I’m quite a bit behind in my podcast listening, so I only just recently listened to Psuedopod episode 660: “Tiny Teeth” by Sarah Hans. This review will contain spoilers, so be sure to read or listen to it first if you haven’t already.
The story takes place in a world in which all fetuses are zombies. (We’re told there’s a test for the virus, which implies that some fetuses test negative, but the rest of the story acts like all of them are zombies, so I’m going to go with that.) We’re told only 50% of women survive childbirth since the zombie fetuses eat their way out of the womb. (Although we’re also told there are now tranquilizers to keep the zombie fetus from killing the mother, so maybe the chance of survival is actually better than 50%.)
Abortion is illegal because, if it wasn’t, no one would have kids. This has been going on for five years, so all kids five and under are zombies too. Some of the zombie kids have parents watching over them, while others roam the streets in packs, so it’s not safe to venture outside by yourself.
We’re told all parents have an empty, hollow look. One mother has “regret and exhaustion and bone-deep sorrow” in her eyes. Parents are referred to as slaves to their children and are all absolutely miserable. Granted this is talking about zombie children, but still, the story seems to be implying that all children are horrible and no one should have kids.
When the story begins, our narrator is horrified to discover that she’s pregnant despite using birth control and the rest of the story outlines her attempts to get an abortion. (Since birth control is legal in this world, I’d think vasectomy and tubal ligation would be legal as well, but this is never brought up, so I’m probably just overthinking it.) She receives no sympathy from her doctor. Her boyfriend at first encourages her to get an abortion, but later changes his mind and tries to pressure her into giving birth.
She eventually finds out she can get an abortion in international waters, but police chase after her to keep her from getting on the boat. (The cops even shoot at her to prevent the abortion, so they’re not that bright.) Fortunately, zombie kids show up and attack the cops so our narrator can escape onto the boat. Since it’s illegal to kill zombie children, even in self-defense, the cops just let themselves be killed. Okay then.
Overall, the point of the story is to ridicule the pro-life position by taking it to a ridiculous extreme. In this world, women are forced to risk their lives and even die in order to give birth to literal monsters because pro-lifers are just that stupid. Never mind that pretty much all pro-lifers in the real world are in favor of abortion when the mother’s life is at risk.
I’m actually pro-choice myself, but I think it’s counter-productive to contribute to the culture of polarization. Instead of exaggerating our opponent’s position into a strawman in order to make it easier to ridicule, shouldn’t we, you know, try to understand what the other side actually thinks?
In his commentary following the story, host Alasdair Stuart referred to the following quote:
“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.
— Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)
I’ve heard variations of this quote before and had always thought the whole men-being-afraid-of-women-laughing-at-them thing was based on a survey, so I was surprised to learn that instead it comes from Margaret Atwood paraphrasing a single friend of hers.
This makes me wonder what men would actually say if someone were to conduct a survey. I suspect that many men would say they don’t feel threatened by women at all and those that did would have a variety of reasons such as fear of being falsely accused of sexual assault, fear of losing custody of their children, fear of losing their job, and so forth. I think if fear of being laughed at is on the list at all, it would be pretty far down.
I think most women would probably still answer that they were afraid of being killed, but is this something they should be afraid of? After all, most people are more afraid of flying than driving even though flying is safer. People are still afraid of shark attacks despite the fact mosquitoes kill nearly 100,000 times as many people as sharks do. Sensationalist media coverage often makes us worry about events that happen fairly rarely.
Looking at the worldwide statistics real quick, we see that about 96% of murderers are male, so no one can deny that men are more violent than women. However, approximately 80% of murder victims are male and only about 20% are female. So technically, men should be more afraid of being murdered than women. Taking a quick look at the leading causes of death for women (PDF link), homicide doesn’t even make the top ten. Women are even twice as likely to die from suicide as homicide.
Despite how low the homicide rates for women are, the fear of being murdered is still understandable. As Margaret Atwood said, men are on average bigger, stronger and more powerful than women. There’s definitely a power imbalance that men should be aware of. Despite being just anecdotal, the Margaret Atwood quote still makes a good point.
Returning to the story, “Tiny Teeth” may not do anything to reduce the political polarization in our society, however, at the end of the day, it’s a horror story; and the point of horror stories is to examine what we’re afraid of, even if we’re afraid of things like zombies that could never happen. So while the story doesn’t work as political commentary, it absolutely succeeds as horror. The fear is real, even if the thing you’re afraid of isn’t.