metteharrison (metteharrison) wrote,

Fictional Motherhood: Susan Rodriguez from The Dresden Files

I love Jim Butcher's books about Harry Dresden. I even liked the TV show version. I've read all of the books and I own most of them as audio books read by James Marsters (who does amazing voices), as well. But when Susan Rodriguez appears in CHANGES and announces to Harry that she had his child and has kept the knowledge of it from him for the last six years, my spidey senses started to tingle. And then when Susan was basically sacrificed at the climax of the novel, I shook my head. Motherhood again, was fatal.

One of the things I wonder in these kinds of stories is--how often do women conceal that they are pregnant from the fathers of the child? I suppose it happens often enough, when there is no relationship between the man and the woman afterward. But the fact that this is fictionally so often used makes me think. What would Freud say about stories like this? (Not that Freud had any idea what he was talking about, since he clearly was unable to see young girls were being sexually abused by their fathers in turn-of-the-century Vienna by the dozens.) This seems to be an enormous fear for men, the idea that their children will be taken away from them or that knowledge alone will be withheld from them. This is a fear about women's power. It's fear about a woman's body enveloping a man's body and TAKING from it.

Pregnancy is one of the few powers that a woman has and that a man cannot simulate, at least not yet, though we certainly have movies about it happening anyway. Because, yeah, that's what the world needs. We need to make sure that men have all the power that women have because men feel so helpless about women being pregnant and having this enormous power of life. But culturally, we make fun of what it means to be pregnant in a movie like JUNIOR. Why do we do that? Because then the reality of our world, where men can't be pregnant, turns out to be less threatening for men. Pregnancy is just about puking and getting fat and hormones raging that make women silly-crazy all the time. Nothing to worry about men. Nothing to really envy. It's for the best you never have this great power.

Back to Harry and Susan, Susan gives Harry a long list of reasons why she has hidden this information from him. Harry even says that he understands this list of reasons. And he understands, supposedly, while Susan has come to him now when their daughter is in danger. But Harry's reaction? He is pissed off. He is hurt. He is hollowed out, devastated that he has a child he has not known for all this time. He has been stripped of the chance to be a father, stripped of his manhood. His rights? Possibly. The focus of the book is on Harry's loss, and of course, Harry is the narrator and Jim Butcher is the author telling the story, a very male-oriented story here. But the story is about male fear about female power sexually (as are a lot of the stories about the vampires in this series, not to mention the fairies) and about female power in motherhood.

As a contrast in mothering, Charity, MIchael's wife, constantly appears. She's a fierce Mama-Bear type and she frankly doesn't like Harry at all, since he gets her husband into trouble constantly. It may not help that her oldest daughter falls in love with Harry and ends up becoming his apprentice. Of course, Harry wouldn't let anything happen there--she's too young for him and too vulnerable to his masculine charms--but it makes his relationship with Charity even more strained. What I find interesting here is that motherhood is so threatening to Harry Dresden. Charity is one of the few female characters who doesn't like Harry OR find him sexually interesting in the least. She ends up being the one that Harry gives his daughter Maggie to to take care of, and then he basically puts off seeing his daughter again for months because he's afraid it will only put her in danger.

In the climax of CHANGES, Harry manipulates Susan into seeing that her friend Martin has betrayed her and intends to betray Maggie. She attacks him and becomes a full-fledged Red Court vampire in the process. Then Harry sacrifices her instead of Maggie and defeats all his enemies. And at the moment, we are meant to believe that Susan would have wanted Harry to do this, perhaps even knew that he was going to do this. And we are supposed to think about how this will haunt Harry for the rest of his life, killing the mother of his child. Focus on Harry again, as you would expect.

The novel is called CHANGES for a reason. Not only does Harry discover he is a father, but in the course of the book, he ends up losing everything, his office, his home, and his beloved car. In addition, Harry has made a devil's bargain with Mab or he wouldn't have come out of this alive. He has agreed to become the Winter Knight (something that isn't clear on first read--at least not to me) and so when he is shot at the end of it, he doesn't seem to care much because he feels it may be a lucky escape. His final admission to Murphy about how he feels for her is also a cost for him at the end of this book. Susan Rodriguez, the woman he once loved but can't have because she is a vampire and that's his fault, too, has ruined his life. The power she has over Harry is splattered across the pages of this book. Her decision to have a child destroys everything that has been Harry's life. Making him become a father seems to be a kind of vicious act for which she is repaid with death.

Motherhood in The Dresden Files (and I use them as classic examples of popular culture) is a powerful role that threatens the lifestyle of the single man. Women who are mothers are scary and protective of their children. Ultimately, mothers have one role and one purpose, and that is to give up their lives for their children. Susan fulfills her role ultimately when she takes her daughter's place on the altar of the Red Court vampires. Charity is the mother remaining alive who continues to stand as sentinel over her children's lives.

But what else do these women who are mothers do? I keep thinking, do they have hobbies? Charity's only hobby appears to be sword work, which she keeps up so she can protect her children. She cooks and keeps house and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but she is such an ideal. I want to see her passionate about something else in her life. I want to know that Susan has something else in her life besides protecting her daughter, but I don't. Once you are a mother, the message here seems to be, that's it. Your life is over. You will spend all your time and energy taking care of a child until you are dead and are released from the obligation. And for men, fatherhood seems equally binding and therefore something to be fled.

As a mother myself, I don't think that this has to be true. Yes, there are times when children need a lot of care. And pregnancy itself can be dangerous and is powerful. But just as men can have an identity, as a friend, as a worker, as an artist, outside of fatherhood, so can women. Motherhood does not have to be the sole defining fact of the life of a mother. I know many traditional mothers who stay at home with children, and even for those women, motherhood is not their only defining feature. They have many passions in life, from music to knitting to homeschooling to home improvement and on and on. And then there are the mothers who stayed at home with small children and then went back to school or back to work. And the women who never gave up their work identity for motherhood. All of these are ways to mother. And all of them are good.

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