Wednesday, April 1, 2009

TV Abortion Fail

Clinic yesterday was ok. I am currently battling a cold so I spent most of the time blowing my nose and sanitizing my hands. Also, working. The protesters came out late but in full force, including Crazy Legs. Nothing particularly notable happened. Winter continues to engulf us.

So, I was doing some abortion-related musing that I might as well share with you all. When you work/volunteer/advocate for pro-choice orgs, you spend a lot of time thinking about abortion. At least, I do. I have analyzed the topic in pretty much every way my tiny brain can. I know last year there was a lot of talk, after Juno and Knocked Up, about how abortion is portrayed in the media. I think about that a lot.

I find it very interesting, the disparity between real-life abortion situations and TV/movie mentions of abortion. In that, it happens ALL THE TIME in real life, and ALMOST NEVER in TV and movies. It's kind of like the whole gay thing; I remember as a teenager feeling a little weirded out that I knew so many gay-identified people, and on TV they were almost always either one hilarious sidekick, or a punchline. And their defining feature was their gayness. Now, this is changing, for sure. But it's the same kind of thing; real life is not being reflected accurately.

Unwanted/unexpected pregnancies do come up a lot, because it's a super convenient plot twist that opens up all kinds of story arcs. But abortion and adoption are almost never considered, and when they are, they're dismissed for whatever reason. Now, I don't watch a huge amount of TV shows, so maybe I'm out of the loop. But when I do see it, it bothers me. Not because I think fictional characters should be having more abortions; but I think the viewer should be given more credit. I mean come on - what women, faced with an unplanned pregnancy, hasn't even CONSIDERED abortion or adoption?

This came up because I was watching Scrubs the other day and Jordan found out she was pregnant. I haven't seen enough of the show to know how the story develops, but in the episode I watched, she (and Perry, her partner) were clearly miserable about the situation. The reason for the pregnancy was a vasectomy that "didn't take", so clearly they didn't want any more kids. And yet, they spend the whole episode moping about it, and then eventually accept it, but still somewhat unhappily. There is no discussion of the alternatives. None. I know it's a comedy, but come on! He is a doctor and she is on the hospital board; it's not like they can't afford an abortion, or like they wouldn't know how to get one. WTF? Why wouldn't the show take the opportunity to at least tackle the issue; Jordan could still decide to parent in the end, and they could go ahead with whatever baby story they're shooting for.

The same thing bothered me, to a lesser extent, on Friends. When Rachel found out she was pregnant, it was so unrealistic that a woman in her position (single, career-driven, living in an apartment) wouldn't consider abortion. Not that she would have one, but that she wouldn't even consider it! Come on! And this is a show that took on surragacy - TWICE! And adoption.

I know that both these women (Jordan from Scrubs and Rachel from Friends) would most likely ultimately end up parenting, because their respective TV universes have given them what they need to do so; willing partners, strong support networks, money, etc. But both are presented as independent, intelligent and rational people; why wouldn't they think about their options?

To be clear, I don't think it would be super fantastic if people on every show were having abortions all over the place. But I feel like unexpected pregnancies happen all the time on TV (as they do in real life), and yet abortion, which happens ALL THE TIME to TONS AND TONS OF ORDINARY WOMEN is almost never mentioned as an option. I feel like this serves to further stigmatize it. Especially since it seems like when women do choose abortion in TV/movies, they either change their mind when they get in there (Juno, Sex and the City), face gloms of scary protesters (Degrassi), or it's referred to as something they did when they were young (which, admittedly, is better than nothing; at least they're talking about it).

If I watched more TV and movies, I could probably offer better analysis. It just sucks that in pop culture abortion is either a deadly serious, underground operation or...not even mentioned. Come on people. This isn't 1952. There are a lot of real women out there who would probably love to see their story reflected in the media, instead of being isolated for doing something that thousands of ordinary women do, every day.


Greg said...

I think the simplest explanation is: anti-abortion people are offended (and loudly so) if the script involves an abortion (or even a mention of it). Pro-choice people are in favour of choice, so we don't stage letter-writing campaigns if someone makes one choice or the other.

When thousands of pro-choice sitcom fans stage letter-writing campaigns and sit ins over fictional women not-making-choices (this will never happen) networks will demand more such scripts from writers.

As it is, the squeaky wheel gets the plot lines.

Anonymous said...

Was that the first time Jordan got pregnant because i seem to remember the second time she considered abortion and everyone was shocked to learn that she had had an abortion in the past. Or something like that.

Also later on JDs girlfriend gets pregnant and they consider abortion but in the end the decision is made for them and she says she has a miscarriage.

You should definately watch more Scrubs. =)

feministincowboyboots said...

I recommend Andrea Lee Press, Speaking of Abortion: Television and Women's Lives. Though it is somewhat dated (1999) and focuses on American women watching American TV, it considers how different women have responded to various abortion narratives, noting diversity among pro-choice viewers who often assume that there are good and bad reasons for having an abortion even as they remain in favour of safe, legal abortion.

futureshock said...

I agree. Whenever I tell people how common abortion is, they are shocked.

Here is some great ammo to use when debating the anti-choice contingent: