Carrie Matthison is not a character that fits very neatly into any major female media “type.” She is crude, unapologetic, and unabashedly defies common depictions of femininity. Although her presence in and movement through male dominated spaces does not come without some push back within the narrative space, the first couple of seasons of Homeland do a great job in presenting a complex and non-traditional female heroine. The third season of Homeland becomes an interesting test case in how to present a non-traditional woman like Carrie when she becomes pregnant and will, ultimately, take on one of the most common female roles, that of “mother.” This week, I would like to look a bit at the way that Carrie’s impending motherhood is treated.
Episode nine deals with the aftermath of Carrie’s defiance in the previous episode. She wakes up in the hospital after being treated for the gunshot wound that Quinn delivered to her in an attempt to stop Carrie from derailing a mission. In this hospital scene, Carrie has an interaction with a male doctor. He asks Carrie if she is aware of her pregnancy. She answers in the affirmative and the doctor seems upset that Carrie has failed to inquire about the status of the fetus. He tells her, without her asking, that the “baby should be fine, in case [she’s] wondering.” My readers are welcome to disagree, but this remark from the doctor sounds a bit condescending and judgmental. Clearly, there are very strict cultural ideas about what a mother should act like and how she should feel about her child, and Carrie’s dismissal of these norms seems to rub people the wrong way. It is interesting to note here how this interaction with a male doctor is quite different than only a few episodes earlier in which Carrie interacts with a female doctor and admits to heavy alcohol use in the weeks leading up to her appointment. The female doctor offers a more empathetic response to Carrie’s situation.
Carrie is also receiving tremendous pressure from her family to keep her baby. In the last episode of the season, Carrie is visited by both her sister and father. They have hand-me-down baby gear to offer Carrie to get her ready for the child’s arrival. Carrie admits that she is not sure she can keep the baby. This is understandable, as she has just received a hefty promotion and will be moving half way around the world. One can imagine that it would be hard enough being a single parent as it is, let alone attempting to be a single parent in a foreign country and away from a viable support system. Additionally, Carrie has proven throughout the first three seasons that her work is her first priority. Caring for a child would ultimately challenge the way Carrie has always prioritized her job above all else. However, her father likens her decision to that of her mother, painting any decision Carrie makes that includes giving up the child as selfish and wrong. Carrie’s father’s comments are reminiscent of a more cultural backlash against women who choose childlessness. For women, often it is assumed that becoming a mother is an inevitability and for those who fail to comply, there are many willing to voice their dissatisfaction regarding this form of feminine dissent. Women can also experience feelings of unnaturalness or failing as a result of not reaching certain culturally defined feminine milestones.
Carrie’s sister is not necessarily any better. She tells Carrie that she feels like a baby will ground her, as though a baby is some magical answer to all of Carrie’s unbalanced behavior. This reasoning, in some ways, seems antithetical to her sister’s premise. For Carrie, who has traditionally struggled with self care for her mental health, it would seem that bringing a child into the picture might, inevitably, cause more personal chaos. However, Carrie’s sister, a mother herself, seems to naturally balance career, children, and home life. Unfortunately for Carrie, her sister does not seem to realize that she may be pushing her own internalized “norm” which views women as innevitable mothers onto her sister, rather than considering what Carrie really wants.
Because I know what happens with this situation, I will end here and refrain from spoiling anything for my readers and classmates who are going through their first viewing of the series. However, I will say that we are in for some interesting viewing in the coming weeks (and seasons) of the show.