Where’s abortion gone?

by easilyriled

So, I recently traveled a really long ways away from home. I flew to Istanbul (!) and back again. And on the flight there, I watched a couple of TV shows.

Now, i’m kind of out of the loop in regards to popular culture. I haven’t ever had a TV of my own, and haven’t watched much at all since i left my parents home over thirty years ago now. So there’s all this stuff going on that i know nothing about, pretty much.

But even I have heard of Glee and 30 Rock and Two and a half men. So when i was presented with the choice to watch these shows, I did. Except for two and a half men–I’ve heard enough about it, (more than enough, in fact), that I decided I was not too interested in enduring such misogyny while trapped in a tin can in the sky.  So, I thought I’d watch 30 Rock, which is, after all, created by a woman. And I also watched Glee, ’cause there’s such a buzz about it.

Holy Problematic, Batman!

There was so much woman-hatred, or at least woman-dismissing going on in both of those shows, I hardly know where to begin.

I will start with the most glaring–the utter lack of any discussion of abortion as a viable option for women experiencing an un-planned pregnancy. And the pathologizing of pregnancy. In both of these episodes, one of the subplots was about a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. In Glee, the girl was amping her boyfriend to get a job and give her money to cover medical costs (completely fucking unnecessary, too, far as I can tell, a sonogram, doctors’ visits, all that bullshit they make perfectly healthy women go through these days because, uh, hello pregnancy is an illness ffs). She’s a bit of a pill, this girl. the show is obviously written to make the boys the sympathetic characters, ALL of the boys–the newly out gay boy, the plucky young man in the wheelchair, the choir director dude, the boyfriend, AND even the boy who’s fooling around with the pregnant girl. He’s the boyfriends best friend, too, but it’s the pregnant girlfriend who is drawn as the harridan, the duplicitous nag, the spoiled princess. jesus. She’s SIXTEEN, she has no job, she’s still in high school, I don’t know where her parents are in this whole thing (only one parent was portrayed in the show, the white, working-class father of the gay boy–Mom is dead–another thing to make you go “mmmmmm”), but she’s not gonna have an easy road if she has this child, and there is not even a whisper of abortion. And this is a “progressive” show.

then, 30 Rock. Tina Frey’s character, Liz, thinks she’s pregnant. she doesn’t even like the guy who’s the suspected sperm donor, she’s not prepared for a child, but she doesn’t skip a beat–she’s decorating a room in her place to become a nursery and thinking about baby names. Again, abortion is not on the radar.

I felt like I was going crazy. These are women, too, who have access to such measures. They are both white, both middle class-ish, both have access to resources and information about options and yet–it was as if there was never such a thing as, say, even pennyroyal or mugwort, let alone free-standing abortion clinics that FEMINISTS fought damn hard for, thank you very much.

This is the way the patriarchy is winning. just ignore it and it will go away. Just forget that abortion is legal and available (not to all, not yet, we have not yet won this) and we’re losing more ground now because of this amnesia. good trick, Mister The Man. and it is, I must add, the oppressed who look like we’re in agreement with this whole ruse. it is women who are passing on the message–just expect Prince Charming (even if he is less charming than anyone else you know…) to come through for you, this is what you are supposed to do, this baby will give your life meaning. don’t bother to even think of wanting something other than motherhood, there IS nothing else you are good for, really. you know it, sisters.

Then on the way home i watched this movie called “The Switch” –and that’s about a woman who hired a sperm donor so she could get pregnant. And that was portrayed as a feminist act, that getting pregnant without a male partner thing.

I’ve gotta go now, but i’m very interested in this aspect of the backlash, this almost-but-not-quite-enforced pregnancy thing–

more later….


14 Comments to “Where’s abortion gone?”

  1. yes easily riled! its all about how you frame the issue: if the “problem” of unwanted pregnancy (or PIV or rape or DV) is WOMEN COMPLAINING ABOUT IT, just make them WANT it, like it, need it etc and the “problem” (of women complaining about it) goes away. this works for PIV (sex-pozzie!) it works for rape (sex-pozzie! and bdsm!) objectification of women, rape, all kinds and manners of sexualized violence (YAY PRON!) etc etc, infinity.

    clearly its MEN framing the issues, because they only “problem” they see in all of this is women fucking bitching about it all. it really couldnt be more obvious could it?

    it made me LOL to think that you had to travel to istanbul to be exposed to the horribleness that is american television.

  2. 30 Rock disgusts me, as does all the hype it’s received as the flagship show of funfeminism. Count yourself lucky that it wasn’t the humorous-rape-scene episode (or should I say, the TWO-humourous-rape-scenes episode).

  3. This has been happening for a while now. I remember being angry as a teenager that on the show ‘Party of Five’ a young girl got pregnant and was thinking of all the options – and she did actually consider an abortion (for about five seconds) – but of course she conveniently miscarried. A neat way of making her a vehicle for birth control propaganda without anything messy actually happening. (HER mother was dead, too.) That was the first of many such instances in popular culture (that I noticed) and now as you have pointed out abortion isn’t even mentioned as an option.
    I have tried to watch Glee. It’s supposed message of tolerance is buried under torrents of offensive sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, nullifying its purpose. But of course it’s just so people can have a frisson of excitement over the political incorrectness. I haven’t seen Mad Men but I’m guessing it’s much the same.
    I don’t watch TV as such (I will sometimes see shows on the interwebs) so I’m accustomed to being completely out of step with popular culture. Is there anything I can watch that won’t make me angry?

  4. I’m so glad you mentioned that pregnancy in Glee. What really upset me about that storyline was that an infertile couple were ready to jump in and grab the baby off her and this was portrayed as a GOOD thing for her.. as though the BEST thing that could ever happen to a teenage pregnant girl would be to have a middle class couple swipe her baby. It was a blatant promotion for the surrogacy industry.

    Besides the fact that, as you say, there was no reason for this pregnancy to have gone ahead in the first place if she didn’T want it because a) abortion is available or, even better b) she could have said NO to PIV in the first place

    But the LEAST she could have been offered was financial support by the STATE so that she actually had a CHOICE whether or not to keep her baby. It made me feel as though there are all these vultures out there waiting to pounce on young girls who get pregnant rather than SUPPORT them financially and emotionally whatever they decide to do.

    Giving birth is fucking HORRENDOUS, it really is. When I was in labour with my first the only thing that kept me going was the thought of the PRIZE at the end. But these poor girls and women who give their babies away don’T even get that. they get a few dollars ‘compensation’ instead. it is horrifying to me.

    I think this storyline was built in so that all the rich people (inlcuding gay men like Elton John) who buy women’s wombs can feel better about themselves; so they can pretend they’re doing the GIRL a favour.

    [wanders off muttering]

  5. I, too, haven’t had a TV for longer than I can remember. When I travel to visit relatives or friends, I do sometimes see it. Several weeks ago I visited a relative and turned on the only movie, called “The Choice” that wasn’t violent action, after said relative went to bed. It was poorly done, but with a **message**. A young career woman who just gets a fabulous break at work that makes her ecstatic discovers she’s pregnant. Though the acting and plot sucked, I was mesmerized in horrified fascination to continue watching as she consulted with a colleague who had had an abortion and advises her to do so. As I expected, the colleague eventually breaks down at her utter guilt from having had an abortion. The main character is given some kind of religious symbol by a mysterious older woman (a saint? an angel?–a tool of the patriarchy) who tells her she will have 3 visions. Of course, these are her future child as a baby, a young girl, a young woman getting married. Her company fires her when they find she is pregnant, since her colleague tells the boss, betraying her co-worker. She goes to her clergyman about what to do about the pregnancy. It was a huge fucking guilt trip and propaganda. Well, I finally did give it up, having seen enough. I’m sure that she chose to have the baby and perhaps her boyfriend marries her and they live happily every after with her as a stay at home mom with no career, being fulfilled so much more in that role than in a career. Well, that side has some truth, because nearly all jobs that young women can get suck anyway and they have to put up with misogynist bullshit throughout the career that they need to pay off student loans.

    This is in a small town, rural area area riddled with poverty with many young women who don’t even finish high school, usually because they are trapped by unwanted pregnancies. This kind of propaganda is something that makes an impression on them. So on one hand, no one mentions abortion in the “progressive” shows, but in someplace so conservative, the guilt trip and confusion is just laid on when it is a subject. Any portrayal of abortion cannot be seen in a favorable light, only laden with guilt.

  6. I meant to add: That movie made it clear where abortion has gone. . .

  7. Re cherryblossomlife’s comment: the way surrogacy has quietly become mainstream is really disturbing. So is this trend towards romanticizing adoption, because it seems “nicer” than abortion, and completely downplaying both the physical and psychological realities for the woman.

    Btw, in case anyone hasn’t seen this article about crisis pregnancy centers pushing adoption on undecided or unwilling women, it’s worth the time:

    h ttp://www.thenation.com/article/shotgun-adoption

    I’ve broken the link, as I don’t know the policy here.

  8. “I think this storyline was built in so that all the rich people (inlcuding gay men like Elton John) who buy women’s wombs can feel better about themselves; so they can pretend they’re doing the GIRL a favour.”

    He also brought the egg from a separate woman, could it be so neither woman would have a strong claim on the baby? Or maybe because he did not want the genes of the birth mother, why not?. Does he have the permission of the genetic mother to use her genes? Maybe it is above board but these questions should be asked.
    Using financial power to buy wombs is no better than using people from poor countries to buy kidneys.

  9. That’s probably exactly why he did it, Zeph. Reduce women down to the basest level: walking wombs, not even carrying their own genetically produced child. For cash.

    It is *definitely* on par with buying kidneys (and vaginas/anuses a la the sex industry)

  10. I watch a broad cross section of TV on the major over-the-air networks and I haven’t seen a woman or girl “choose” abortion on any program in A LOT of years. This includes soaps, drama, and comedy. I think it is now an unwritten Hollywood rule that every woman either has to give birth no matter what or have an unfortunate miscarriage. I think this is very irresponsible especially in the case of teenage moms. It gives girls the impression that motherhood at 16 is just a small inconvenience in life instead of the life-altering event that it is.

    On the season finale of “Gray’s Anatomy” one doc who is sure she doesn’t want motherhood is thrown out by her new husband because she could not be persuaded to have a child she doesn’t want. I’d lay odds that she will have a motherhood epiphany by the time the season starts up again. Come to think of it on last week’s episode of “The Practice” a grad student who wanted abortion was shamelessly guilted and pressured to give birth by a Catholic doc but there was another doc who advised her not to make that decision to please anyone else and the abortion went forward but with a thick layer of sad atmosphere.

  11. I know as radfems we’re not exactly a majority (not yet, anyway) but it’s constantly infuriating how out of touch with reality popular culture is for us and our (less radical) sisters. A lot of women I know have had abortions and their decision-making process looks nothing like the overdramatic farce you see on TV, movies, etc. Wouldn’t it be great if we actually saw our lives reflected in the media? And, better yet, in policies and government programmes?

  12. Great points in this post, easilyriled. The powerful men behind the scripts and the cameras just keep depicting those things that keep women under the boot heel. And men are the overwhelming majority of writers, producers, and directors of television programming. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film these are the percentages of women working in television for the primetime 09-10 season: Producers 39%, writers 29%, executive producers 22%, creators 21%, editors 19%, directors 16%, and directors of photography 3%. Overall, women make up only 27% of all the people working behind the scenes in prime time television. There’s no way our version of our own lives is going to come to the fore with that kind of imbalance. The creators and writers of Glee are men and the vast majority of the directors of episodes have been men. Sadly, the women who do get hired for prime time television are the ones most likely to go along with the male vision (Tina Fey is the perfect example).

    So if it’s mostly just men we’re talking about as creators of these fantasies, we have to ask why it is that men don’t want to talk about abortion. Apparently it doesn’t matter that it is at least as much to their benefit if women have choice. But it isn’t about equality for men, it’s about power over. Pregnancy, giving birth, and raising children (and all the attendant tropes and our reactions to them) are hobbling. As well, cultural ideas and social pressures and fears about pregnancy keep women firmly in their places as other than and second-class to men. Pregnancy (real or as an idea) is a reliable way of keeping women subordinated, through the fear of pregnancy, the stress of being pregnant, the physical limitations brought about by pregnancy, the reification of woman-as-womb, all the jokes about pregnant women and how bizarre they are, the need to be pregnant (as popularly depicted), the centrality of children in women’s lives as popularly depicted and as reality, the reality of birthing a child, the reality of raising a child, and on and on.

    Abortion can never be seen for what it is: The promise of freedom for women from all of that.

  13. Thanks for all your comments, everyone. Yes and the whole surrogacy thing and reproductive technologies biz is intricately linked to hushing up abortion. holy backlash, Batman.

  14. In India poor womon act as surrogates for rich western childless couple. There is a clinic set up and the womon are expected to remain in the dorm area of the clinic until the baby is born. In the documentary we saw the Israeli procurer meeting the Gyne female Dr in India. They made it all look so business like and the surrogate womon had no voice at all. Apparently the guy runs his service via the internet and couples send him the eggs and sperm which is then impregnated into the surrogate womon. The womon are well cared for the first time in their lives and are expected to work in the clinic.
    The interviewer visited one surrogate womons house (newly built by her husband with money from renting out her uterus) the womon did not speak only the pimping husband. He said to the reporter, ‘Womon serve no purpose in this word, so they might as well sell their uteruses as that is all they are fit for”. There was no challenge offered to this statement. The womon sat passive waiting to be told when she should rent her uterus out again so that the husband can purchase electrical items and so on……
    We saw an American couple arrive at the clinic and take the surrogate baby right under the birth mothers nose, the baby was white and fair headed, carried in the uterus of a poor womon from India. And the parents having paid their money had no qualms about taking the baby and off they go, no moral concerns at all. They paid they are entitled, they could careless!

    How sick , how abusive, how violating and the white womons need for a baby far excelled any compassion or concern she felt for the surrogate apart from wanting her to produce a perfect baby to take back to USA! Problem solved!

    In another story poor Indian womon are, as an act of worship, giving their long hair to the temple as an offering. Without money these feel this is an important ritual for them to make this offering as they have nothing else. The temple then sells all the hair it collects to western buyers, huge piles of hair can be seen behind the temple alters. They then wash, treat and dye the hair for the western hair extensions markets……that is now a ‘must have’ fashion accessory for a huge number of young womon…..womon seem to enjoy exploiting other womon and seem quite blatant about it, not giving a toss about what the origins of the hair are at all…as long as they get what they want! Who cares , not them!

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