HBO’s “Girls” tackled abortion Sunday night – in a typically atypical way. There were no tears, no big consultation conversation. Like the show in general, it was casual, weird and uncomfortable, but it was also refreshing.
On TV and film, the decision for a woman to have an abortion is often fraught with remorse and tinged with regret, perpetuating the stigma that women who have abortions should be ashamed of themselves. More often than not, part of the decision-making process is “the talk” – a sometimes awkward, always emotionally turbulent conversation in which the man weighs in and eventually serves to validate that woman’s choice. The fact that it is her body, and therefore her choice, often takes a back seat to the “couple’s decision.” And while consulting with one’s partner is an important part of the process, the bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all process.
There is also no one, typical abortion story. So then why should there be one prototype portrayed in pop culture? Sunday’s “Girls” seems to have asked and answered that question.
Some context for the casual “Girls” viewer: We just found out – along with Dunham’s character, Hannah – that Hannah’s on-again, off-again relationship with Adam (played by Adam Driver) is officially off-again. Adam’s new girlfriend, Mimi-Rose, is the antithesis of the “Girls” girls: She’s put-together, confident, and independent. Her organized loft mimics her organized life, and the way in which she leans more on herself than on the men she surrounds herself with is integral to the character development that plays out in the abortion decision – a decision she made without consulting Adam, without crying, and without a scene-sequence of her deep struggle with the choice.
When Adam asks her to go for a run, she responds very casually that she can’t because she “had an abortion yesterday.” Adam, in a moment of confused, nervous laughter, asks her if she’s serious she says, “Yeah. There are just a few things I can’t do … because I had an abortion yesterday.” He was shocked.
I, on the other hand, was heartened. Not because I think the choice to have an abortion is a casual decision, a passing remark to be made in response to being asked to go for a run, but because finally, pop culture is allowing multiple depictions of a previously taboo topic. It doesn’t matter if we agree with how Mimi-Rose handled her story (it was uncomfortable and, frankly, strange); it matters that we can accept it as one way of many to talk about abortion.
Dunham says in an “Inside the Episode” video that “we’ve been taught to react one way to this [kind of story line], which is with tears and regret.” In this episode, Dunham (as the episode’s writer) totally turns that convention on its head. It is confusing, it is jarring, but it is also a way of attacking the negative stigmas that still surround the abortion debate for many women.The decision to have an abortion is neither glamorous nor trivial, but in many cases, it is the right decision for women to make. One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Mimi-Rose represents one of them. So the decision to show the point of view of a woman who was sure in her choice and who did not need further validation from a male figure that she was doing the right thing sent an important message: There is nothing wrong with the woman for whom an abortion is the right decision, one that is not fraught with guilt or regret.
Gillian Robespierre’s film Obvious Child starring Jenny Slate offered a similarly fresh take.
Women’s stories about abortion are slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully coming into the mainstream. And as they do, the word itself – abortion – becomes less stigmatized, more human. This week’s “Girls” was an abrupt and necessary reminder that there is not just one type of abortion experience. Whether it was too abrupt, casual, or weird is, per every episode of “Girls,” utterly beside the point.