Fertility Films

baby mama.jpgFeministing friend and vicious intellect Alissa Quart has a piece online for Mother Jones about the new trend of “fertility films�—Hollywood heartstringers about super independent women finally coming to terms with their maternal urges (Smart People, Baby Mama, Then She Found Me, Juno, Knocked Up, and Happy Endings). In part, Quart is asking: “Are the new fertility film stars actually feminists?�
The answer is complicated. On the one hand, it’s feminist to see women going after what they want. Despite a lot of frustration with Juno on the part of feminists (especially older, in my experience) regarding the abortion scene, I have to admit that I thought it was, big picture, a wildly feminist film. Since when has a teen girl protagonist done anything in Hollywood other than coo-ing? I know my standards are low, but Juno got it right in a lot of ways. And, what’s more, Ellen Page calls herself a feminist in public.
Tina Fey (public disclosure: I have a major thang for Tina) plays an uptight, but certainly self-actualized gal in Baby Mama (where, let’s face it, the real story is about class). To see two female comedians getting top billing and raking in the box office bucks made me happy as a clam (ah vagina puns).
BUT…as we all know, choice doesn’t equal empowerment. Quart writes: “…these films recast the “pro-choice” narrative of feminists’ personal and political past as a different, less politically dangerous sort of pro-choice story—a woman’s right to choose from a smorgasbord of late fertility options.â€?
The films also play into oppressive tropes about successful women who don’t prioritize their fertility and then get punished with shitty partners, expensive interventions, and/or a whole lot of heartache. “Silly women,� the screenwriters seem to be saying, “let’s make fun of their plight.� But as Quart reminds us, these scenarios are real—in the beginning. Then the film plots reduce them to ridiculousness: “these films are rather conservative at heart; their entanglements all end far more neatly than their real life counterparts.�
And finally, why all the frickin’ babies? I was reminded of Bella DePaulo’s great work that I reviewed awhile ago. Quart writes: “…these films’ endings can’t help but make me wonder: Where are the images of exceptional thirty- and fortysomething women without bassinets?â€?
Good question Ms. Alissa. Thanks for the analysis.

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62 Comments

  1. Posted May 15, 2008 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    True, and at the same time some adoption as we practice it today denies the maternity of corpses instead.
    Invalid critique, red herring. Please address the point.
    Adoption as we practice it in the United States is a
    class privilege. It defines motherhood as a state based not on biology or even psychology but on economic status. In this model, “birth” mothers are breeders, incubators for women who are able to afford the privilege of motherhood. In this model, adoption is not so much a feminist choice as it is reproductive exploitation.
    Adoption is not a matter of “choice” in most cases; but of profound ecomomic choicelessness.
    Your family’s plan in case of the demise of your parents is not what I call adoption. I call it kinship care. It is a form of natural family preservation, one that I support.

  2. Mina
    Posted May 15, 2008 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    “True, and at the same time some adoption as we practice it today denies the maternity of corpses instead.
    “Invalid critique, red herring. Please address the point.”
    Valid critique. I addressed your point “This denies the maternity of hundreds of millions of impoverished women around the globe.” by noting that adoption as practiced in the West today doesn’t always deny the maternity of a living impoverished woman.
    “Adoption is not a matter of ‘choice’ in most cases; but of profound ecomomic choicelessness.”
    Especially when the parents are gone, the child still needs to be raised by *someone*, and that need outweighs birth-based first dibs.
    I agree with you that adoption shouldn’t be treated as primarily an alternative to fertility treatments for adults. It should be treated as primarily an alternative to being raised by wolves or whatever for children.
    “Your family’s plan in case of the demise of your parents is not what I call adoption. I call it kinship care. It is a form of natural family preservation, one that I support.”
    Kinship adoption isn’t an oxymoron. Even if you don’t want to call it adoption, my aunt and uncle becoming my legal guardians for the rest of my childhood (instead of telling me to wait, as children in foster care and orphanages often wait) would be a form of adoption.

  3. Posted May 15, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Especially when the parents are gone
    Red herring. Please don’t be so disingenuous.
    Let us specify that we are speaking about for profit adoption of newborns with at least one living parent.
    Okay?
    No one in their right minds objects to the adoptions of true orphans.
    Maybe you haven’t seen the movie Juno, but it should be clear to you in any case that Juno was very much alive – not deceased.

  4. Posted May 16, 2008 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    FEMily, in “Baby Mama,” two “nuclear families” were not created at the end…Amy Poehler’s character has not gotten back together with her daughter’s loser father and Tina Fey and Greg Kinnear aren’t married…altho it does show Tina Fey wearing an engagement ring. Also “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is about Romania in the 1980s when abortion WAS illegal.
    I thought the two couples were together at the end of Baby Mama. I knew they weren’t married, but I thought they were at least together.
    And thanks for clearing my misconception about 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. I sort of half heard the review of the film when it first came out, and all I heard was the critic saying something about it being an indication of what could happen in the US if abortion were made illegal.

  5. Mina
    Posted May 16, 2008 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    “‘Especially when the parents are gone’
    “Red herring. Please don’t be so disingenuous.”
    It’s still not a red herring.
    “Let us specify that we are speaking about for profit adoption of newborns with at least one living parent.
    “Okay?”
    Now you’re talking. ;)
    “No one in their right minds objects to the adoptions of true orphans.”
    Unfortunately, I have seen people complain about that by claiming that adoption itself is bad instead of specifying the stealing of children from parents who were actually raising them.
    “Maybe you haven’t seen the movie Juno, but it should be clear to you in any case that Juno was very much alive – not deceased.”
    Yeah. I figured that the “hundreds of millions of impoverished women” statement meant we weren’t just talking about Juno anymore.

  6. Alice
    Posted May 16, 2008 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    There are good reasons why the pregnancies of only 0.8 % of all unmarried American women end with the baby going into adoption. Few of them have to do with choice. I will grant here are a few that do. There are a few women who don’t want to be mothers. But by and large, adoption loss has to do with economics.
    So? Economics seems to me like as good a reason as any.

  7. feministatheart
    Posted May 16, 2008 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I thought feminism was all about choices. When I think about women having a choice I wish the choice could be equal for poor women as well as wealthy women. I don’t see that as being true.
    A woman that is pregnant, and young should have ALL resources she needs to parent her child, her economics should not be a factor in her parenting.

  8. feministatheart
    Posted May 16, 2008 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I thought feminism was all about choices. When I think about women having a choice I wish the choice could be equal for poor women as well as wealthy women. I don’t see that as being true.
    A woman that is pregnant, and young should have ALL resources she needs to parent her child, her economics should not be a factor in her parenting.

  9. Posted May 16, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, I have seen people complain about that by claiming that adoption itself is bad instead of specifying the stealing of children from parents who were actually raising them.
    Adoption as an institution does have myriad problems.
    IF adoption were practiced the way the majority of people believe it is,instead of the way it is, and IF adoption outcomes were the fairytale endings the majority of people believe them to be instead of what they really are, and IF adoption wasn’t a business that made its profits on the backs of impoverished women maybe I would agree that adoption isn’t an unalloyed evil.
    BUT there are too problems with the way adoption is practiced, and too many problems with outcomes, and too much money being made at the expense of women for me to agree.

  10. Posted May 16, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    A woman that is pregnant, and young should have ALL resources she needs to parent her child, her economics should not be a factor in her parenting.
    Standing, clapping, cheering. I could not agree more. Neither could the United Nations:
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948
    Article 25: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
    (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

  11. Danyell
    Posted May 16, 2008 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Bseri,
    I see your point a little more clearly now. And I do agree that adoption is for the most part reserved for the wealthy and often times in society, poor mothers are more likely to be found as “unfit” parents because they literally can’t afford to provide certain things for their children, which is often misread as “neglectful” (I’m now referencing a really important and heart-wrenching article in this month’s Ms. about the problems with CPS and prejudice).
    But, that being said, in order for a woman to have the choice of giving her baby up for adoption, there has to be a parent willing to adopt her/him. This agreement in and of itself is quite nice & encouraging of feminist choice: One can’t afford to keep the baby (whether “afford” applies to a concrete or abstract meaning), the other would love nothing more than to care for the child. The fact that the government favors the rich to approve this contract is not the fault of either individual parties in this scenario. If you recall, in Juno, she is offered “additional compensation” and she recoils in horror. “No, I don’t want to sell the thing! I just want someone to love it and take care of it.” (Or something to that affect.) I don’t see how your point suggests that either the birth parent or adoptive parents is not making a conscious choice.
    And yes, the movie is highly removed from the reality of adoption. Just like most non-documentary movies are removed from the reality of everything! (Because they’re not real) There are fantasy and comical elements involved to make it an enjoyable comedy. If they had set out to make a serious, soul-searching drama, then that would change everything. But this is a hipster comedy and we can only critique its merit in the confines of it’s medium, genre and execution therein. (I.E. You can’t critique a Jackson Pollack for not being a Rembrandt. One is not necessarily better, they’re just not even in the same category of each other.)
    I think Juno is a very unique look on American teen pregnancy. We need to look, think about and discuss all different possibilities regarding issues like this, BECAUSE the experience is completely unique for each person involved.

  12. BSE Mom
    Posted May 16, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    I think that the fertility clinics and the adoption industry must have a big investment in the media. First we have Juno which is so unrealistic when it comes to how a mother losing a child to adoption really feels..no matter what the age. The few token tears at the end were not even a small part of the ongoing grief of a mother who is brainwashed into thinking that youth, fiancial problems, or lack of a complete education make her a poor candidate for motherhood. And, the character should have asked a few adult adopted people what they REALLY think about that “heroic sacrifice.”
    Baby Mama is just another case of women predating on other women for the sake of assuming the mantle of mother. Surrogacy, especially traditional, is just another form of women using other women like brood mares.
    I’ll have better reviews, I am sure, when someone comes out with a picture that is closer to the agonizing truth of the separation of mother and infant. It isn’t all warm, pink and fuzzy, no matter who wants to make it look like it is. Parenthood is not a “right,” but a privilege and a responsibility and a child starts needing his/her REAL mother while still in the womb.

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