thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Girls’ Progressive Portrait of Women’s Right to Choose

In reproductive health, Television on February 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Sarah Todd

The HBO series Girls dodged its first abortion plot line, rendering a character’s appointment at the clinic unnecessary when she started bleeding unexpectedly (whether this was a miscarriage or a belated period was left unclear). Sunday’s episode “Close Up,” on the other hand, addresses the subject head-on.

At the outset of the episode, Adam (Adam Driver) and his new girlfriend Mimi-Rose Howard (Gillian Jacobs) are slumbering in their airy, light-filled Brooklyn loft. Adam wakes up first and easing out of bed gingerly, tucking in Mimi-Rose and kissing her on the cheek. When she descends the stairs to the spacious patio, Adam is waiting for her with a breakfast of crusty bread, a cheese plate and some kind of grilled meat. Clearly they have fallen into some kind of alternate-dimension Anthropologie catalogue. Regardless, Adam gallantly dusts off the chair for Mimi-Rose and scoops her into his arms.

This kind of seven-week-old relationship bliss can’t last for long. Sure enough, when Adam tries to persuade Mimi-Rose to go for a run later that morning, she tells him she can’t because she’s just had an abortion.

What follows is one of the more progressive abortion storylines in recent memory, with Jenny Slate’s wonderful Obvious Child achieving another high-water mark. The episode makes clear that a woman’s right to choose is inherently bound up with her right to be an independent human being.

Mimi-Rose’s abortion happens on her own terms. She chooses to end her pregnancy without talking to Adam first—not because she wants to lie to him, but because she already knows what she wants to do. Then she decides to tell Adam about it after she’s had the procedure, since she wants to be open with him. And when Adam reacts angrily, she gives him space to process his feelings without letting him make her feel guilty or ashamed.

Each of these decisions is in keeping with what the audience knows of Mimi-Rose’s character. As we learned in the previous episode, this is a woman who dumped her childhood sweetheart at age nine because she realized their relationship was interfering with her creativity. She has both the confidence and the self-knowledge to make independent decisions about her life. And it is this independence, rather than the fact of the abortion itself, with which Adam struggles.

How to be Awesome like Lane Kim (from “Gilmore Girls”)

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2015 at 11:13 am

Phoebe B.

Unknown

Since Gilmore Girls’ revival on Netflix a few months ago, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Stars Hollow, the virtually all-white small New England town in which the show is set. There are many things about Gilmore Girls that I find refreshing and delightful, quick and witty dialogue and the focus on friendships between women being among my top two favorite things. Gilmore Girls undoubtedly passes the Bechdel Test, as women talk with one another about everything from love to work to friendships and well beyond. But it is also a show about whiteness and class conflict, despite the fact that it frequently seems to attempt to skirt these issues.

Lane Kim stands out as one of two recurring character of color (the other being Michele at the inn), replete with a stereotypical Asian Tiger mom. Her mother’s strict rules contrast with Lorelai Gilmore’s free-spirited parenting style, seemingly evoking a sensibility along raced lines.

But while Lane rebels against her restrictive Korean, Christian mother, she is also a fully-fledged, fully badass character in her own right. In a sea of whiteness—both on Gilmore Girls and on television more generally—Lane’s greatness ought to be appreciated.

So, here is how to be awesome like Lane Kim:

  • Be a major music buff, but, not just in one genre. You’ve got to love all kinds of music, from Coltrane to Broadway show tunes, Belle and Sebastian and Metallica. In order to do this, you need to hide all your CDs under secret floorboards in your bedroom. After immersing yourself in music for years, you’ll be able to identify any song or artist based on the faintest sound streaming through the phone line.
  • Once you know all there is to know about music, convince the local music instrument store owner to let you practice super softly on a borrowed drum kit. Then, once you’ve mastered the drums, place a hilarious ad in the newspaper wherein you list ALL of your major influences. Given the breadth of your music knowledge and that you’ll likely have to pay per word, prepare for this ad to be costly.

Grief, Trauma, and Terror: The Babadook

In Film, parenthood, spoilers on January 12, 2015 at 6:00 am

  the-babadook

Sarah S.

The Babadook is one of those excellent little horror films that reminds how much scaring can be done with good acting and a competent director. It’s delightfully spooky and eerie, with interesting sound choices and great cinematography and scene setting.

Plus, it’s a film about a woman, written and directed by a woman—Jennifer Kent. In the first half, The Babadook offers up a moving portrait of a profoundly ordinary woman parenting a troubled child. In the second half, well, things take a turn for the terrifying. Essie Davis’s performance as the mother, Amelia, blows the roof off, proving once again that the bias against genre films by those who give out awards and accolades is entirely misplaced.

In this Australian horror-thriller, Amelia is a single mother who struggles to manage her emotionally-disturbed, monster-obsessed son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), only to find that one of his monstrosities might be real. The Babadook, a sinister figure with a black trenchcoat and talon-like fingers, first shows up in a strange pop-up book that appears in Amelia and Samuel’s gloomy house. As Amelia’s isolation grows so does the power of the Babadook to terrorize her and Samuel.

The Babadook is essentially a haunted house story, albeit one where the “ghost” seems to be deliberately tormenting these people (rather than being attached to the house itself). Haunted house narratives are often about the dark side of family life (think The Conjuring or the first season of American Horror Story). These stories may be interested in infidelity or children’s maturation or even  the common challenges of marriage and parenting. The message is that something sinister (mental illness, homosexuality, pick your symbolic menace) is always lying just under the floorboards, wanting to tear the nuclear family apart.

The Babadook toys with this genre. It’s a haunted family story, but in The Babadook the nuclear family has already been destroyed. Amelia is a single mother because her husband died in a car crash on the way to the hospital to deliver Samuel. It’s been seven years and even if Amelia no longer talks about her husband, her grief lingers. Amelia and Samuel live in his house, a house that should be idyllic and instead feels oppressive. Amelia has relegated his belongs to the basement, ostensibly an attempt to put her grief away that is belied by how she blocks these items and her husband’s memory from Samuel.

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