Mary Ingram-Waters wrote an article in the most recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures called “When Normal and Deviant Identities Collide”, about her experiences trying to collect information from authors of mpreg fan fiction stories at a Harry Potter fan convention. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

“Mpreg” means “male pregnancy,” and it has its own subgenre niche inside fan fiction. Ingram-Waters quotes a fan author as ruefully explaining, “It’s definitely a ‘guilty pleasure’ for some and a squick for others, and is in general not that well regarded [among fan fiction readers and writers], mostly because it allegedly turns the male characters into whiny, feminized versions of themselves.”

Ingram-Waters writes that there was a distinct difference in the way she was treated by the authors she interviewed in person compared to the authors she interviewed via email. The authors she interviewed at the convention seemed to make more mention of the stigma of writing mpreg when faced with an actual pregnant woman. They seemed defensive and took pains to note that they had done research on pregnancy before writing. One writer refused to be interviewed at the convention, after previously agreeing.

Ingram-Waters writes, “One explanation for the negative interactions is that my physical presence illuminated the extent of deviance of their mpreg stories.”

Deviance can certainly be found in fan fiction, however one wants to define the term (I immediately thought of that tag line, “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”), but I am focusing on the dictionary definition of the word, seen in the way she contrasts “normal” and “deviant” in the title of her article. I think by that contrast, we can see that mpreg is not all that “out there” in fan fiction terms. One of the things fan fiction does with mpreg is the same thing that commercial science fiction that speculates with gender roles does – it experiments. It plays. What does it mean to be pregnant – socially, culturally, personally? Would it mean something different to a man than it does to woman? What do we learn about pregnancy if we posit that it’s the men who do it and not the women, like sea horses? What is gender, anyway, and what does it have to do with reproduction?

A lot of this sort of questioning and playing goes on in fan fiction, as it does in science fiction, and I have always found those kinds of questions deeply interesting, and also at times downright entertaining.

This particular Ingram-Waters article was confined, however, to the methodological issues, and did not go on to actually examine her findings as she researched the subgenre of mpreg itself, although I am hoping that at some point she’ll publish the outcome of her research on the stories and the authors! That would be fascinating too.

She found that unlike other scholars who have conducted field research while pregnant, the experience of being a “visible normative reproducer” was of no help in establishing rapport with mpreg writers. Some scholars in other fields, she found, have written that being pregnant makes them seem nonthreatening and gives the people they meet something perceived as positive to talk about, something familiar.

Ingram-Waters also noted that she had gone to some pains to identify and establish herself as an acafan as she pursued her research into the mpreg subgenre online, but that face to face, her identity as a pregnant cisgendered woman trumped that pretty completely.

She found a silver lining in even her negative interview experiences, writing that perhaps she’d stumbled on an efficient way to elicit “stigma management strategies for mpreg authors.” I share her fascination with subjects concerning “identities of gender, sexualities and normative bodies,” and I look forward to getting to read more, someday, of her actual research into mpreg fan fiction.

In the meantime, her description of how she was received made a fascinating story.

[META] Whose pregnancy?
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2 thoughts on “[META] Whose pregnancy?

  • 22/10/2010 at 01:44

    Hmm. While it’s always chancy, attributing motives to people in situations like this, I wonder if the authors’ lack of personal experience with pregnancy (when confronted with someone who rather obviously had more first-hand experience with the subject than themselves) might not have been a greater contributory factor to some interviewees’ reactions than Ingram-Waters supposes.

    She does address the possibility, but seems to consider it secondary to the normative/deviant issue: “I can only conclude that for my Harry Potter research, my pregnant body clashed with the genre of fic being written, bringing to the fore the stigma of writing mpreg fiction and the lack of real, embodied experience that many of these authors had of pregnancy.” (Emphasis mine.)

    Personally, I know I might feel awkward in that sort of situation as the result of a suddenly-enforced reminder that this thing I’d been writing about “for fun” was a real, immediate, and probably emotionally-charged aspect of my interviewer’s everyday life. No matter how carefully-researched and respectfully-written my account might be, I’d have a hard time not thinking, “Have I ever come off sounding disrespectful/inappropriate/like a total ignoramus, and if so, how does this individual feel about that?”

    That might also be one reason the in-person interviewees were also so quick to point out that they’d done their research, while also assuming Ingram-Waters knew a lot more about the subject than they did.

    Which is just me tossing an idea out there for sake of discussion, not attempting to contradict Ingram-Waters’ interpretations RE: the normative/deviant issue; I may be completely off-base. She was the one on-site talking to the writers in question and getting the benefit of nonverbal cues, tone-of-voice, and so on, in addition to what was actually said. I’m speaking strictly as a fanfiction author who often writes outside her own experience (not generally mpreg, however), positing how things might have looked from the other side of the interview.

    I too look forward to reading Ingram-Waters’ research finding; the questions and issues involved in the genderbending genres of fanfic are, indeed, fascinating. 🙂

  • 22/10/2010 at 14:33

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment!

    I think that mpreg is a fascinating subgenre where all these issues are extremely complex and very tangled and interesting — more than usual it highlights all the parties to the story — the experience of the reader, the experience of the writer, and the way the experience and outlook of the writer interacts with the characters put in that situation (with all the usual amazing things that fan fiction gives us when we are seeing a shared set of beloved characters and a shared fictional world inside a “community of practice”, with its traditions and expectations.)

    Speaking personally, the few times I’ve tried to write fiction about small children or the experience of parenthood, I found it very difficult and yet also fascinating — I’ve never written mpreg, but more than usual for me in my writing the actual experience I had, my own feelings, was foregrounded in the writing process. Much more of a conscious mining of that vein of experience compared to writing other kinds of narratives.

    I haven’t read a lot of mpreg, but even when its badfic I still think it’s fascinating, and this essay really made me revisit that idea of “what does the writer get out of writing this subgenre? What does the reader want out of reading it?” And of course answers differ, as they always do, but it’s so interesting.

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