Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why I Won't See "Juno".

Like Knocked Up, Juno has raised a good deal of controversy in the feminist blogosphere. But I'm surprised at the positive reactions I'm seeing. Some are calling Juno "post-feminist", others are claiming that it "speaks in a solidly female voice". And, of course, there are anti-choicers who are lauding the leading lady's decision to take the pregnancy to term and pro-choicers who are complaining about the lack of real attention given to abortion issues.

While I tend to agree with some of the complaints about the lack of true perspective with regard to the abortion issue, I can't really say because I haven't seen the movie. And I won't see it. And the reason has nothing to do with the fact that Juno, the pregnant teen who is the movie's main character, opts to keep her baby. Not only would there be no movie if she chose to terminate, but being pro-choice is all about believing that women have a right to decide what happens to their own bodies. Hence the slogan "My body, my choice". My problem with Juno is that, despite the claims of many that it is inherently feminist, it is just the opposite. Juno is anti-feminist. How can I know this without having seen it? Well, I'll tell you.

There have been a number of movies recently - Waitress, Knocked Up, and now Juno that deal with unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. And this is certainly an issue that should be out there in the public consciousness. But that's exactly where these movies go wrong. All of them treat the issue of unplanned pregnancy in very glib terms. These are not dramas, remember; they aren't even tragicomedies; they are comedies, comedies that derive a laugh from the idea of unplanned pregnancy. Now, I'll be the first to admit that pregnancy can be fertile ground for comedic material, but these movies don't just gain a laugh off of unplanned pregnancy. In the case of Juno, according to reviews, the pregnant teen is portrayed as having an easy pregnancy, parents who are immediately supportive (and perhaps even nonchalant) about her pregnancy, and for whom adoption provides the perfect last minute solution for everyone involved.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but teen pregnancy is no laughing matter, and it is certainly not normal for everything to come so easily for a pregnant teen. Now, I understand that Juno and its fellows Knocked Up and Waitress are fiction. But we seem to very easily forget how quickly fiction can seriously influence our understanding of reality. Think about it for a second. What's wrong with the fact that nearly every female movie star, singer or model in a magazine is paper thin (and in the case of movie stars and singers, simultaneously curvacious in all the right places)? The problem with this is that the longer we are bombarded with images of stick figures with double Ds, the more we, as individuals and as a culture, begin to view this as normal and proper. We start to think that this is what women should look like, and that there is something wrong with any woman who doesn't look like that.

In a similar vein, Juno and movies like it are telling us that unplanned pregnancy is light matter. They are telling us, perhaps not even intentionally, that the way that they portray the situation is normal, and that if you have an unplanned pregnancy and experience anything more than perhaps a realization that life is more complex than you thought and a struggle with understanding yourself and how you relate to others, then there is something wrong with you. That is every bit as anti-feminist as a set of movies that portray women as meek, mild and accepting of male dominance. It is grossly dishonest, and it shapes discussion of this sensitive issue in a way that silences the female voice. Unplanned pregnancy - particularly teen pregnancy - should be part of the public conciousness. But the public should be conscious of the real situation. Unplanned pregnancies are not light and funny. Decisions to terminate do not involve cutsy euphemisms for abortion. Parents are not always supportive. Pregnancies are not always easy. Putting a child up for adoption is not always a perfect solution. It doesn't always end up okay in the end, and even if it does, the road there is far more complex and confusing and painful then the experience of a sassy indie girl gaining a bit of self-understanding and emotional maturity. And that's okay. There is nothing wrong with a woman who has a not-so-funny unplanned pregnancy. There is nothing the matter with a woman whose experience with this trying situation isn't cute. Yet another movie that says different? I'll pass.

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