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Author Topic: Don't Say the A-word: Hollywood and Choice
Catchfire
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posted 10 January 2008 05:50 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Some kudos for Juno inspired me to start this thread. Director Jason Reitman also directed Thank You for Smoking (2006), an interpretation of Christopher Buckley's surreptitious criticism of big government and liberal no-fun-niks in his novel of the same name. Juno follows a teenage pregnancy as she struggles with giving up her baby for adoption while attending high school, etc. Unlike Knocked Up (2007), the option of abortion at least merits a casual mention in Reitman's film.

quote:
A pregnant teenager walks out of an abortion clinic; she's changed her mind. Outside, a girl from her school, wielding a pro-life banner, calls out after her, "God appreciates your miracle." The teenager, named Juno, embarks on a mission to find the perfect parents to adopt her baby. No, it's not a pro-life advert or even an earnest drama, but a scene from a sharp new comedy, also called Juno, directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking). The character of a careless schoolgirl handing her child over to a spotless married couple sounds like a sop to the family values brigade, but there is nothing about Juno's writer, Diablo Cody, to suggest she has ever toed any kind of line.

An ex-stripper who wrote a blog and then a book about her experiences, appeared on Letterman, and dashed off a script - all while still in her 20s - Cody is as straight-talking as you would expect. "I was less worried about people saying it was anti-abortion, because Knocked Up already took the flak for that, unjustly," said Cody, now 29, during the London film festival. "I was more worried because we talk about abortion so flippantly. The scene in the abortion clinic is played for laughs and I think it might be the first movie to do that."

Judd Apatow's summer hit Knocked Up did, as Cody says, take a great deal of heat, and it raged into a firestorm on the internet. A pair of twentysomethings get pregnant on a drunken one-night stand and decide to keep the baby. What so infuriated many was its omission of abortion - "the A-word", as it was coyly referred to by the prospective father's stoner housemates - as a serious option. Los Angeles-based sociologist Lisa Wade, posting on the prominent news site The Huffington Post, called the film "pro-life ideology disguised by dick jokes". A Christian website called it "the family values comedy of the year" (albeit with caveats warning against racy language and use of soft drugs).


Just don't say the A-word


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jrose
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posted 10 January 2008 07:15 AM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That's an excellent article, Catchfire. I saw Juno last night, and I was thinking many of the same things that are discussed in the article. However, I don't know if I'd call Knocked Up a "pro-life ideology disguised by dick jokes." Sure, there were a lot of dick jokes, but I don't know if I'm convinced that the omission of the abortion conversation was a political decision. We can't assume that every young woman who finds herself pregnant, pro-choice or pro-life, considers abortion as an option. Knocked Up was far from a perfect movie though. Even its star, Katherine Heigl spoke up and said it was "a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. … I had a hard time with it, on some days."
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Catchfire
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posted 10 January 2008 07:41 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, that's the way out, isn't it?
quote:
The A-word certainly does get a mention in Juno. "I'm calling to procure a hasty abortion," says the lippy teenager on the phone to the clinic. The scene in which her heroine "chickens" out of abortion was, according to Cody, the trickiest to write: "I didn't want it to seem as if she left because she suddenly had some moral epiphany. It was more that she left for really human, teenage reasons. She's freaked out."

Reitman and Cody aren't making a movie about every teenage pregnancy, they claim, they're making a movie about this one. And this one is "freaked out" (understandably, especially in the political climate of the United States) about abortion. But the reason her reaction is "human" is not because abortion is essentially icky, or grave, or life-altering, but because the politics of America have framed it in that way.

Every film is a political act, even if it stars Steve Carrell. I'm not faulting Hollywood, or Juno in particular (and I hope it doesn't seem like I singled you out, jrose, because you mentioned it in the other thread--I loved Juno too!) for not standing up for choice, because it's a comedy, for crying out loud. But we can't pretend that it is not contributing to the decline of choice in America. In some ways it's worse than a girl consternating over an abortion, then having a "moral epiphany" and parroting anti-choice drivel: at least then the choice side, however scarecrowed, is present. With Juno and Knocked Up, they don't have to argue choice away--they only need to pretend it doesn't exist.


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jrose
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posted 10 January 2008 07:48 AM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I totally, totally agree. I think the article that you posted is excellent, and I'm not debating it. All I'm saying, is that I don't necessarily believe that every film that deals with pregnancy (planned or unplanned), also has to have a scene dealing with abortion.

quote:
Reitman and Cody aren't making a movie about every teenage pregnancy, they claim, they're making a movie about this one. And this one is "freaked out" about abortion

Couldn't you say the same for Knocked Up being a movie about this one person who is "freaked out" about being pregnant, but isn't considering abortion?


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EmmaG
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posted 10 January 2008 08:06 AM      Profile for EmmaG        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
If you are pro-choice, just accept that the stars of these films chose to give birth, not have abortions?

Why does it have to be such a political issue? Having a baby is a good thing.


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Ibelongtonoone
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posted 10 January 2008 08:08 AM      Profile for Ibelongtonoone        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I really don't think it's a political move on the part of the filmmakers in either of these films. Without the main characters continuing the pregnancy and giving birth there is no movie. Fast times at Ridgemont High had an abortion scene without any kind of discussion but the whole point of that movie wasn't about getting pregnant.
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Scout
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posted 10 January 2008 08:23 AM      Profile for Scout     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Having a baby is a good thing.

What?


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jrose
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posted 10 January 2008 08:28 AM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Why does it have to be such a political issue? Having a baby is a good thing.

Having the CHOICE to have a baby is a good thing too. I'm not being anti-choice here, and I very much agree with the climate surrounding this issue in North America, you're very right about that Catchfire. And I think it's great that Juno explored all the options (in a light-hearted, humourous way) of an unexpected teenage pregnancy. I just don't see the need for EVERY movie about unexpected pregnancy to have scenes about EVERY option. Maybe Knocked Up could have used a quip here, or a quip there, but I don't think it had an anti-choice agenda.


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Michelle
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posted 10 January 2008 08:38 AM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
EmmaG, if this is the beginning of another round of trying to sneak the prolife stuff through the back door deal, don't bother. I have a long memory.

[ 10 January 2008: Message edited by: Michelle ]


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Catchfire
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posted 11 January 2008 02:01 AM      Profile for Catchfire   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm less interested in critiquing Juno for failing to be a movie about abortion than I am the general trend in Hollywood to pretend that abortion doesn't exist. Although it should be pointed out that the producers and director of the film chose to make a movie about pregnancy and not about abortion (which is not the same thing as choosing to make a movie about football instead of baseball). Furthermore, Reitman's previous choice to make a movie based on William F. Buckley's son's conservative, pseudo-libertarian novel should throw his political leanings into relief.

I would also like to clarify that when I say a film like Juno is a political act, I do not mean to say that its creators are intentionally pushing some lobbyist agenda--rather that any piece of art contributes to the cultural and political fabric of contemporary life.

Of course anyone can make a movie about anything they like. If this movie were based on the personal, autobiographical experiences of the screenwriter, it would be perhaps disingenuous to criticize her motives. But in the same way that when Arthur Golden chose to write a book about Japan, he chose to write about a blue-eyed prostitute, we must interrogate why more directors (and producers) are not choosing to represent abortion in the same way others are choosing to avoid i--conspicuously, I would add--altogether.


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bigcitygal
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posted 11 January 2008 04:01 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I haven't seen the movie but I plan to. I appreciate hearing from babblers that they enjoyed it.

As for abortion on the big or small screen, I'm sure some feminist somewhere has documented the times it has been portrayed and the plots that flowed from characters making that choice.

(I'm going to out myself for something rather unexpected now. Wait for it....)

I used to be a huge The Young and The Restless fan. For years and years after I should have known better. But that show may have portrayed the first character on network t.v. who had an abortion, maybe the first on a soap, I'm not sure.

It was Ashley Abbot, the closest to a feminist that show had for a long time, and if anyone else out there is brave enough to come out (come out!) with me here, remember what happened to Ashley? She went "crazy"! The message was that you will become mentally ill and unstable if you have an abortion, that it's so damaging that you can't go on with your regular life for a long long time, etc, etc blaaaaa. She felt guilt, she felt regret, all the things the anti-choice lobby loves to portray about abortion.

I can't remember the issue of abortion being raised during the 1980s "issues" based sitcom fad ("Tonight, on a very special 'Blossom' ") except for the cop-out plot of she thinks she's pregnant, she ponders for one micro-second about abortion and then - ta da! - she gets her period. Phew! Moral decision, and ratings risk, avoided.

Edited to fix a dangling participle. Dang!

[ 11 January 2008: Message edited by: bigcitygal ]


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jrose
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posted 11 January 2008 05:30 AM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I can't remember the issue of abortion being raised during the 1980s "issues" based sitcom fad ("Tonight, on a very special 'Blossom' ") except for the cop-out plot of she thinks she's pregnant, she ponders for one micro-second about abortion and then - ta da! - she gets her period. Phew! Moral decision, and ratings risk, avoided.

Unless you count Degrassi Junior High as an issues-based sitcom! If I recall correctly, I think that was the first time I ever even heard the word abortion on television.


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bigcitygal
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posted 11 January 2008 06:19 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Of course! DJH! It was aimed at a younger demographic than me at the time, so I didn't watch it that much (although I could sing you the theme song. ) but it covered "issues" very well, in fact the entire show was "issues" based unlike the less well written USian sitcoms.
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Summer
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posted 11 January 2008 07:06 AM      Profile for Summer     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Since we’re talking about soaps I think it was actually Susan Lucci’s character on All my Children who had the first tv abortion back in the 70’s. It was a controversial storyline (still would be today sadly) because the character was married or in a serious relationship and she aborted because a baby was not inline with her career plans at the time.
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Ibelongtonoone
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posted 11 January 2008 09:41 AM      Profile for Ibelongtonoone        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I don't think hollywood really has a problem with movies dealing with abortion but they tend to be foreign or indie - and several in the last few years have been nominated for or awarded oscars - "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" , Vera Drake, ect.

I think it's more of a fiancial decision - abortion movies = poor to aceptable box office

For something small cheap for urban arthouse theatres - no problem

A blockbuster comedy in 3000 theatres - I don't think so.


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bigcitygal
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posted 11 January 2008 10:57 AM      Profile for bigcitygal     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Ibelongtonoone:
I don't think hollywood really has a problem with movies dealing with abortion but they tend to be foreign or indie - and several in the last few years have been nominated for or awarded oscars - "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" , Vera Drake, ect.



Foreign and indie are by definition not Hollywood films. I think that's the point.

And Summer, my error, it was AMC, not Y&R. I stand corrected.


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Ibelongtonoone
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posted 11 January 2008 11:29 AM      Profile for Ibelongtonoone        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
true but it's hollywood studios or their sub companies that buy them to distribute and advertise and in some cases push for awards.

Mirimax was called indie as they put out envelope pushing movies throughout the 90's but they always had Disney's backing as long as they didn't attract to much controversial attention.

I think the real point here is - conformity to the bourgeois lifestyle - I've been reading a book on Van Gogh and in his letters between he and his brother he agonized over this desire - and he was a brilliant vanguard artist - this desire for wife, kids, a nice home, ect. - goes back centuries


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jrose
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posted 14 January 2008 02:50 PM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Shameless compiled a short list of some of the press that Juno is getting, that relates to the issues of abortion and teen pregnancy.

Another, similar post on the Shameless blog can be found here.


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Le Téléspectateur
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posted 14 January 2008 05:07 PM      Profile for Le Téléspectateur     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
As one of the posts on the blog you link to points out, the movie does make pregnancy look like a fuckin' walk in the park.

This is a major undertone of anti-choice politics in movies. Pregnancy looks so freaking easy! This probably has something to do with the fact that men write a lot of Hollywood movies. Where is the puking? The hemorrhoids? The sciatic pain? The constant worry of miscarriage cheered on by a canon of literature that finds every thing a woman does as "risky"?

Juno certainly didn't deal with the realities of pregnancy and I'm hard pressed to think of a Hollywood movie that does.


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Summer
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posted 15 January 2008 06:10 AM      Profile for Summer     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
From this morning's Globe and Mail: The unthinkable shmashmortion

quote:

I loved Juno, a movie that presents a pregnant teenager as anything but a victim, and ends up questioning the very definition of family.

However, these movies, along with the bizarre announcement last month that Jamie Lynn Spears, the younger sister of notoriously troubled Britney, was pregnant at 16 and going ahead with it, do make me wonder whether pop culture is trying to pretend abortion doesn't exist.

Abortion is one of the trickiest and most personal issues around. In practice, it's still kept very quiet. Our society still finds it easier not to acknowledge that so many women among us - friends, sisters, daughters, even mothers - have terminated an unwanted pregnancy.

As for these movie plots, several women's health specialists I contacted described them as "extremely unrealistic."

SNIP

Meanwhile, in real life, a great many teenage pregnancies end at the abortion clinic. Which isn't to say that doesn't provide a somewhat happy ending too.



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mary123
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posted 22 January 2008 09:40 AM      Profile for mary123     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Whereas there was a trend before of women and careers waiting til their mid to late 30's to have their first babies nowadays there's a sort of backlash against being an older mommy and wanting babies much much earlier.

Hollywood's current glamorization of young mothers having babies in their early to mid 20's like Britney Spears, Nicole Ritchie Christina Aguileira and the even young teenager Jaimie Lynn Spears (Britney's sister) also is making teen pregnancy seem "cool".

There's also the fact that maybe the religious rights abstinence programs didn't work out either. It's not practical for teenagers in a hyper sexualized culture to completely abstain from ALL sex.

I think there are a wide range of factors at play here as to why women/teenagers seem to be getting pregnant younger and much younger than before.

The little Canadian show that could Degrassi TOTALLY rocked. This show deals with all the issues, lesbian attraction, gay romance, abortion, date rape pills I LOVE LOVE LOVE Degrassi.

I believe the Degrasso abortion episode was banned or there was a controversy in some parts of the States when it first aired.

~~~~~~~~~

And on a side note Canadian women rocked Oscar's arses!!!!

Canadian and Torontonian Sarah Polley picked up an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay from an Alice Munro story and Haligonian Ellen Page's Juno also picked up a best actress nomination. Whoo Hoo.

Canadian Jason Reitman picked up a best director nod for Juno also.

Unfortunately Dennys Arcand and Ryan Gosling were both shut out!


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rural - Francesca
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posted 22 January 2008 09:56 AM      Profile for rural - Francesca   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
my baby turns 18 today and I'm only $! so having my kids young (19 for the first one) gets me freedom while I can still enjoy it.

I think the right age to have children is when you want them, not when the 'trend' hits


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mary123
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posted 22 January 2008 09:57 AM      Profile for mary123     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The Degrassi abortion US controversy from 2004:


quote:
The episodes are significant for U.S. television because not only does the 14-year-old Degrassi character choose to have an abortion, she feels no guilt or regret over her decision afterwards.

The Times article compares the Canadian show to U.S. teen-centred soaps, like Beverly Hills, 90210, Dawson's Creek and The O.C., where characters may discuss abortion, but eventually decide to continue with the pregnancy.


Who's afraid of dealing with teenage abortion issues? Not Degrassi !!!


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jrose
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posted 22 January 2008 10:02 AM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Not to create a completely Degrassi-inspired thread drift, I wanted to mention that I checked out Degrassi (The New Generation) last night, in which the trendy teens were dealing with the aftermath of a drugged rape and a suicide attempt. It’s nice to see that the show is still taking on the issues that made it so popular in the 80s.
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mary123
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posted 22 January 2008 10:02 AM      Profile for mary123     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by rural - Francesca:

I think the right age to have children is when you want them, not when the 'trend' hits

Exactly. There are pros and cons with having children earlier in life and having children later in life. It's up to each woman to seriously consider what is right for her at whatever stage of life she's at given her life situation and circumstance.


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jrose
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posted 19 February 2008 12:35 PM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here is an interview with Ellen Page:

quote:
Is "Juno" a pro-life movie?

Not in the slightest, and if you knew me and if you knew the writer and the director, no one would ever say that. It happens to be a film about a girl who has a baby and gives it to a yuppie couple. That's what the movie's about. Like, I'm really sorry to everyone that she doesn't have an abortion, but that's not what the film is about. She goes to an abortion clinic and she completely examines all the opportunities and all the choices allowed her and that's obviously the most crucial thing. It's as simple as that.

I call myself a feminist when people ask me if I am, and of course I am 'cause it's about equality, so I hope everyone is. You know you're working in a patriarchal society when the word feminist has a weird connotation. "Hippie" has a weird connotation. "Liberal" has a weird connotation.

How sick are you of these questions?

Well, because I very much am pro-choice, I don't really get it. People are always going to project. It's kind of amazing, though, that a movie that's caused this much controversy has done really well in America.



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jrose
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posted 15 May 2008 08:16 AM      Profile for jrose     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here's Feministing's take on the rise of "fertility films" in Hollywood these days:

Fertility Films via Feministing

quote:
Feministing friend and vicious intellect Alyssa Quart has a piece online for Mother Jones about the new trend of “fertility films”—Hollywood heartstringers about super independent women finally coming to terms with their maternal urges (Smart People, Baby Mama, Then She Found Me, Juno, Knocked Up, and Happy Endings). In part, Quart is asking: “Are the new fertility film stars actually feminists?”

The answer is complicated. On the one hand, it’s feminist to see women going after what they want. Despite a lot of frustration with Juno on the part of feminists (especially older, in my experience) regarding the abortion scene, I have to admit that I thought it was, big picture, a wildly feminist film. Since when has a teen girl protagonist done anything in Hollywood other than coo-ing? I know my standards are low, but Juno got it right in a lot of ways. And, what’s more, Ellen Page calls herself a feminist in public.

Tina Fey (public disclosure: I have a major thang for Tina) plays an uptight, but certainly self-actualized gal in Baby Mama (where, let’s face it, the real story is about class). To see two female comedians getting top billing and raking in the box office bucks made me happy as a clam (ah vagina puns).

BUT…as we all know, choice doesn’t equal empowerment. Quart writes: “…these films recast the "pro-choice" narrative of feminists' personal and political past as a different, less politically dangerous sort of pro-choice story—a woman's right to choose from a smorgasbord of late fertility options.”

The films also play into oppressive tropes about successful women who don’t prioritize their fertility and then get punished with shitty partners, expensive interventions, and/or a whole lot of heartache. “Silly women,” the screenwriters seem to be saying, “let’s make fun of their plight.” But as Quart reminds us, these scenarios are real—in the beginning. Then the film plots reduce them to ridiculousness: “these films are rather conservative at heart; their entanglements all end far more neatly than their real life counterparts.”
...


The Mother Jones article can be found here.


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