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Movies I Love Doing Things I Hate

February 3, 2008

There are two, well more than two really, but we’ll leave it at two for now, things that I have been seeing in movies and tv shows for years that have been really getting on my nerves. I realize that sounds awfully vague, and I am trying to find more precise words but failing. Are they themes? Tropes? Plot elements? I guess we’ll go with plot elements, although that’s hardly less vague than “things.” Regardless, these plot elements are fairly ubiquitous and really annoying. What’s worse, they show up in shows and movies that I really like. Warning: I will be taking about the plots of Sweeney Todd and Juno. Let’s start with the mildest offender:

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. If there are two youth of different sexes, they will automatically fall in love with each other, no exposition needed. As seen in: Sweeney Todd.

How this plays out: She is a fragile songbird confined in a gilded cage. He is a sensitive sailor roaming the streets of London. He sees her through the window. She sees him. They fall in love. She throws her house key out the window so that he can break into her house, he moons around town singing his undying love. Wait, what? They saw each other through a window and she tossed him her key? Really? I can think of lots of ways to deal with strange men ranging the street like tomcats and looking into my bedroom like another kind of tom, and giving him my housekey is not one of them. She’s a pretty young girl who sits in her window and sings, I’m sure there are lots of young men who stare back. Does she throw them each a key? Does she have a closetful of house keys so that she can toss one to every male who gives her an eye? And what about him? All he knows about her is her name, and he is convinced that this gives him the power to feel her through walls. He knows nothing about her personality, her history, her likes and dislikes. Doesn’t matter, he has genitalia set #1 and she has set #2, that’s all young love needs.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Women regularly get pregnant the very first time they have sex, and they never miscarry. As seen in: Juno.

A teenage girl has sex for the very first time and, surprise! She’s pregnant. Or, a married woman cheats on her husband once. Or, a single woman has a one-night stand. As a woman who has tried to get pregnant (and ended up miscarrying), this one makes me so angry. It really isn’t all that easy.

Let’s look at some math. If you are tracking your fertility and trying to get pregnant, having sex or inseminating on the days you are ovulating, your chances of getting pregnant during a cycle are roughly 25%. If you aren’t tracking your fertility, the chances are much lower. How low? Let’s assume that you are not trying to get pregnant, and that the day you have sex is randomly chosen from among all the days you aren’t on your period (although people do have sex while menstruating). Let’s also assume that you have a regular period, 5 days out of 28.

Knockedupmp.jpgSo, in a month of 30 days, you are likely to be on your period for about 6 days. 30 minus 6 leaves us with 24 non-period days. Of those 24 days, you are likely to be fertile for about 3 or 4 days. If you randomly choose the day you will have sex on, you have a 13-17% chance of choosing a day you are fertile. If you do choose one of those days, you only have a 25% chance of conceiving. This brings us down to roughly 2-4%. That’s a 2-4% chance of getting pregnant the first time you have sex. This is, of course, assuming all my assumptions are correct, as well as assuming that both partners are physiologically able, he ejaculates inside her vagina, and no contraceptives are being used. There is an argument that women are hornier when they are ovulating, and may therefore be more likely to initiate sex, but I think that having sex for the first time as well as cheating are more about opportunity, and this could happen at any time during the month . than discrepancies with reality, why does this bug me so much? It’s because pregnancy is being used in these cases as a punishment for sex. Married women don’t get pregnant so easily on tv and in movies, that’s because the sex they are having is socially acceptable and they don’t need to be punished for it. Teenagers and women who want to have sex outside of committed relationships though… they need to suffer for their crime. I hate this, the whole pregnancy as a punishment for (women’s) sexuality is an argument the pro-lifers trot out. How can we recognize it as sexist when they say it, but not recognize it when movies and tv shows constantly parade it in front of us? In Juno, this rule also works in her favour. She does have sex (once) and is punished by pregnancy, but when she decides to do “the right thing” the fact that she only had sex once means that she is able to be fully redeemed. She wasn’t a “bad girl” who was *gasp!* sexually active, she was a good girl who made one mistake and paid for it in full. That brings her back to good girl status. might seem like I am really overstating my argument, I mean, Juno is really a great movie. It is very female-positive, it fits the Bechdel rule, it shows both men and women as complicated beings who are not necessarily on opposing teams, and it was funny and smart. You don’t have to convince me, I fully admit that it was a good movie. I recommend it highly. I just wish it didn’t make use of the “have sex once and get pregnant” rule. The fact that it was her first time was not integral to the story, the number of times she had had sex did not even need to be an issue. They made it an issue for a point, and I think their point is the point I made above.

I also want to be clear that the two “rules” I pointed out are not just based on the two movies I cited as examples. These are just the most recent shows I have seen that have made use of the themes. Please remember this when you write you argue that I am overstating my case. It’s not just Juno who got pregnant on the first time, it is a constant rule of tv and movies, and for it to be that constant, there has to be a reason for it. A message from it. Juno is one example, if you keep your eyes open you will see more and more and more.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicole permalink
    February 3, 2008 12:26 pm

    It happens in mythology too. I am reading all of these Siva creation myths and married women get pregnant through some ridiculous means on the first time. For example, a group of married women see what they think is Soma falling from the sky, so they drink it. Unfortunately they are mistaken and it is actually Siva’s (or Agni’s as the case may be) sperm which the god let loose after seeing these beautiful women. Of course the women get pregnant and their husbands leave them because they were unfaithful. Is anyone else confused here?

  2. April 23, 2008 2:55 pm

    sperm which the god let loose after seeing these beautiful women.

    From a practical perspective, it can be assumed that it was not the first time that God ‘let loose’ as you put it and certainly not the last. If drinking from these periodic sperm showers can impregnate women, just think of the miraculous possibilities it can have on male physiology!

  3. Anton Spivack permalink
    January 20, 2011 12:40 pm

    Have you also seen “Mom at 16” on Lifetime? It also upholds the “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy, because the title character, Jacey, is wrongfully branded a hypocrite by her clearly promiscuous classmates (they’re even wearing two-piece bathing suits, oh the horror!), when, after criticizing their behavior, the fact that she had a baby is revealed. In the end, she presents a big speech at a school assembly about how they’re not ready for sex because they’re not ready to have kids (one sentence after describing childbirth as a “miracle,” as if to say that having a baby will ruin your life and it’s the greatest thing ever), and her classmates finally applaud her. That film only mentions abortion in one scene, during a health class, where the student’s nonchalant attitude toward abortion is presented as a sign of promiscuity, and Jacey insists that her teacher, being unable to conceive, should disapprove of “these girls casually aborting fetuses,” as if that were all abortion was about.

    The problem isn’t that the characters keep the baby, it’s that abortion is presented

  4. Anton Spivack permalink
    January 20, 2011 12:58 pm

    The problem isn’t that the characters keep the baby, it’s that abortion is presented a “non-option” and often not even named. Even those women who could use one staunchly refuse it, when there’s nothing stopping them, and in the end, it only works out for the better. Meanwhile, the not-so-liberal Hollywood does nothing to challenge falsehoods about “post-abortion guilt” or false links to breast cancer and infertility. Also, reproductive rights are slipping away and the vast majority of women do not have access to abortion, either due to regulations, geographic and economic obstacles, and harassment. Hollywood also disregards the fact that most women affected by unplanned pregnancy are lower-class or minorities, who would not get much support from the pro-life crowds even if they did keep their babies.

    What I find especially harmful in Hollywood’s notion that “unwanted pregnancy serves them right,” which is really what lies at the heart of most pro-life arguments, is how those who have abortions without regret are stigmatized as callous, irresponsible, slutty, and selfish, in other words, “bad girls”, and should be brought to shame, if they aren’t already. Note how in “Knocked Up,” the one who suggests abortion is presented as a heartless harpy who claims that a relative who “took care of it” went on to have “a real baby,” as if to blatantly call abortion baby-killing. It’s as if terminating an unwanted pregnancy is a “cop-out” and women are just “supposed to” be baby dispensers whether they want to or not. I don’t like this sexism either. I’m sorry if I went on too long but I felt it had to be said.


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