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In the Hollywood “Woman’s Picture,” Abortion Is Never An Option

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As a counterpart to her ongoing analysis of the proliferation of misogynist sex-is-icky comedy, Dana Stevens makes an important point about the contemporary romantic comedy as part of a review of the poorly-received I Don’t Know How She Does It:

In an unintentionally disturbing subplot, Kate’s assistant Momo, a single, career-focused woman in her mid-20s who’s sworn never to have children, accidentally finds herself pregnant. After Momo mumbles her intention to “take care of it,” Kate clasps her by the shoulders and, eyes glassy with maternal zeal, essentially bullies her into having the baby. Not that I expect a character in a mainstream Hollywood movie to seriously consider, let alone go through with, an abortion—that would probably require a Supreme Court injunction at this point—but the movie’s unquestioning embrace of Kate’s pro-life proselytization felt somehow creepy. Couldn’t they at least have a conversation? (In the book, a much older character, Kate’s best friend Candy, finally decides to continue with an unplanned pregnancy after the two friends engage in a frankly ambivalent discussion: “I’m getting rid of it.” “Fine.” “What?” “Nothing.”) I Don’t Know How She Does It purports to be about the difficult choices of modern motherhood, but it’s too prim and cautious a movie to dip a pedicured toe into the murky waters of real choice.

Obviously,the larger problem here is that young women in romantic comedies virtually never have abortions in situations in which many of them would. The problem isn’t any individual decision so much as the general trend.

But, at least as Stevens describes it, in this movie it seems particularly irritating even in itself because it’s so gratuitous. This isn’t a case like Juno or Knocked Up where if a young woman chooses to have an abortion there’s no movie. The anti-choice protagonist apparently isn’t in the novel the movie was adapted from. Leaving aside the movie’s apparent sympathy for the lead character’s behavior, the conflation of loving one’s own children and assuming that other women should always choose to bear a child doesn’t seem like the likely value system of an educated Boston professional woman. And the idea that an intelligent, self-assured professional woman would make such a fundamental life (and potentially career) choice based on a single incident of bullying-without-argument seems even less plausible. That this writing comes from one of Hollywood’s most prominent writers of films directed at women is particularly depressing.

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