Thursday, 19 June 2008

Infertility and the City

Even among its detractors, it is generally acknowledged that, in its frank portrayal of female sexual freedom and unconditional friendship, Sex and the City was a ground-breaking television series. As well as some amazing outfits, it also covered some pretty serious issues along the way: the challenges of combining motherhood and a career, breast cancer and, something particularly close to my heart, infertility. The title of this blog was indeed inspired by Charlotte's infamous comment that she wasn't barren, just reproductively challenged.

But SATC was also ultimately a fairy tale, a fantasy in which no-one ever so much as popped out for a pint of milk unless they were wearing full makeup and a pair of Manolos. And that is why those who criticised the ending of the original series were perhaps missing the point. As all little girls learn very early on, at the end of every fairy tale, the princess settles down with a handsome prince and lives Happily Ever After. Carrie was always going to end up back together with Big, and even Samantha was probably going to fall for someone at some point (although that particular plot line said more to me about how uncomfortable our society continues to be with actively desiring women once they reach their forties and fifties - once female sexuality is no longer tied to its reproductive function, in other words).

But sometimes we could all use a bit of harmless escapism. Mr H started his new job this week, and flew out to Madrid first thing on Monday morning. In his absence, I am struggling on with the slow, hard slog of writing. Home alone, I find that my inability to conceive or to carry to term a child is weighing even more heavily than usual. And so I decided to take myself off to the cinema, to renew my acquaintance with Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda and Carrie. All I really wanted was to forget about the PhD and the failed cycles of IVF, and to enjoy a couple of hours of fashion and frippery.

And then it happened. Even sitting in the dark at the cinema, I am apparently not safe from the news of other people's surprise pregnancies. Perhaps I should have been better prepared for Charlotte's little announcement; as I wrote above, happy endings are, after all, pretty much inevitable in SATC land.

What saddens me about this aspect of the film was the inference that adoption didn't quite provide a happy enough ending, and that the best possible outcome to an infertility storyline is a child that is genetically related to both its parents. What kind of message does that send out to those who have adopted, or who are considering adoption, or indeed to those who are themselves adopted?

But what really, really angered me about it was that, in breaking the news to Carrie, Charlotte went on to say that, according to her doctor, this happens all the time, that lots and lots of previously infertile women suddenly get pregnant just after they've adopted (Really? Does anybody out there know anyone in this situation? No? Me neither!), and that sometimes all you need to do is to stop trying so hard.

So, according to Sex and the City, all any woman struggling with infertility needs to do is to relax! Sound familiar?

When even such an influential cultural product as SATC continues to perpetuate such myths, then it becomes difficult to hold out much hope that social attitudes towards those struggling with infertility will change at any point in the near future.


Stephanie said...

I agree whole heartedly with your synopsis of SATC, the movie. I thought it was actually quite good, with of course the IF story line. I was so mad when Charlotte spouted that line about "it happens all the time". I actually yelled back(there were only 6 other women in the theatre ) because I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

Stephanie said...

I meant to say EXCEPT the IF story line. Ooops

luna said...

yeah, I stayed away because of that little offensive sub-plot. too many stories of infertiles shouting at the screen.

glad you're taking some time for you now though. and thanks for your very kind comments, as always.

Pamela Jeanne said...

Hollywood needs the sugar-y sweet and tidy happy ending. That's why 99.9% of the movies we watch now are Indies or foreign films (as in Non-U.S.)

Sigh. So many myths, so little time.

Malloryn said...

I'm sorry that you weren't prepared for that. I've decided not to see the movie because of this subplot. I shared my feelings about this film a few days ago on my blog, and included a link to an article that Mel wrote.

As you said, I understand that SATC is about fairytale happy endings... but since when is adoption not considered enough of a happy ending? And don't even get me started on the 'happens all the time', 'just relax' nonsense.

dmarie said...

Wasn't that annoying?!! I also posted about this.

Shinejil said...

Fluff like SATC perpetuates these myths because they are easily digestible and continue the illusion of controllable female bodies. If you're broke, it's because you're too uptight and anxious, or you haven't found a child to adopt as a means to an end (how gross). No one wants to hear that life hands you lemons, and you have to go on a years-long search to understand how to make limeade instead.