Movies I Love Doing Things I Hate
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:
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.
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.
So, 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 .
Other 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.
It 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.