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Marshae Jones is her name. She was pregnant; she was shot in the stomach; her fetus died. She is, in the latest round of body horrors inflicted by anti-abortion patriarchal white supremacist politics in America, being held responsible for the loss of her pregnancy, for the bullet that she didn’t fire that pierced her body. (Jones is Black, but you could have guessed that already, couldn’t you? We know from hard experience that these policies are always enacted first on the bodies of Black women.)
“The investigation showed that the only true victim in this was the unborn baby,’’ police Lieutenant Danny Reid told reporters.i “It was the mother of the child who initiated and continued the fight which resulted in the death of her own unborn baby.” The fetus was "dependent on its mother to try to keep it from harm, and she shouldn’t seek out unnecessary physical altercations,” he added.
Jones was arrested, charged with manslaughter; the person who shot her was released after a grand jury failed to indict her. The violation of Jones’s body has been disappeared from the conversation. The bullet entering her, tearing flesh and organs and causing no doubt immense pain is immaterial. Her body only matters as vessel for her fetus, and she is responsible for any damage done to her that might also hurt the thing she hosts. Her feelings are not mentioned; the articles do not quote her. Only the policeman gets to speak, and a spokesperson from the Yellowhammer Fund, which supports abortion access in Alabama.
“Today, Marshae Jones is being charged with manslaughter for being pregnant and getting shot while engaging in an altercation with a person who had a gun. Tomorrow, it will be another black woman, maybe for having a drink while pregnant. And after that, another, for not obtaining adequate prenatal care,” said that spokesperson, Amanda Reyes.
Jones’s story would be headline news anyway, but it came in the wake of Alabama’s passage of a full abortion ban in May.ii The law aims to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade and its new anti-abortion majority, cemented with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh after a set of hearings that felt to many of us like slow torture, when Christine Blasey Ford came forward and testified about her experience of violent sexual assault at the hands of Kavanaugh as his private school buddies laughed in the background. The hearings had the pacing of a horror movieyou know the rending is coming, but from where and what direction and how much hell will you sit through and why do you do this to yourself, anyway?
The Handmaid’s Tale is the pop culture reference du jour for America’s current political trend, dubbed by many “the War on Women.” I can’t bear the thought of watching the thing, thoughin a world of patriarchal violence, I choose to find my catharsis elsewhere. Similarly, I didn’t watch the Kavanaugh hearings, though like everyone else I absorbed via osmosis and social media the general shell-shocked feeling among abuse and assault survivors (i.e. most women and not a few men you know), and the occasional moments of commendable fierceness from the protesters fighting back.
But when prompted to look at the Alien movies in this context, in the wake of these abortion bans and the creeping dismantling of rights to our bodily autonomy, that was something different. As an undergraduate studying film and literature I once heard a professor say that she thought Alien was the only truly feminist movie she’d ever seen. It is about a woman versus an ever-multiplying monster, the monstrous-feminine, in the words of theorist Barbara Creed.iii The horror of the Alien is internal as well as external; it creates a unique revulsion not because of special effects but because of our deep-seated animal fear of something inside. The alien is fetal-looking, with its bulbous forehead and coiling body, reminding us that its ultimate horror is that it can be inside us yet separate from us, moving, having agency, able to burst out when we aren’t ready, causing damage we can’t yet see but can feel.
The Alien films are messy and bloody and dirty and visceral; the horror is not jump scares or blood and gore but the horror of your own body and the many ways it can betray you. The Alien movies, in other words, are about the monstrous reproductive. Pregnancy.