by S. Fenella Das Gupta, Ph.D., Neuroscience
I would like to introduce to you Vanessa Loring. Although her name may not sound familiar, you may in fact know her- She’s the character played by Jennifer Garner in the movie Juno.
Juno is a film about a sixteen-year-old girl confronting an unplanned pregnancy. Juno searches the ads in the ‘PennySaver’ looking for a couple who she feels would be perfect adoptive parents. Enter Mark and Vanessa Loring, who are to all intents and purposes the lucky couple.
This character, Vanessa came to mind the other day as I watched the You Tube skit ‘ Sh@t Breeders Say’ (to infertiles). There’s a line in the parody “it’s hard that you put your career first huh?” that fits the character exactly.
In fact, Jason Reitman (director) tries to portray this stating "Feminism has paved the way for Vanessa’s career, but ultimately Vanessa wants to be a full time mother."
So how is this educated, affluent (waiting too long to have a baby; infertile) woman portrayed?
With strategic close up shots of her dusting, polishing and arranging furniture ‘just so,’ you quickly get the idea that Vanessa is a somewhat uptight, slightly crazed, anal retentive yuppie.
The movie mocks her suburban sensibilities, coercing us to reject her. In fact, Vanessa is initially the least sympathetic character in the movie. Even Juno sets us up by remarking that Vanessa “ keeps him [her husband] on a long leash” .
All in all, Vanessa’s cold perfectionism makes you cringe.
So, the woman with infertility is portrayed as a power-hungry control freak, who distracts herself from her lifeless marriage by the acquisition of commodities.
As the movie progresses and we begin to see Vanessa doing regular things, such as visit the shopping mall and playing with her friend’s child, an earnest, nurturing and more appealing woman is painted. Finally, we can relax and breathe a sigh of relief, as this Vanessa truly deserves a baby.
So what’s the undercurrent here?
A woman who finds liberation in her career is probably going to be neurotic and infertile. If we can’t shun her openly, we should at least change her into something warm and fuzzy, because that’s the type of woman that a baby rightfully belongs to.
I might sound bitter, but I’m actually not. I’m just bored. Although this movie defies conventions in many ways, the stereotypical, sanitized resolution of this character- makes- me -yawn.
With movies taking on a more “real” feeling, the boundaries between film and reality has the potential for becoming blurred. The general public are fed lines and subtly persuaded to take sides. It’s no wonder society jumps to the banal conclusion that infertility is synonymous with higher education and a focus on career.
So here’s my take with respect to what movies should do: think cigarette packet labels here:
At the end of the credits:
WARNING: “All media messages are carefully constructed with the intent to send a very specific covert message. We are, as always, here to serve the dominant population”.
Fenella Das Gupta is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist ( #47275) working in Northern California,specializing in fertility counseling. She works with individuals and couples as they make their way through the fertility maze. The other part of her work includes making fertility issues a newsworthy item, as she writes for the Petaluma Patch-a subsidiary of the Huffington Post. To read more about fertility issues in the news go to http://petaluma.patch.com/users/fenella-das-gupta-phd-neuroscience-mft/blog_posts