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Tsvetelina Doncheva
English and American Studies
Year 4, FN 25417

The Motherhood- Pregnancy Cycle in the Romantic Comedies of the 21st century:
The seemingly feminist message

Feminist nowadays is a title hard to live up to. Women are given more and more rights
every day. They conquer spheres of life which were once unthinkable for them politics, media,
sport, just to name few. Todays women can have whatever they want no matter family or
career, both or neither. Apart from this, even the most vigorous among the feminists would admit
that the very concept of feminism has been challenged in recent years the idea of gender as a
dichotomy has been abandoned to give way to the spectrum of genders. Quite naturally this has
created new and different minorities with new and different problems to solve and obstacles to
overcome. It is again natural to see the entertainment industry to respond to these new currents.
We can trace these developments in a lot of entertainment industry products but I will focus on
the romantic comedies because regardless of the law critical acclaim of the genre, it stays an old
favourite of a lot of people and, it is living, breathing entity within cinema 1 and tracing the
changes the genre undergoes we can outline cultural trends and directions for future
developments. For instance, although the romantic comedy is an essentially formulaic genre, the
new millennium sees a lot of variations, even new types to appear which use the familiar plot
structures but destabilise it introducing new twists. As some critics point out (Krutnik 1998, 130)
as early as the 30s Hollywood romantic comedies were remodeled for niche audiences defined
by ethnicity, sexual orientation or age. This variety is thriving in the 21 st century and in respect
to these new genres and their classification I will stick to Betty Kaklamanidous study 2000s
Romantic Comedy in which she introduces the Mature Cycle, which has to do with middleaged female protagonists and their affairs with younger men; the Homme-com genre; the
comedies which have to do with homosexual relationship (lesbian usually, but not exclusively);
the Fantasy and Action romantic comedy. However, I will limit my humble study to the
1

Abbot, Stacy; Jermyn, Deborah. Falling in Love Again. I.B. Tauris & Co ltd.,2009. London.

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Motherhood-Pregnancy Cycle because of the ambiguous message it has on the surface it


advocates the image of the independent successful woman who doesnt need men and dares to
take her happiness in her own hands. But on closer inspection the comedies from this cycle seem
to reassert traditional and even rather patriarchal views of family, femininity, love and life as a
whole.
The Motherhood-Pregnancy romantic comedies make claims for emancipation
presenting their protagonists as self-sufficient and self-reliant in the professional and social
sphere but this seemingly feminist vision enters in conflict with the representation of their
personal life as malfunctioning because of their failure to become mothers. After this first
betrayal to the feminist luster, the heroines are presented as fulfilled only in terms of the
traditional gender role of females as mothers, wives and caretakers.
Whats typical of this subgenre is first of all the leading female character she is usually a
middle-aged career woman trying to have it all which means that they start the movie as
powerful successful and are reluctant to conform with the traditional family model. As Claire
Mortimer points out they are seemingly living the post-feminist dream 2. However, apart from
the smart clothes and the business meeting the audience sees them go to, there is not much time
and attention dedicated to their career. In the most typical representatives of the genre one has
difficulties to put their finger on the character exact profession in The Back-Up Plan (2010),
we get to know that that Zoe has given up a high position in business, whatever this could be,
in favour of her dream pet shop; in The Switch (2010) all the reference to Kassies work is an
amazing offer from ABC. The scarce information leads us to believe that these details are
unimportant, the characters are put in clich scenes that vaguely evoke an important job. In the
cases where the profession of the protagonist is explicitly shown it complies with essentially
traditional female occupation: in No Reservations (2007) Kate /Catherine Zeta-Jones/ is a top
chef, which has a lot in common with the archetypal role of caretaker; in Baby Mama (2008)
Kate /Tina Fey/ holds a post in a food corporation and although we cant be sure exactly what
her job is, that is what we get to know. When there is so little information we need to read
closely every facet of it, so this detail is not as insignificant as it may seem at first sight. When
one comes to think of it, Zoes pet shop is also associated with care. In fact this seems to be a
stable trend in the representation of women in the romantic comedies from the new millennium:
despite all the attempts to show the protagonists as progressive and emancipated in their
professional life, the range of jobs they have is quite limited and we could easily see the few
archetypal feminine models in it. First, the care related like event-planning or cooking (The
2

Mortimer, Claire. Romantic Comedy Routledge Film Guidebooks. Routledge, 2010. USA.

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Wedding Planner, 2001); then those related to PR or fashion, which to me come down to the
women reduced to a beautiful face, a glossy image, a piece a jewellery where appearance is of
utmost importance, (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006). And last, the one that seems to me as the
least wrong - that of the writer or the journalist, where most of the writing is done with
instructional purpose in the romantic sphere (Sex and the City, 2008) hence it could be seen as a
variation of the role of the teacher. I dont deny the extent of generalization I put in this
classification but I believe it shows that under the gloss of emancipation, feminism and
modernity, the representation of women in the romantic comedies (and not only) boils down to
the archetypal Mother figure and its different aspects care, advise and beauty (the later being
the least characteristic). This model representation is in the core of the Motherhood-Pregnancy
romantic comedies. No matter how successful the characters are, they dont see themselves as
fulfilled unless they have a child. There is this creeping feeling of these women being pressed for
time, we can literally hear their biological clock ticking. Usually there is a moment of near
epiphany when they realize they dont have much time neither many chances to conceive a child.
But still, the fate or nature maybe, tells them in the exact moment so they can act fast in Miss
Conception (2008) Gerogiana is told that she has only one egg left and she has to get pregnant in
two weeks and thats her last chance; in Baby Mama Kate is told she has a t-shaped uterus and
the chances to get pregnant are one to a million. In the rest of the typical representatives of the
genre the protagonists admit reluctantly but frankly that they are not getting younger and this is
not the way they have planned things to happen but they need to take charge of the situation. An
interesting element is worth noting here a frequently employed device seems to be the running
background narration which leaves the audience with the impression of some external force that
drives the plot and the characters. In The Switch this omniscient narrator shares his thoughts on
the peoples constant search of connection; in Miss Conception Georgiana is actually faced with
this narrative through a tv-set in a childrens store the almost unearthly voice tells her about the
dangers of early menopause and urges her to get checked. This device is most prominent in a
comedy of the so-called Mature Cycle produced in 2007 I Could Never Be Your Woman,
where the narrator is the Mother Nature and through her a statement is made that summarises the
main idea in both cycles: And when it was time for the woman to stop jerkin' around and start
having babies they said "We want to get our careers going first babies can wait till later." They
grew up to be obsessed with money and accumulated useless possessions.() But I've got them
now. Oh yes, yes, yes Because now, now... They going to get old. 3. That is the undercurrent in
http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/i/i-could-never-be-your-woman-script.html on
13.02.2012
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most of the Motherhood-Pregnancy comedies the characters are getting older and their plans
for the future which inevitably involve finding the perfect man, getting married and then having
children proved to be failing. Once again under the image of a modern woman who doesnt need
to conform with the views of society about life and relationships, is revealed to have very
orthodox vision of happiness that sticks to the traditional.
After this first betrayal to the seemingly feminist image of the Motherhood-Pregnancy
romantic comedies, comes another one the ending. Eventually the heroine ends up not only
with a child but with a lover or even husband. The family institution is once again protected and
preserved. What has started as a post-feminist dream ends up as an old-fashioned fairy-tale
come-true. In the ends she realizes she cannot, after all, have it all and she learns to come to
term with her feminine instincts4 and becomes a mother. And, as if that is not enough, in those
cases where the heroine was unable to conceive at first and attempts surrogacy or artificial
insemination, finally conceives quite naturally this happens with Jennifer Lopez character in
The Back-Up Plan after she gives birth to artificially conceived twins; thats what happen even
with Kates t-shape uterus in Baby Mama. Maybe it only the producers who can tell us what is
behind this curious turn of events. My suggestion is that thus the whole notion of the woman
taking charge of her life is refuted it is as if nature, fate, god or whatever supernatural force
controls the life of the characters, does as it pleases no matter what the plans of the character are.
I dont see this as a favourable push on the part of this force so that the perfect state happiness
could be achieved just the opposite: it is a proof that this would happen no matter whether the
characters try hard or not at all. With this final touch we are shown that happiness is only a
matter of chance and we are quite helpless to affect it in any way.
So, although at the first sight it seems that the Motherhood-Pregnancy romantic
comedies reassert the powerful independent women who is able to direct her life where she
wants it to go no matter whether The One is in the picture or not, on closer reading these
comedies are revealed not only to support traditional models of family and womans role in
society but even shows how helpless people are in the face of some external forces controlling
their life.
As Abbot and Jermyn note5 the overall critical esteem of the genre of the romantic
comedies is low, to a large extent due to the fact that that its audience is presumably women.
Such films are usually described as chick flicks, the derogatory connotation stems from the
inherent view of these as trite and lightweight. Another reason could be found in its essentially
4

Mortimer, Claire. Romantic Comedy Routledge Film Guidebooks. Routledge, 2010. USA.

Abbot, Stacy; Jermyn, Deborah. Falling in Love Again. I.B. Tauris & Co ltd.,2009. London.

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formulaic structure which is seen by a lot of critics as cynically manipulating an emotional and
sentimental response from the viewers. The conventions of the genre have been heavily judged
by the feminist critique as well. It opposes the very notion of womens film on the basis of the
fact that love is perceived as womans stuff6 because of the cultural convention in the western
world that men shouldnt show their emotions hence the almost pejorative chick flick.
According to the feminist critics it is the film producers, predominantly male, that use such films
to manipulate women and to teach them what roles in society and family they should play. They
go even further by stating that women in films who goes through various difficulties trying to
have children or bring them up in fact express towards having children through a noble
inversion7 by sacrificing themselves and their professional future. One betrays a fear of its
opposite, of a hatred so intense it must be disguised as love 8 says Sue Thornham about the
womens sacrifice in favour of their children. In recent years feminists have been trying to come
in terms with the notion of motherhood or at least to decide where they stand on this question
is it the ultimate reduction of a woman, to make herself dependent on another human being, to
give up their self and body. Or is it the ultimate celebration of womanhood creating and
supporting life The opinions are widely ranging but the feminist film critique seems to be
stuck in the extremities. I believe that the answer is in between between the categorical denial
and the full embrace of the stereotypes. Of course stereotypes are reducing, of course there is a
lot going on which stays out of the stereotypical picture, but I believe that womens
representations in film has its stems in real life, in the models society imposes on women not
the other way round. Whats more, movies are products of the entertainment industry, they dont
make claims for any didactic purposes, they are not suppose to bring up the new woman, to
make her independent and emancipated. It should be the other way round. It should be this
emancipated and independent woman that has such significance in society that she imposes new
representations in art. That is why I cant accept the idea of a conspiracy of male film producers
to overpower women. I even fear I am too harsh in my judgment of the romantic comedies
because no matter how watched and loved they are, they still are just entertainment products
they reflect trends and developments, they dont create them.
The romantic comedies, especially those from the Motherhood-Pregnancy Cycle feed on
womens fear of failure. In the last decades willingly or not women are forced by mainly
6

Thornham, Sue. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

Thornham, Sue. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

Thornham, Sue. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

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economic factors to assume a more active role in society. It is almost panic they are led to in their
attempts to reconcile the professional and personal life, they fear that their success in one sphere
is at the expense of the fulfillment of their naturally predestined role such as the still society
imposes on them. As Mortimer says 9 the romantic comedies play at societys values and
insecurities, yet they are there to reassure us that happiness is there for every one of us.
I cant help but make this parallel between the romantic comedies of 21st century and the
prolific womens writing in the United States at the end of the 19 th century. Their protagonists are
usually strong women who overcome various difficulties through life and are finally
rewarded10 with a marriage. It is true that such fiction does nothing else but reasserts the
traditional concepts of women as mothers and wives who, if they fail to fulfill that predestination, are denied any chance to be happy. However, it is also true that this works made way
for authors like Kate Chopin and Charlotte Gilman and womens writing as we know it today affirming the place of the powerful independent women in society, the woman that doesnt need
to conform but to look for her happiness and fulfillment regardless of the peoples expectations.
So, we are left with the hope that the Motherhood-Pregnancy romantic comedies, as
limited as they are in their representation of womens struggle to assert themselves, could
eventually make way for movies which show womens success and fulfillment beyond the
stereotypical terms of family and motherhood.

Bibliography:
1. Mortimer, Claire. Romantic Comedy Routledge Film Guidebooks. Routledge, 2010.
USA. Digital.
2. Abbot, Stacy; Jermyn, Deborah. Falling in Love Again. I.B. Tauris & Co ltd.,2009.
London. Digital.
3. Thornham, Sue. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
Digital.

Mortimer, Claire. Romantic Comedy Routledge Film Guidebooks. Routledge, 2010. USA.

Baym, Nina. Womens Fiction: A Guide to Novels By and about Women in America, 182070. University of Illionois Press, 1993.
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4. Baym, Nina. Womens Fiction: A Guide to Novels By and about Women in America,
1820-70. University of Illionois Press, 1993. Digital.
5. Liss, Andrea. Feminist Art and the Maternal. University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
USA. Digital.
6. The Internet Movie database. http://www.imdb.com/