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.

Most of Adam’s initial questions about the abortion are attempts to pin down the details, as if knowing the identity of the doctor who performed the procedure will help him figure out how to feel about his girlfriend’s decision. He sweeps a stack of books from a nearby table and demands to know how many abortions she’s had. (“I’m not going to share that with you, because it’s private,” she responds calmly.) He asks who went with her to the clinic (her friend, a somnambulist). He’s most unsettled by the idea that she made the choice without him. “Isn’t this the kind of decision that people typically make together?” he asks.

It is a decision that some people make together. But Mimi-Rose’s steadfast security in her decision signals Girls’ stance that women do not have a moral obligation to do so.

The episode also refuses to moralize about abortion, taking a no-nonsense approach to the subject. When Adam asks whether it was a boy or a girl, Mimi-Rose responds, “It was a ball of cells, it was smaller than a seed pearl. It didn’t have a penis or a vagina.” And when he suggests that he might have voted to have a child together if Mimi-Rose had consulted him, she points out that they’ve been together for less than two months. The baby would have to sleep in a toolbox and survive on a diet of sardines. Mimi-Rose didn’t think it made sense to have a child right now, and what’s more, she didn’t want to.

At the start of the episode, Mimi-Rose and Adam seem to be in harmony with one another. Even Adam’s green shirt and Mimi-Rose’s sky-blue pajamas complement the color scheme of the apartment, right down to the bed sheets. And Adam has always been an iconoclast in his own right, so he would seem to be the kind of man who could readily appreciate a woman like Mimi-Rose.

But Adam is also used to playing the hero—he literally came running to the aid of Hannah (Lena Dunham) when she dealt with a relapse of obsessive-compulsive disorder in season two. When he confronts Mimi-Rose later in the episode, it becomes clear that he’s freaked out by the prospect of a different relationship model.

“Why didn’t you want me to come with you?” he asks Mimi-Rose as he prepares to move out of their shared apartment. “Don’t you need me at all? Cause it freaks me out. You never talk to me about what you’re working on, you don’t mind if I don’t make it to whatever fucking party, you don’t ask me how you look.”

In other words, Mimi-Rose is self-sufficient—or, in Adam’s words, like one of those jellyfish that only has to have sex once to reproduce.

That’s a diagnosis with which she can readily agree. Mimi-Rose doesn’t need Adam. But she does want him around.

“You know how I always sleep 15 minutes later than you?” she asks. “I really wake up before you. But I pretend to be totally asleep because I love it when you tuck me in and kiss me. And I’m really coming to depend on that.”

This is better than needing him, she assures him. And it’s certainly healthier at the seven-week stage.

The next morning, the couple goes back to their wakeup routine while El Perro Del Mar’s “God Knows” plays. “You gotta give to get back,” the singer chants as Adam looks down at Mimi-Rose, pausing for a moment before wrapping her in the blanket.

Relationships tend to crumble quickly on this show, and heaven knows what new revelations we’ll get about the pair in coming episode. But whatever becomes of the couple, I’m grateful to Girls for telling a story about a woman who knew that she wanted to end a pregnancy and did so without guilt, second-guessing or asking for anyone’s permission. This won’t be every woman’s experience. But Mimi-Rose has the right to her own.

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  1. I’m responding even though I don’t know what to say except you have made me think, once again. I’m sure I will go on thinking about this for quite awhile. Thank you.

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