Learning Feminism from Cable TV

this is a post by Kissie Catastrophe.

Hey kids- long time no see!

I’ve been a little busier than I’d like to be, so must apologize for my absence. In the rare moments of freedom I’ve had, I’ve been thinking and jotting down ideas that tend to be scattered, complicated and not easy to form into something readable. Since that’s allowing too much procrastination, I’m just going to give you what happens to be on my mind at the very moment. And it might be a little shocking…

Due to my inability to resist horrible TV, especially if it seems like it could have even the slightest relation to women’s issues (read: 99% of all programming), I watched a Lifetime made for TV movie last weekend. And maybe I’m just getting soft, but it seemed like it actually contained primarily positive, arguably feminist, messages.

I know, I know, Lifetime movies are supposed to be the harrowing, usually disempowering stories of abused middle aged housewives, new moms cracking into multiple personalities and Lolita-esque stories of bad daughters stealing their mothers’ boyfriends, right? That sure is how I remember them.

I’m even more surprised to feel this way because the topic of this weekend’s “film” was the fictionalized reenactment of the alleged “Pregnancy Pact” between some high school girls out in Gloucester, MA,  a town that got a lot of attention beginning in June 2008, because of a crazy high teen pregnancy rate, an unfortunate coincidence that was purported to have stemmed from an actual pact (which was never substantiated, and turned out to have been an agreement among already pregnant girls to help each other out).

I expected the movie to sensationalize the story further, be chock full of marginalization, condescension towards  and victimization of the girls involved, and who knows what sort of horrible themes within the virgin/whore dichotomy (not to mention, the potential anti-choice and abstinence-only rhetoric I was totally ready to witness).

But there was little to none of the usual Lifetime nonsense. In fact, there was a pretty clear “progressive” slant in terms of the plot direction, in that the teen pregnancy spike took place in a school that had abstinence only sex-ed. I’m not sure yet if that was the case in reality, but the movie definitely used that as a big agenda item.  The story came mostly from the girls’ points of view, which created a subtext of young female sexual agency. Plus, there was plenty of pro-feminist rhetoric coming from the alum- liberal/professional blogger who was on a mission to understand what had went so wrong in her high school. The theme emerged that this was not a battle to defend the “victimized” girls from predatory boys, it wasn’t to re-virginize the promiscuous daughters, it was a battle to overcome a culture of ignorance and misunderstanding.

WHAA??? But, I’m watching Lifetime? And, oh, the blogger is Thora Birch (yeah, I know!), and she’s gaining trust through interviews with the teen girls, and wait…what is this?…she’s going to reveal what she did about her teen pregnancy? I can hardly stand the excitement! Will she say that she’s had an abortion, thereby reducing the stigma? Seems like she might…Oh wait, if you haven’t seen “Pregnancy Pact” then I better not go any further.

So not only did the Lifetime movie of the week tell the story the way I saw it: if you don’t provide comprehensive, age appropriate sex education and make contraception available to teenagers  that are going to have sex one way or another, you get a big mess of pregnant teens. But it went way above and beyond my expectations by approaching a more constructive conversation about abortion, adoption, child care and female sexual responsibility issues (as in “I wasn’t taken advantage of”, “I’m allowed to have a sexuality”, etc.) than I’ve ever seen on this network.

I’m not about to declare Lifetime a liberal bastion or a champion of women’s rights. But, I’m definitely curious to see what else they’re putting out these days. I certainly don’t have the stomach or gender normativity to enjoy most of their programming, but if the “Women’s” network is actually making strides towards constructively addressing some of the more difficult issues we’re facing ( at least in the white, middle-class, American female world), well that’s something, right?

Next up, telling Lifetime all about the term “intersectionality”…

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2 Responses to Learning Feminism from Cable TV

  1. PubbyPab says:

    *SPOILER*

    I think Lifetime mitigated any constructive conversation about abortion when it was revealed that the Thora Birch character had been lying all along about aborting her baby. And how did her ex, who had believed this lie for 12 years, react upon hearing the truth? He was forgivingly joyful, natch, because as we all know, abortion is PURE EVIL.

  2. kissiegrrrl says:

    I totally agree- my “WHAA?” is most directly referencing that aspect of the story-telling. I’m by no means saying that they’ve nailed the progressive feminist standpoint, but it’s a lot of progress overall.

    This movie could have had all kinds of amazing pro-choice messaging that it didn’t in the end, however, it was a huge step above and beyond the lowly place on the ladder of women’s rights Lifetime had it sights on in the last decade.

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