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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Hollywood and Abortion -- No Choice?

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Author Topic: Hollywood and Abortion -- No Choice?
-Lauren-
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The NY Times article discussing lack of choice for females in film

So.. we've all seen it, and lots of us have been pondering; where the hell is the CHOICE whether or not to maintain a pregnancy in a film in which a female finds herself in the situation?

A poor waitress, a woman after a one night stand, a fast-food worker.. women who should have a choice who never do in the movies. A film will inevitably either start with the pregnant woman struggling in her current position without any explanation as to the circumstances surrounding her choice (or lack of), or later taking a pregnancy test with no discussion whatsoever about her options, just certain doom and strife.

So, why is "liberal Hollywood" not so liberal here? Does it simply make a better drama to show the struggles of motherhood? Are directors afraid of upsetting the audience who may not agree with any other option than parenting?

Have you noticed too? What do you think? How does it make you feel?

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Willowy Girl
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They talk a bit about the Times article and related materials at the Our Bodies, Our Selves blog too if you want to have a look:
Abortion, Shmashmortion ... What You Won't See on Screen

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rosemat
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Almost 99% of movies are made by men right? Maybe that's the reason?
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hunnybunny888
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perhaps it just makes a better story? Or that there are more story ideas that can come out of parenting. Besides, everyone loves a child and struggling mother. There are a few films with abortion...maybe try checking out some bollywood and indy films and you might find more
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Heather
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As any writer will tell you, no one thing makes for a better story than another: it's all about how you tell it and how well you craft it. A less complicated story, perhaps, one which is less likely to equal the easy money, absolutely. But better? Not onless the writer at hand is a really lousy writer.

And I have to say, even with the weirdness about choice issues and the weirdness about women (though that's Judd Apatow, period, and since most of his movies are aimed at men and about men who don't get women, I'm not so sure I have a big issue with that), I liked Knocked Up. But it being a batter story than say, Vera Drake, would be a pretty ludicrous assertion.

Plus, in a culture which is so strongly either outright anti-choice, or just exceptionally uncomfortable with abortion and adoption (from the birth mother's perspective), it'd be pretty unbelieveable not to discuss that obvious and most likely reason for a lack of abortion or women's choice in films, which is the same reason we have a lack of women's choice and address of women's real choices in the world at large: not that our choices are someone uninteresting, or have more mileage, but that our real scenarios are rarely addressed.

Hunnybunny, you say 'everyone loves a child and struggling mother," but in truth, we rarely see anything close to that very omnipresent reality in film, and we certainly didn't see it in Knocked Up. That character was hardly struggling. Plus? Women are and have been making clear that no, we don't like being respresented in only these ways, so "everyone" really doesn't like this.

When we can say there are but a few films addressing abortion or women not at all considering anything BUT pregnancy -- even for a minute -- when they become pregnant, we have a very real problem, because that is an overwhelming reality that is just being made -- quite intentionally -- invisible. And I think rosemat hit something important which is that yes, a majority of the film industry is very much still led and run by men, and does very much still cater to men -- even to the point that a lot of "chick flicks" still sort of pander to a stutus quo that men are okay with: we can hardly say that about film and women.

(And Bollywood film having ABORTION in it? Talking about real women's choices in INDIA? Oh boy: not even hardly.)

Awesome topic, Lauren. It might also be woth looking at (sorry, film geek here who lives with filmmaker) the disparity in films even just about parenthood: we very often see men struggling about whether or not they want to be partners or active parents, but right in line with the cultural ethos about how women who even for a minute question motherwing once they have children are so often viewed as monstrous, not normal, we rarely see the same for women. So, some of all of this too is about the whole "Good Mother" business that is so pervasive in the world, where motherhood is ever set up on a golder pedastal, and women who question it -- either when realizing they're pregnant, or, if they give birth, during parenting -- are just not "good" women.

[ 07-15-2007, 08:25 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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capn36k
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What about abortion on TV shows?

There was an episode of Grey's Anatomy where a girl had been pregnant... She didn't tell the father, and decided to get an abortion. She had a miscarriage before the abortion could be carried out. I felt that the fact she didn't tell the father and planned on having an abortion implied to the audience that abortions should be secretive and shameful. And I don't think that they should be. If a women chooses to have an abortion she shouldn't have to hide it. I'm not saying go around flaunting it...but don't be sneaky.

Do you think they put the miscarriage into the plot to avoid dealing with the actual abortion on screen? On the other hand, they could have put it in to show: this is how society deals with abortions....wake up world! But I didn't exactly get that vibe.

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-Lauren-
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Yup, that's another thing often seen on TV and movies -- the woman all too "conveniently" miscarries when she doesn't want the baby, because that's seen as the only acceptable way for a pregnancy to end. The article touches on that a bit.

Heather, I think I love you for this bit:

... is about the whole "Good Mother" business that is so pervasive in the world, where motherhood is ever set up on a golder pedastal, and women who question it -- either when realizing they're pregnant, or, if they give birth, during parenting -- are just not "good" women.

I've been pondering on why, even when a woman KNOWS it is the right choice for her and is 100% okay, there's still that nagging feeling that what she is doing is wrong and going "against her nature" in the eyes of others. I've even entertained the thought, so help me, of people thinking women who opt out of motherhood are admitting ineptitude in something viewed as inevitable in her lifetime, thus, failure. I think that describes as closely as possible how I would feel pressured in such a situation; abortion = unfit mother = failure. Sad state of affairs, really.

Whew, you helped me get that out! Anyway, I can definitely see now how portraying anything BUT motherhood could serve to demonize a character, this stupid ideology in mind.

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rosemat
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I saw a Chinese TV serial drama like 2 years ago, where they talked about this I thought very beautifully. A girl who got pregnant went to her father's girlfriend for advise on abortion as she was sure she wanted one. She felt scared of telling her father because he was strict and had some old fashioned views about certain things according to her. The girlfriend felt responsible and told her dad anyway. When he approached her she broke down and started to cry thinking he won't allow or help her have an abortion. Seeing her cry he just held her and said she is really stupid if she thinks that he would want anything for her which is against her will and against her happiness. He kisses her forehead and tells her whatever she wants he will support and help her through it. He asks her whether she wants an abortion, and she says yes. He gently smiles at her and says okay to it. He later in the episode tells her " True love means not binding someone to you, for the sake of false salvation, knowing well it doesn't benefit either. "

This is at least what the translation said. I think he meant to say don't serve up to what society thinks, think for yourself.

This event in the story makes the daughter for the first time close to her father and realizes how much he loves her and how in fact they feel very similarly about certain important things, like women's rights. This whole thing changes their relationship through the coming episodes and makes them well soul mates which was not the case before.

I guess this is one example of an abortion situation which actually did a lot of good to the story, script etc. This is the only example I know of so far.

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Beppie
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The only Hollywood movie I can think of in which the female lead has an abortion, without being ashamed of it or anything like that, is Cider House Rules, which is a very good movie. However, although the female lead has an abortion, the main character is actually a young man who has to decide if he will support choice by performing safe abortions for women (among other medical duties) in America during the 1940s-- so the main focus isn't really the woman's experience at all.
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hunnybunny888
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why is it bad if the abortion is portrayed as secretive?
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LilBlueSmurf
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Why should abortion be secretive?

When things are kept secretive, it can look like there is something to be ashamed of ... as if it were a mistake, or something to regret. Abortion is NOT something to be ashamed of, nor is it a mistake for most women or something they regret later.

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dailicious
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quote:
Originally posted by Beppie:
The only Hollywood movie I can think of in which the female lead has an abortion, without being ashamed of it or anything like that, is Cider House Rules, which is a very good movie. However, although the female lead has an abortion, the main character is actually a young man who has to decide if he will support choice by performing safe abortions for women (among other medical duties) in America during the 1940s-- so the main focus isn't really the woman's experience at all.

Beppie - I've never seen the movie (I keep meaning to), but the book is incredibly well written. The way Irving handles the issue of illegal abortion, and why the old doctor feels that abortion NEED be necessary and safe for women is very powerful. I think the book did fairly well at looking at a woman's perspective, though not as directly as the two male leads, obviously.

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Heather
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The film is a really good adaptation, Jean. I was seriously impressed.

There also are some others; the piece Lauren linked to brought up Fast Times at Ridgemont High as the most recent, but Vera Drake, which I mentioned, is only a handful of years old (and freaking brilliant: has SO much to say, in such a quiet way, about a lack of choice and its consequences).

There's also a discussion of abortion in The Opposite of Sex, and If These Walls Could Talk (produced for cable) is all about abortion. But again, its rare.

And I think we can probably safely say that in at least nine out of ten films in which there is a pregnancy, there is neither abortion (or adoption) or discussion of abortion (or adoption) -- including in independent film -- and that's a VERY different ratio than is the case in real life, where in the states, around four in every ten pregnancies are terminated.

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Gumdrop Girl
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Anyone seen the movie 'Happy Endings?' It stars Lisa Kudrow and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It's an indie, so I don't want to spoil it for folks, but it's quite pertinent to the discussion.

I think the last paragraph of the article nailed it, though. Abortion in general is a bit of a downer, and it's pretty damn hard to laugh at a romantic comedy (like 'Knocked Up') when you're glum over the abortion controversy. And making jokes about abortion is too tasteless even for the Farrelly Brothers (although I wouldn't put it past Matt Stone & Trey Parker).

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Heather
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Well, but if we were looking at the whole of pregnancy from a women's -- rather than a male -- perspective, it too would not be the ebullilient joy and farce it's so often painted as, either.

(And no, haven't seen that one.)

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rosemat
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I agree. A situation is not inherently good or bad, happy or sad. It has all to do with the person's perspective and what they are feeling. Marriage is supposedly a happy occasion. Its type casted as a happy event. But to some people it can mean loss of freedom, sometimes forced like in some countries they have arranged marriages, child marriage etc. And plane and simple marriages which happen because of society pressure in certain cultures. Marriage is happy for those who want them, and marriage is unhappy for when you aren't ready for them.

Same with career, parenting, life etc everything!!!

We tend to attach good bad symbolism to certain things in life for no good reasons, or for personal reasons which do not ring true for everyone else. I feel in this world personal opinion and experience means nothing to people, only hard and fast pre-existing "good/bad judgements" associated to everything in life. Limits life and our unlimited individuality.

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rosemat
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I find it really sad that people like stories about struggling mothers and children. Its I think the height of sexist behavior in our society. Watch women suffer and enjoy it. Oh but do definately let her know that by struggling with her motherhood and yet sticking to it, she is a saint!

Why should one enjoy this in comparison to a battered woman, or a molested woman or anything like that? For those who were tied by societies dislike of molestation and physical beating, mother hood was a great relief for "woman haters or whatever" since its the easiest target which looked very good in society, and if we saw a woman suffering here! it would be okay to enjoy it openly! After all, its motherhood... its a woman's duty. (and you can put a lot of biological pressure on this point.)

no one can say anything to that! Its authorized by society. Its like a legal way of female domination! where in there is so much guilt and duty associated to it, that even women might question themselves if they think differently.

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September
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But speaking of TV shows that discuss abortion - there was a really great treatment of that on Dawson's Creek, when Dawson's mother became pregnant again. She ended up having the baby, but I think they did a great portrayal of what the characters involved went through trying to make that decision.

Of course, by now, that was nearly 10 years ago, as well (and I suddenly feel old).

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foxfire
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The tv show House touches on the subject quite often actually. Whenever there seems to be a pregnancy related show abortion is always mentioned and never in a negative light.
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Darcy783
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I hope this post is as related to this topic as I think it is, because I'm not sure where to post it otherwise.

I once saw a movie--well, a clip or two from a movie anyway--where a girl got pregnant by a guy she fell in love with, and she wanted to keep the baby (and either he did too, or he would have if she'd had the chance to tell him of his imminent fatherhood--I can't remember). But her mother forced her to have an abortion--so, the choice to keep the baby was taken from her, which is sort of the opposite of what's being talked about here, in other words the choice to have an abortion. (Which is why I'm not sure if this post fits the topic or not.)

Anyway, what I was wondering is, as you've been discussing here regarding movies where the woman doesn't choose abortion, just how prevalent (both in the media and in real life) is it that women are forced NOT to keep babies that they actually want? Is this only an issue in teenagers, or do adult women experience this lack of choice as well? Does it even really happen at all?

[ 10-03-2007, 10:41 PM: Message edited by: Darcy783 ]

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