Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On Hollywood and the unwed mother

Okay, so I was already prepared to hate Juno when I walked into the theatre. I'd read a lot on various feminist blogs about the way various parts of the film could be twisted by anti-choicers, and I'd read a couple of interviews with the screenwriter, Diablo Cody, that really made me question her sense of wealthy white privilege. And when Ellen Page's Juno MacGuff yelled at that dog to "Shut [his] gob," I knew that I was going to hate the unrealistically snappy smart-disaffected-teen pseudo-slang-a-la-Megan-Jasper.

Except I actually really, really liked the movie.

It wasn't hard to like. It also wasn't hard to pick out which parts would be prime fodder for anti-choicers; 16-year-old preggo Juno (and I don't think I'm spoiling too much here, but do read on at your own peril) goes into an abortion clinic and ends up coming back out when she discovers that her fetus already has fingernails. She responsibly decides to put the kid up for adoption. She searches for a loving, stable, hetero, normal couple to raise the kid, and she finds them, and they meet and negotiate a closed adoption and the deal is done and aren't we all just about to have a happily-ever-after 'cause Juno chose life?

Yeah, sure, on the surface, yeah. If you haven't actually seen the movie and are working purely from hearsay, reviews, and some promotional materials, you might think that. But actually watching, you see how the movie is all about choice -- Juno's choice to have or not have the baby. Juno's choice to put it up for adoption. Juno's process of selecting an adoptive family that she finds appropriate. And at the end, which I will absolutely not spoil because I insist that each and every one of you go see it and report back, she makes a couple of pretty significant choices, some of which might satisfy the fundies, one of which almost certainly would not. Without really advocating any particular path -- Juno's situation is presented as unique, as all such situations are -- Juno is given the authority over her own life and body to decide how to address her unique circumstances.

And that's what the pro-choice position is all about. It's not about forcing people to have abortions or ripping eight-months fetuses from their unsuspecting hosts in the dark of night. It's not even about advising that women have abortions. It's just about making sure that, should a young woman like Juno or an older woman with a family decide that her circumstances aren't conducive to carrying a pregnancy to term, she has access to safe and affordable health care for that process. And it's about supporting her choice if she chooses to have the baby after all and raise it, so that she can afford to support herself and her kid and give them both the best life possible. And it's about supporting her choice if she chooses to have the baby and give it up for adoption, so that she can have access to health care to keep her healthy and adoption services to help her find a good, loving family of whatever shape or orientation.

It's also, of course, about preventing the need for abortions in the first place, to the extent that such a thing can be done. It's a laugh line in the movie, but the boysenberry condoms proffered by the receptionist at the abortion clinic -- "My boyfriend wears one every time we have intercourse. It makes his junk smell like pie" -- are also a reasonably effective means of preventing pregnancy in the first place. Far moreso than, say, pretending that sex doesn't exist, telling teens never to have it, and expecting that they'll have the un-hormonally-driven self-control to refrain.

From where I sat, the movie was far more pro-choice than anti-, but I can see why antis desperate for a pop-culture foothold might bite down on it and wrestle it into submission in fallacious support of their own ends. At the same time, though, I've tried to come up with a lighthearted, non-preachy movie based on the a similar premise but with a different ending -- pregnant teen/woman decides to have the abortion -- and I just can't figure out how to make a movie out of it that's worth making a movie of. If she chooses to have the abortion and, as so frequently happens, it all works out well, she sighs and says, Well, gosh, I wish I hadn’t had to do that. Oh, well, life goes on, and life goes on, there’s not much of a movie. And, of course, if she chooses to have an abortion and everything goes horribly (or even marginally) wrong, the anti-choicers are all over it, screaming, See what happens?! See what happens when you kill teh baybeez?!!?!?!one!! Maybe it could be a movie from the perspective of one of the woman’s other kids who now has a better life because her mother had an abortion, but I just don’t know.

Commenters on the Feministe thread suggest movies like Teachers and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, both of which address the abortion issue as only an 80's film can, but both of those include said issue as a provocative subplot rather than the main focus. It all makes me think that maybe there aren’t any explicitly pro-choice movies out there because the pro-choice position is so inherently reasonable as to be beyond cinematic drama.

Regardless, I'm not going to let the antis plant their flag in this one just because they can't be bothered to read beneath the surface, especially since in their ideal world, Juno probably wouldn't have had access to the health care necessary to produce a healthy baby, and she certainly wouldn't have been able to leave it in the loving arms where it ultimately landed. The whole damn movie is all about choice -- and more than that (more importantly than that, even? It could be argued), it's really, really entertaining. And funny. And sweet. And Allison Janney is my hero. And unlike Knocked Up, it's probably even a movie you could see on a date without going home and sitting on opposite sides of the couch without making eye contact.

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