I couldn’t tell you why, but I have a fondness for asexual characters. They are very rarely represented in fiction, so I am fascinated when I encounter them, and tend to be very protective of the integrity of their identities thereof. Those of you of the type inclined to ‘shipping may find this frustrating, but that’s the way I’ve always seen Mrs. Hawking.
Mrs. Hawking is to my mind a true aromantic asexual. Completely disinterested in sex, in fact rather disgusted by it, and completely incapable of experiencing romantic love. She is a loner by nature, made worse by her rage and alienation in regards to the world around her, and frustrated by how there seems to be no place or understanding for people who feel that way. This frustration is interesting because despite this, I don’t think she fully realizes how exceptional she is in this respect.
It intersects weirdly, in fact problematically, with her particular outlook on women. As I’ve mentioned she is supposed to represent a kind of radical feminism, the kind that needs tempering with a more broad-minded, inclusive force, which in this case is Mary’s more intersectional feminism. She tends to view sexuality as something men impose on women rather than something that women can and should own themselves. I don’t think Mrs. Hawking has ever really personally witnessed women be anything but victims of men’s sexuality, much less have a healthy sexuality of their own. It’s not like she’s close to many people, so the women she mostly comes in contact with are mostly clients, and given that they’re people in trouble, they’re much less likely to be in happy or healthy partnerships. That combined with the complete disinterest in sex she finds in herself has led her to conclude that NO women are sexual, and there is no positive way they can experience it. Sex, marriage, and even romance are just traps made by men to further arrange the world to their liking regardless of what women need.
It makes it a bit difficult to think about how that played out in the course of her marriage. I think she and the Colonel both bought into the Victorian conventional wisdom about sex much more than was healthy. They both concluded, I think, that of course women are not very interested in such things, and of course men expect them anyway, so they both had a seemingly plain explanation for each other’s behavior. I hate to say it, but I guess Victoria just kind of put up with it– on an occasional basis, at least –because it was the easiest way to deal, and Reginald believed that was just how these things worked. And I have a feeling that after (spoiler) the stillbirth, the issue came up considerably less often.
As a result, she is, to use the academic jargon, extremely sex-negative. It’s part of the way she fails at feminism, as it leads her to either deny part of women’s essential humanity, or look down on women who are sexual as complicit with their victimizers.
But Mary’s role in her world is to challenge her, to temper her and encourage her to grow, as intersectional feminism does to radical. So, I think Mary will emerge as a counterexample to that view. She will be a woman who not only is capable of a functional, equal romantic relationship with a man, but one who DESIRES such a relationship. I think that’s going to be very difficult for Mrs. Hawking, as she has a hard time seeing romance and marriage as anything but submitting to the enemy. That’s going to be something that Mary’s will have to stand up to her about, and help her to see that a woman wanting love and sex does not have to be diminishing to her independence or agency.