going to have to churn out a lot of those babies in order for the work to really count.

And then you have to raise them in a world that is almost entirely devoid of community helpers (no village for your child!), where dangers lurk around every corner (even if it's a cozy apocalypse, there's still going to be a host of basic safety issues like how "minor" things like influenza and broken bones can kill you outright), and where safe food and drinking water aren't even remotely something you can count on. Good luck, nu-Eve, as you struggle to build a shelter that will stand up to the storms, farm enough nutrients to keep from getting scurvy, filter drinkable water that won't give you dysentery, and all while popping out another child every nine months because the human race needs babies as quickly as you can make them!

Like, if that's your idea of a good time, I salute your hardcore-edness, but it sounds like hell to me.

When the apocalypse happens, save me because I'm a person and because people should try to save each other when all we have is each other to depend on in the ruins of our society. Or save me because I have skills that will make me valuable to our new society: I can write our history for whoever may come after, or I can compose stories for the entertainment of our people, or I can cook or clean or sew or farm or weave baskets or tend livestock or whatever else. But don't save me because I have a uterus, because it's mine and I won't be using it for you. I don't want to be Eve.


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