It wasn’t until 10 years after its original release that I first saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I was twelve years old in my neighbor’s basement as I sat with my friends, the group of us enthralled by what was happening on the screen. It wouldn’t be until years later, after beginning my own sexual explorations and viewing countless films where women’s libidos are irrelevant; their sexuality defined only in response to that of the male characters, that I would realize the how powerful the images in this film are. I am thinking specifically of the inclusion of female sexuality and the candid, hilarious way the characters participate in this. In seventh grade it was as simple as mocking Phoebe Cates lunchroom tutorial, innocently handling carrots as if we knew something about male anatomy. But it was the image of Jennifer Jason Leigh, lying exposed on the couch post-intercourse that has remained embedded in my mind. Stacy’s unglamorous, and practically unemotional, sexual encounters transcend the typical teen romp and offer instead a real and raw interpretation of teen sexuality. The most fascinating aspect of this “reality” is the choice by director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe to include a character that chooses to have an abortion. I am so tired of seeing pregnancy in films and television – saving the day and making everything as it should be, giving female characters a sense of purpose. Ugh. Leaving abortion to be dealt with the way it often is by the news media, a life-altering, guilt-inducing decision that women should be ashamed of, most filmmakers play it “safe” tiptoeing around an issue that is highly relevant in women’s lives. And for fear of making a controversial political statement instead audiences are reminded, however subversively, that giving birth is the right thing to do. Motherhood is, after all, the primary role of women.
In 2008’s Smart People, Sarah Jessica Parker portrays a successful young doctor who falls for her former college professor, played by a gut carrying, over gown Dennis Quaid. Quaid’s character is an egomaniacal cynic whose bouts with grief have left him emotionally disconnected and unavailable. Frustrated with his lack of commitment to their relationship Parker breaks up with him only to discover that she is pregnant, which leads her to “realize” she is in love with him. The film ends with the couple re-united by the miracle of an unplanned (and possibly unwanted) pregnancy. Sex and the City was revered for the candid ways its characters participated in and spoke about sex, and an entire episode was devoted to broaching the abortion issue, including a conversation where two of the characters admitted to having had one. However, when the single, career driven Miranda discovers she is pregnant she opts to have the baby pondering to her friends, “What if this is it? What if this is my baby?” Even the Left-minded and Oscar winning Juno followed teen pregnancy down the more socially acceptable path – adoption. Where were the cries of outrage at the sugar coated representation of adoption? Titular character, Juno, plucks a perfect couple out of the classified section, they pay her medical bills and when all is said and done, she’s back to being a teen. Hmm – I wonder what the sequel will look like.
And while unexpected pregnancy is frequent on film (Juno, Nine Months, Parenthood), the possibility of having an abortion is presented less as a viable option and more as something to choose against. In the rare cases where it is included it is highly shameful and unsafe (Dirty Dancing, If These Walls Could Talk), and the woman is irrevocably “changed” (read: depressed or dead). It’s a baffling message considering the reality of women’s response to abortion in this country. Nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and 4 in 10 of those are terminated by an abortion. Contrary to what movies would have you believe research states: “While some women may experience sensations of regret, sadness or guilt after an abortion, the overwhelming responses are relief and happiness.” The beauty of Fast Times is that it leaves the shame out sex and sexual related choices. Well, maybe not completely out but each character is in one way or another shamed sexually – who could forget the mortification of Brad getting caught masturbating by the same girl he was fantasizing about? Perhaps it is the way Stacy becomes impregnated, a quick one two thrust from an older guy in her parents pool house, that makes her choice to have an abortion easier for the audience to deal with. I mean honestly would you have had Damone’s baby? Heckerling and Crowe, the first time for both in their given role, should be commended for not only including abortion and but for doing so in a way that many women experience it – an uncomfortable reality, yet a smart choice. For the freedom of filmmaking, the pride of women and the validity of a movement, this was and remains still, a revolutionary act.