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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"Knocked Up" Knocks Women

I'm sorry, Apatow-loving feminists, you almost swayed me, but not quite. The movie is pretty sexist. Sexist and funny, like most comedies out there, sure. But to say that Apatow's brilliant directing masks the misogynist undertones of the film is giving him way too much credit. The last scene of the movie features a guy looking at his daughter and telling her that NOT WEARING A CONDOM WAS THE BEST DECISION HE EVER MADE. On that alone, the movie is seriously problematic.

But let's rewind and I will try to discuss the movie rationally and methodically, to thwart my destiny as a the HYSTERICAL WALKING UTERUS that Apatow seems to think I am.

[I saw the movie last night with my honey, incidentally, because we were both interested by all the chatter and wanted to weigh in. Although the trailers bugged me, I kept an open mind . I am always ready to laugh, period. So if I had found the movie redeeming, I'd say so. If I found it offensive but hilarious enough to be redeeming, I'd say so. I found its humor and its offensiveness at cross-purposes though.]

1) Smash-mortion:
Besides the "not wearing a condom was the best thing I ever did" line, the most egregiously offensive scene was when Heigl's character consulted with her mom about whether or not to "take care of it." This is where the movie lost me. The mom was presented as a castrating bitchTM who callously told her daughter that she only had one choice, and that the baby would be a nuisance--so the allegedly pro-choice person is actually anti-choice. When she described a family member who had an abortion and then had a "real baby" years later, the detached way she spoke made members of my audience audibly gasp. They were gasping at the cruelty of the pro-abortion position. Thanks Judd!

But guess who gets to be pro-baby in the film? The guy's sympathetic pothead dad. Talk about a male fantasy.

2) Uppity bitches

Why do the slackers who have all the fun and make the good jokes get to be guys (or one ugly girl)? This really annoyed me. I guess some women liked the film because they identified with the perfectly groomed, family-loving careerist femme-power duo of Heigl and Leslie Mann, but I for one would have felt more at home with the freaks and their bong.

Sucks for me. Apatow painted that world like some inner sanctum of male privilege. The guys got to make all the hilarious pop culture references. The guys got to live communally. When Heigl and Mann are together they talk not about movies or music, but about 1)men 2) how old and fat they are.

When I lived with women in college, we spent a lot of time passing a bong around and making pop culture references. The only part of Seth Rogen's lifestyle Heigl embraces is the porn, though (god, Apatow fucking loves porn).

The "comedy acting" embodied by the women of this and most contemporary comedies is all about shrillness and hysteria.

Where are the Truth About Cats and Dogs plots, or where are the silly heroines from movies like Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Bridget Jones? When do we get to be goofy and lovable? Never, in Apatow's world.

3)Take care of me!

"Knocked Up" is all about the man's responsibility to "take care" of the woman and child. Why would Katherine Heigl, a successful woman, want to be in a relationship with Seth Rogen? Why wouldn't she just want to raise the child as friends? Cause she need a man, silly. Cause in Apatow's words, she wants to "do the right thing!" HUH?

Why does Leslie Mann's character (another castrating bitch TM ) love Paul Rudd's character so much? Why are we still treading these re-hashed stereotypes?

Also, why don't the women get to be ambivalent about kids? Heigl doesn't want to be pregnant but as soon as she really knows she is, she stops crying and embraces mommydom. Mann is obsessed with being a good mom and chides her hubby for not being an equally good parent--her only concern with her existence as a mom is not being hot anymore.

4. Women-parts are scary

Why does Heigl's pregnancy make her go so crazy? The hormones from her lady-organs.
Why won't Seth Rogen have sex with her? Cause he's scared of her fetus-filled uterus.
Why won't she have sex with him? Cause the bump makes her look fat.
What's the scariest thing Rogens' friend sees? A baby popping out.
What's the insult all the boyz use? Vagina.
I don't think it's ironic, incidentally, that they use that word repeatedly. I think Apatow is trying to be ironic, but I really think he fears the nether-regions.

There's so much else to talk about (or ask endless open-ended questions about) with this movie, but I'm totally exhausted. I didn't think Knocked Up was a knowing in-joke. I thought it was a save-the-children screed that totally ignored the perspective of women.

For more, see here and here and the comments on my last post here.

Ooh, and here's another one.


  1. Andrea1:28 PM

    I, too, saw Knocked Up because of all the hype. While I enjoyed it, something about it nagged at me. Now I realize that something was exactly what you so elegantly laid out in this point. Thanks for helping me realize what the hell was wrong with it.

    (P.S. Since I always want to know where random commenters come from, I came from Bookmooch for your review for Special Topics in Calamity Physics , which was also good.)

  2. Anonymous9:40 PM

    It's so strange how I read comments from women on other blogs, like, it sounds like it's a stupid idea for a movie and kind of sexist, but I'm going to see it anyway. And the priceless defense of the guy character's honor and how they liked him. Really? I imagine some sort of "oh my god" valley girl speak. In real life, if they had this scenerio, do these women really think they will be allowed to have as much fun as the guy and be one of the guys? Nope, you're a girl, you ultimately get the shrew role, the nagging mother role honey. Some people are too stupid to be allowed to reproduce.

  3. I haven't seen the movie yet, but another critique that I heard was that it was anti-abortion. The critique went something like 'if there were ever a time to have an abortion, this is it, but she chooses not to?' I dunno how much this is explored, but I'm interested to know what people who've seen the movie think about that.

  4. no_slappz7:46 AM

    feminist review said:

    ""if there were ever a time to have an abortion, this is it, but she chooses not to?" I dunno how much this is explored, but I'm interested to know what people who've seen the movie think about that."

    The movie explores the simple fact that many couples -- like Pete and Debbie -- are not well suited. Yet they muddle through anyway.

    We never see Alison's father. We never see Ben's mother. But we know he's been divorced three times. I believe Alison's mother was married more than once. Her mother and his father manage to survive their days, and both, in their own goofy ways, believe that life boils down to having children and that everything else is in second place.

    That's not an anti-abortion statement. Alison's mother takes things a step further by suggesting it's best to be married before starting a family. However, her message and tone were anything but warming.

    The character of Alison's mother was a simple stick-figure. She was the shrill voice of feminism. Not a true mother.

    Alison showed trepidation when reaching out to Ben to tell him she was pregnant. She was sensitive to the moment. She feared telling her bosses about her pregnancy.

    We were deprived of the scene of Alison revealing her pregnancy to her mother. But we were given her cold-blooded response. No true mother would issue a command for an execution with such a sense of flinty pragmatism and disdain.

    In revealing a pregnancy to a mother, no daughter would deliver an emotion-free announcement. But since that scene was skipped and we have the response to the news, we know we are really dealing with Machine-Mom. Not real Mom.

    If anything, the movie marks the moment of departure from an extended childhood into adulthood. The moment when men and women discover that their children are what they live for.

    Alison reaches her moment of understanding when she sees the ultrasound. Ben is moved too. But it takes a real live baby to drive home the point. The film drives home the point that men respond to physical realities by putting all of Ben's dopey friends in the waiting room while Alison delivers. Before that point they were jokey goof-balls. But they became de facto uncles by the end.

    Meanwhile, Alison, though fearing for her job, found corporate and media acceptance of her condition.

    Not only did her seemingly superficial bosses embrace her pregnancy with a degree of warmth unknown to her own mother, but they also saw pregnancy and motherhood for what it is -- praiseworthy, desirable and something for the culture to exalt.

  5. I saw it last night, ON A DATE no less. UGH. Everything I was riled up enough to write about it, you just exactly, exactly said. Except...they never even addressed the issue of protection from STDs from their lack of a condom. Bad messages sent all around, teaching young people that unplanned pregnancies make you become a better person. Gack.

  6. thank you so much for this post. I gasped in horror when Ben threw the condom on the floor -- that's when the movie lost me. I also was bothered by the suggestion that men -- even when they don't read the baby books or seem more concerned about their bong than they do about the woman in their bed during an earthquake -- really do care about the women they're with and we should all just give them a break. that really annoyed me.

  7. Anonymous11:46 AM

    I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed Knocked Up when I saw it and I brushed of all the sexist comments and accepted them just to be reflecting what modern society is like at the moment. However, I've become increasingly aware that this laid-back attitude I have of not getting upset over these types of offensive comments and stereotypes is really a very passive way of dealing with very potent issues.

    In order to right my wrongs I'm urging you all to go see Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman playing at Film Forum for the next two weeks (so this is for all you New Yorkers out there). This is a documentary made by a single woman living in New York City which documents her travels and conversations with women all over the world. It is truly inspirational and very, very real. I am convinced that everyone whose posted will enjoy in immensely. Check out the trailer; www., and go see the movie. Get a taste of real-life women experiences, with real-life humor and pain. It is a powerful, refreshing look at the modern world and a far cry away from the simulation of real life portrayed in Knocked Up. Enjoy.

  8. Anonymous3:04 PM

    This movie isn't really that sexist... I mean, the whole "fear of female parts" thing? Honestly, how many people want to see a baby crowning? And not wanting to have sex with her because of the fetus, how is that sexist? Women have fetus' in their uterus when they are pregnant and he thinks it can hurt the baby... That's not being sexist that is just an example of stupidity and paranoia. And hormones... That's true, and that justifies Allison's "uppity bitch" attitude. Hormones can affect your mood, especially during pregnancy. And Allison had to deal with an irresponsible pothead dad who aggravated me just having to watch his laziness. Seriously, you are telling me you would have wanted more woman to be portrayed in the film as lazy, unemployed potheads? As "lovable" as they were, they were incredibly stupid and immature and quite sad as well. And your claim that the men are needed in this film I disagree with too. Allison doesn't NEED Ben, she does have a job, but if she were to have a baby without telling the father and letting him be involved I would find that cruel and heartless. Ben doesn't even actually do anything anyway until he eventually picks up his life after Allison kicks him out of HER car because the guys in the film are so pathetic they don't even have one. And you're complaining that the mothers in the film aren't irresponsible and willing to ignore their responsibilities as parents? Really? And that whole thing with the abortion is a REALLY big stretch. Oh no, a man is pro-life and selfishly wants a grandchild to be welcomed into the world with a useless father because he knows his deadbeat son will never get another chance while the momis pro-abortion and doesn't want her daughter to ruin her life. Alright, I'll admit, the mother was pretty cold and insensitive about the whole thing, but some people have that type of view on abortion. If you watch Sex and the City, in one episode Samantha talks about it like going to the dentist. If a man were to say something like that it just wouldn't be fair though because they don't know what it's like to have a child inside you. I mean, seriously, people need to stop nit-picking at these stupid things. Someone complained that Allison was too bland and unlike the men, we never get to see any other interests for her. Interests like what? Smoking pot? Which is the only interest shown for the men. She IS the only character seen working... Damn, how cruel, showing a woman with a job. Like, how would you like it if the male and female roles were reversed? If the potheads were all woman and Ben was the responsible one with a job trying to look after the baby while Allison was a pregnant pot-smoker. Would you be happy with that? Would it be good to see woman as lazy and irresponsible? Because the people who really annoyed me throughout the film were the men. As funny as they were, it was so frustrating just how insensitive Paul Rudd's character towards his wife and how useless Seth Rogen's character is in life.

    I mean, if there is one thing to complain about in this film it's the fact that they misrepresent smoking pot as something that is super great and fun that can't hurt you, but even then, it's just a movie. Anyone who decides to start smoking pot because of this movie has other problems to sort out. And it is rated R so it's not like they're marketing pot to little kids.