Sexuality in Juno
Pregnancy, Loss, and Adoption:
An Analysis of Juno
A woman is subjected to many difficulties throughout her life. Sometimes, these are much tougher than any faced by a man, yet it is in such struggle that a woman finds her strength. Perhaps one of the most difficult things for a woman to endure is the loss of a baby, whether through natural or induced causes. Perhaps it is a bit crude to say loss of a pregnancy through natural causes, for this does not necessarily mean the literal loss of a pregnancy, at least not in the scope of what concerns this study. In fact, ‘loss’ here will be utilized in a metaphorical, yet very real sense. In other words, this can connote the loss of a baby, whether before or after birth. (Mayo Clinic, 2010)
To be clearer, it is in the scope of this paper to focus on such a ‘loss,’ of a baby, post-birth, specifically describing the process of giving a baby up for adoption. Though abortion (induced loss of a pregnancy) and the natural loss of a baby, or the loss of a pregnancy, in their literal senses, are hardships that many women undergo, the goal of this study will be to delineate, explain and exemplify the way in which another very important topic, adoption, is seen in our society. This ‘loss’ will be described both by focusing on its portrayal in various research and in the media, with specific aim to analyze the film ‘Juno.’
Adoption as Perceived in Society
There are many outlets that discuss the topic of adoption, yet overall, this is a very little discussed subject in our society. Due to political interests especially, abortion is a much more ‘hot’ topic, and, of course, the loss of a pregnancy is very private. Yet adoption is also kept in the private realm as well, whether it be on the part of a mother giving up a baby, an adoptive family, or the individual adopted himself or herself. This may constitute a signal that this practice is very well accepted into our society, and thus is not spoken about.
Yet when adoption is kept private other problems may arise, especially in adopted children. These children may experience, for instance, psychological conditions for which the parents are not the best doctors. Some adopted children are able to deal with all their feelings on their own, but others do really need help and cannot seek it because of the fact that adoption is often so private.
How Research Can Help
The various research done on adoption holds similar views. It is certain that adoption is a very significant event in any person’s life, even if he or she was too young to understand what was happening. There are several issues which often arrive and which must be addressed by adopted persons in order for them to be comfortable with the predicament in which they find themselves. Depending on the age of the individual, and the circumstances for the adoption, they may be suffering from loss and grief issues. This problem can happen among children or even among grown adults, who upon reflecting on their own lives find a constant insecurity about their own place in the world. (Lifelong Issues in Adoption, 2012)
A person who is going through the stages of loss and grief may react in one or many of these ways; they may show signs of grief or guilt at their loss by reacting with anger, numbness, depression, anxiety, or fear. These emotions may interject themselves at different times in a person’s life, such as when a major life change happens, such as a divorce or death. (Impact of Adoptions, 2012)
The question of identity is another source of trouble for adopted individuals. Many of our understandings of the world are rooted in our ancestral history typically passed down from parent to child during the course of one’s adolescence. It is through these interactions that we gain insight into our lives in terms of education, social class, cultural habits, a sense of a familial peer group, with an endless list of questions about one’s history which must go unanswered. This experience is not possible for those who are adopted, and lifelong questions of origin often accompany concerns about self-esteem.
The final problem for an adopted person is not about who one is, but rather where one comes from in terms of genetics. Knowing the medical history of one’s family is important in today’s modern medical profession, and in the future knowing the genetic background of one’s parents will be critical to finding solutions to problems that have been passed down through heredity. Clearly adopted persons do not have this luxury. Many problems such as hereditary cancers and heart disease depend on early knowledge of these problems in order to receive the best treatment, but adopted persons cannot provide this information. Even knowing where one’s common ancestors hail from is hidden from the knowledge of those who were adopted. (Adoption Issues, 2012)
Various Kinds of Adoption
Yet another important facet of adoption that must be considered is the fact that an individual may be adopted as a newborn, such as in the film Juno, which will be discussed below, or as a small child. Of course, there are many kinds of adoptions, but with a certain age comes a different kind of understanding. Thus, it may be easier for children who were adopted as newborns to understand their environment and conform to it, and thus these children would be less susceptible to some of the above-mentioned problems. On the other hand, each individual is different, and if one gives into the nature vs. nurture arguments, no matter that age, adoption can still be a stressful event, for any child, which is why it is important for children to know that they are not alone and that they have many outlets through which to discuss their issues.
Unwanted Pregnancy and Subsequent Adoption in the Film Juno
The aforementioned topics, however, have little to do with the analysis of the film Juno. Adoption plays a very important part of this film, yet none of these topics are even touched upon. Teen pregnancy, another topic explored by the film ought to be the central focus, and it is, in a way, but these topics, of adoption and teen pregnancy, are not fully explored and are rather rendered in an immature, adolescent and annoyingly carefree way, one which is evident in the characters.
Juno is a fantastic film; it was made well and explores a very important topic through a very young point-of-view. Yet it only touches upon this topic, it only skims the surface, and does not deal with all the incredibly mixed emotions that can result from the loss of a baby for a mother giving the child up for adoption.
It is true, the making of Juno came at an opportune time. Teenagers today are bombarded with advertisements for television shows that portray lives of teenage mothers. Even celebrities have brothers or sisters who are teenage parents (case and point, the sister of pop star Britney Spears). The network MTV has entire marathons of the show “16 and pregnant,” and even though the mothers who are the subjects of this exploit keep their babies, they do portray a certain acceptance of the fact that teenage pregnancy is not something very serious, and rather relegate it to the drama that comes with individual exploitation for financial or viewer pleasure.
Yet Juno deals with none of these complex issues, and they are complex because few studies have been able to truly define the adult fascination with such types of television shows. Furthermore, Juno is only centered on one audience. It does not encompass the realities of a poor mother, or someone who is heart-wrenchingly attached to a baby but must give it up due to lack of money. The simplistic nature of the film is so Hollywood-ized it is almost offending to those who have undergone abortion procedures, have lost a baby, or have chosen to give a baby up for adoption.
In fact, most mothers who have done so, state that their decision to give up the baby was made in utter hopelessness and despair, in moments of true sadness and loss, not as a matter-of-fact, unfeeling decision. Yes, there are moments in the film where Juno does seem to perceive that she will be bringing a child into the world and that she will not know the child; she even hesitates, at one point, about giving the child tot he adoptive family, but all of this is forgotten once she actually has the baby (or seemingly so), and Juno and the father of the child return to their carefree, normal, adolescent life.
There are many commentaries on the film. Some state that the characters are meant to be young, that giving a baby up for adoption is a very mature decision, one evident of a strong woman, yet many argue that this is not true. One critic states, for instance, that for the liberal nature of the film, the work does not actually promote the ‘pro-choice’ message that is so important to many women. This critic is Gloria Feldt, who is an author, activist, and is the former president of Planned Parenthood. She knows the experiences portrayed in the move well, in fact, firsthand, since she was a teenage mother once. Feldt states,
“The dialogue [in the film] is adorable – snappy, smart, funny, captivating – and who wouldn’t enjoy that? But I was Juno once – that sixteen-year-old pregnant girl, and life isn’t like that at all. It delivers messages to young women that aren’t’ realistic. Juno is an adorable fantasy [â€¦] the narrative implies that carrying a pregnancy to term and relinquishing the baby – giving it up for adoption – is nothing. But we know that it isn’t so for a pregnant woman. That’s totally unrealistic.” (Lowen, 2012)
In responding to how Juno portrays gender and sexuality Feldt also states, and rightly so, that
“â€¦an adolescent girl doesn’t have a lot of power, but one of the ways that she can demonstrate her power is through her sexuality [â€¦] I’ve been astonished how many older teens and women in their twenties thought the film was wonderful. Some of the messages that are so negative went right over their heads. They grow up today in a different context. They’ve never lived in a country without choice. They don’t know that before abortion was legalized, unintended pregnancy was essentially the end of your life as you have known it, regardless of the option you choose. They’re also very judgmental of their friends who become pregnant. Many see Juno as heroic for carrying out of her pregnancy. The real issues surrounding pregnancy [aren’t] discussedâ€¦” (Lowen, 2012)
In stating these facts, Feldt criticizes what films fail to take into account; namely, a central flaw of totally failing to portray the topic of unwanted pregnancy and subsequent adoption issues realistically. Because of her experience with girls, Feldt is in a position to not only impart advice, but to be mature and realistic about such experiences.
A New York Times contributor agrees with some of the facts stated here: “Pregnancy robs a teenager of her girlhood. This stark fact is one reason girls used to be so carefully guarded and protected — in a system that at once limited their horizons and safeguarded them from devastating consequences. The feminist historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg has written that “however prudish and ‘uptight’ the Victorians were, our ancestors had a deep commitment to girls.” (Flanagan, 2008)
Yet even in this article, no discussion is carried out on just how Juno, the film, was unable to portray such acts. The pregnancy in the film did not rob Juno, the character, of her girlhood; if anything, the character was pretty static and despite her seeming strong demeanor, evidenced through much sarcasm, Juno, the girl, is the same in the beginning of the film as she is after her baby is adopted.
A Different Scenario
In this scenario, one cannot help but ask a very obvious question: if Juno is a shallow product of gender and sexuality discussions, how does it involve race? The answer is simple: it does not. There is no mention of race in the film at all, or rather no analysis of this facet. Juno is White; she lives in a predominantly white neighborhood in Minnesota. Her baby’s father is also white and from the same age group and class, a situation which is often not the case in reality. Clearly, her life is middle to upper middle class, and her parents are supportive of her giving her child away for adoption. The reason for this mention is to offer the supposition of, just for one moment, taking the neighborhood and the characters elsewhere — such as an inner city, where the race is predominantly African-American. One cannot help but ask, how would things change if such a subject were to be undertaken? (Black Women’s Health, 2012)
In order to answer this question, one must see how race is perceived in the country, as well as how unwanted pregnancies and adoptions are perceived in this community. The question of race is not a new one for America. The African-American race has long-been the subject of much discussion, yet the White race, as a victimized and struggling social class is something relatively novel. Such ideas come from the various social policies passed in the United States, such as Affirmative Action, which helped some races, and hurt others, yet some still say that it is White people who profit from this separation of races, no matter what the viewpoint. (Lipsitz, 1998) Such ‘white ideas’ or is what some individual espouse, yet many, again, believe that there is still a type of ‘white privilege’ and a way in which to overcome ideas of unfairness is to see all layers of society, no matter how tough or impermeable. Furthermore, paradoxically, some sociologists claim that although this privilege exists, there is still a sort of ‘new racism’ that must be discussed, and state, “to redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions.” (McIntosh, 1990)
Needless to say, according to some studies, “many Whites began to identify with the “new racism” epitomized by right-wing” talk show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and the movie, in a way evidences these preconceptions by stating very superficially that teen pregnancy not only transcends race, but also is a problem in White communities. (Giroux, 1997) Though this may be somewhat true, teen pregnancy is still a problem in many African-American communities, and this is important to examine, as well as the reason why this problem still exists to such an extent in this community.
Thus, as to the second subject, teen pregnancy is a growing problem in the United States, especially in the African-American community. Poverty is a contributing factor to young mothers. According to blackwomenshealth.com, 60 to 80% of the approximately 500,000 teenage pregnancies are to those in poverty. Because these young parents often cannot continue to achieve a college diploma, they perpetuate the cycle of families living in poverty. Those born to parents in poverty suffer from worse health, perform poorly in school, are often neglected and/or mistreated, and may engage in anti-social behavior. They are also more likely to commit crimes later on in adulthood.
There are other problems with teenage sexual behavior. Each year approximately 3 million teenagers are infected with a sexually transmitted disease. In fact, as many as one in four teenagers will be infected by gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, or AIDS in their teens. Teenagers are less likely to use condoms while engaging in sexual activity compared to those in their 20s or 30s, and are often less educated in sexual health in general. Teenage mothers often neglect important aspects of pregnancy, such as regular doctors visits. For all of these reasons teenage mothers are at a much greater risk of contracting various sexually transmitted diseases and putting themselves, their partners, and their children in harm’s way. To make it worse, many parents do not offer their children the kind of support they need in difficult times such as teenage pregnancy. Many young mothers are forced apart from their parents’ supportive grip, and then are expected to undertake a grueling nine months if they do indeed choose to keep their child. (Unwanted Pregnancy, 2012)
In order to overcome the negative aspects of teenage pregnancy, especially those that affect African-American teens in larger numbers, is to expand public school teaching of health and sex. Information on these subject fields is extremely important to curbing teenage pregnancies, so that mothers are able to pursue higher education, achieve their life goals, and ultimately make a better informed choice in their own childbearing decisions. Teenagers need to be well informed about contraceptive products that may be available to them, including condoms, pills, and even abstinence all before they become sexually active. Doctors recommend approaching children about the idea of sex as early as 8 or 9 years old. It is by this age that children are able to understand the reproductive cycle as a source of new life. African-American children need the same quality of health education, as well as the same availability of contraceptive devices as any children in America.
In conclusion, the movie Juno presents an accurate portrayal of one possible outcome of teenage pregnancy and adoption, but leaves the most controversial aspects of this process out. The movie is created to present Juno as a middle-class girl living a normal middle-class life, who is giving her child to an upper-class woman who has had difficulty in having children. This entire process runs fairly smoothly, and the movie concludes with a happy note, and a successful pregnancy and adoption. If the movie was portraying a different situation, one in which an African-American teenage girl was in trouble, the circumstances would be very different. African-American girls do not have the same financial opportunity to buy condoms or contraceptive pills in the first place, and are often found in difficult pregnancies that could have been prevented with knowledge, unlike Juno’s, which was done not because of financial need but simple negligence to take any form of protection at all. Also, African-American teens have higher rates of pregnancy than white teens, so Juno is showing a minority view of what actually happens with teenage pregnancies. It is clear that the movie is tailored for a movie going audience, and glosses over many of the very difficult aspects of teenage pregnancy.
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