Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mothers' Days

Last night Guy and I went to see Smart People. Before the movie itself, we saw a preview for Then She Found Me. By my calculations, this brings to six the number of American movies released in the past twelve months that feature unexpected pregnancies: Knocked Up, Waitress, Juno, Smart People, Baby Mama, and Then She Found Me.

I've seen all but the last two, and liked them to varying degrees. But I'm bothered by a few things. In all cases, the pregnancies come as an unwelcome surprise: the women tend to be too old or too young; unmarried or married to assholes or in the midst of a divorce; and all have "ambitions" or "dreams" or "a future"--futures that are either jeopardized or significantly complicated by a pregnancy.

And in each case, the woman has the baby. Those movies that raise the possibility of an abortion do so only obliquely, often euphemistically, and the pregnant woman rejects the idea immediately.

We're supposed to celebrate these women for being brave enough to step into the unknown, to accept that plans change, and to sacrifice some of their ambitions for the sake of something (or someone) else. That's a lovely message as far as it goes, and in each separate case I'm willing to root for the woman and to support her choice--but when that message comes, time and again, without more than a perfunctory acknowledgement of the difficulties these women will face--and in the absence of the social, economic, and legal structures that might permit them to balance work and family life with something approximating success--the feel-good endings of these movies do not, in fact, make me feel so good.

So this Mother's Day, let's take a moment to celebrate birth control. And let's hear it for keeping abortion safe, legal, and accessible.

Hollywood, take a memo.

17 comments:

What Now? said...

Amen!

medieval woman said...

Hear her! Hear her! Let's definitely keep the right and ability to make choices safe and sound!!!

Bardiac said...

Go you! Let's here it for birthcontrol, choice, and available abortions (not only for the wealthy).

Hollywood may look liberal in superficial ways, but it's big business, and they'll never question big things, capitalism, patriarchy, etc. And Hollywood knows we need women to make babies.

Ugh.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Safe, legal, and as widely accessible in *every* state as multiplex movies are.

The sorry truth is, some states have more arthouses willing to screen Juno than clinics willing to help actual pregnant teenagers.

Dr. Crazy said...

Go, Flavia!

Flavia said...

Well, yes: and why do pregnant teenagers need help, anyway, when they can just look in the free local paper and find a nice couple willing to pay their medical expenses and take that baby off their hands?

I think it's in some ways more insidious that some of these movies do raise the prospect of abortion, only to reject it: if that nice young gal--or even the kind of gal who drinks and swears and engages in unsafe sex--can find it in herself to sacrifice her job, her income, and quite possibly her ability to get to/remain in the middle class. . . why wouldn't everyone? All women should be willing to make those and even greater sacrifices!

That's what (good) women do, right?

Susan said...

For Mother's Day, I'm sending a link to this blog to my mother, who - bless her -- always told us that abortion should be safe and legal, and that it was OK. Even if it was not an issue.

Abortion is still common in the US, but it's completely invisible as a positive choice in our culture and our public conversation. So thank you, Flavia!

meg said...

Time to quote my mother-out-law:

"Don't get me wrong, I love my kids, but I wish I'd never had children."

Brave woman.

Nik said...

Each of those movies that you list has bothered me in the same way. Thanks for noting it. And bravo to those who help keep abortion safe and legal. And to you who posts about it.

Kate said...

Yes. Yes.

Flavia said...

Susan: isn't that sweet! Your mother sounds wonderful. Thanks for the affirmation.

Sfrajett said...

I agree. Knocked Up particularly pissed me off. Baby Momma is great if you want to laugh hard, but it also definitely takes at least two steps back for every feminist step forward, not to mention some awkward racial politics you don't hear about in the reviews. Be prepared to feel bad if you've chosen to have a career!

kfluff said...

I am so late to this party, but let me just say "Testify, sister!!" The glory of motherhood is getting to be a bit much lately, no? From celebrity "bumpwatch" to the Hollywood trend, it's everywhere I don't want to be.

Flavia said...

Kfluff: oh, and then there's that! The most awful supermarket magazine cover I saw recently (US, maybe?) had a cover story on which celebrities had the best, and fastest-acquired post-partum bods. . . and then a teaser for another story inside about "the best new 'bumps'!"

Because. . . the only thing more laudably feminine than having babies is the immediate eradication of any physical signs of having babies. Right?

Julep said...

Thanks Flavia. These movies are inspiring, cute, etc. etc. but are so divorced from the reality that such women would actually face. I give a big thumbs down to Hollywood for entrenching the idea of abortion as a taboo and secret option that no decent or caring woman would make.

Earnest English said...

How could I have missed this most excellent post? Perhaps I was busy puzzling over the Mother's Day cards that I got from my two sisters and from my dad. When did Mother's Day become a day when everyone is supposed to celebrate motherhood in general and not one's own specific mother? (Not to mention, I'm pregnant, not a mother. Absurdist Fetus did not give me a card, so why did others think they had to? Odd.) I think we're going through a weird cult of motherhood nowadays -- where every decision a mother makes is contested and embattled on all sides. And of course this leaves abortion way out of the picture, because what good mother would opt out of motherhood? I had an abortion years ago -- and it was a very painful not at all lighthearted choice. That was when I started making decisions about what was best for a child of mine. But Hollywood -- and America in general -- doesn't want to talk about that.

Thanks Flavia for the good post.

Carlton said...

Not disagreeing with the sentiment of the post, but if the female leads in these movies go ahead and get "shmasmortions", the movies end up being pretty short. (I have only seen a couple off the list, I'm just guessing.) The pregnancy provides the conflict and, often, the only reason for the characters to associate with one another.

You could probably make a movie entirely about the woman's decision-making process, and maybe it would even be funny -- or maybe not. I think that, rather than some kind of anti-choice conspiracy, it may be just that the "abortion comedy" is a lot harder to write and pitch than the "pregnancy comedy."