Juno Peddles a Bunch of Bunk
An inaccurate portrayal of teen pregnancy
By: Sue Hutchison
Juno, which is up for several Academy Awards this weekend, just might make history as the first Oscar-winning teen fantasy film. Of course, Juno hasn’t been marketed as a teen fantasy flick. But I don’t know what else you call it when a pregnant 16-year-old blithely gives up her baby and ends up a month later with her boyfriend, smiling and strumming a guitar in their wholesome suburban neighborhood as though nothing had happened.
That’s about as close as you can get to an “immaculate” adoption, and heaven knows that’s not the way it works in real life.
Still, there are moments of realism in the film, such as when Juno‘s bulging belly becomes the hot topic of conversation in the high school hallways while the boy who fathered her child is basically given a free pass. For all her smart-chick bravado, Juno looks pretty clueless. And lost.
This reminded me of a group of girls I met in the fall who came to the annual meeting of Girls for a Change, an organization that helps girls launch social-change projects in their neighborhoods. Unlike Juno, most of these girls were from low-income families, but they seemed to share that same sense of bewilderment shielded by a shell of cool.
Judging by the questions some of them asked, they were familiar with Juno-like situations that didn’t end up with happy guitar-strumming. Even with teen pregnancy rates declining nationally, there still are too many girls having unintended pregnancies. And, as any pregnant teen will tell you, it’s no jamboree.
Niko Everett, co-CEO of Girls for a Change, finds it discouraging that young girls are sent so many mixed messages about how they should view their own sexuality.
“They’re told by media images every day that they are sex objects, and that identity is something that can be put on a product and sold,” Everett said. “Then they’re told that they’re bad if they act on their sexuality.
“And they have so little support,” she said. “Most of the girls in our groups say that they don’t feel they have one single adult they can trust to talk to about these things.”
Terrie Lind, associate vice president for teen programs at a Planned Parenthood chapter in California, said she was astonished by how many of her kids’ friends called her for advice when they were teenagers. They knew she had the answers to questions about contraception and even basic sexual health that they wouldn’t dare discuss with their parents. Lind supervises a program called Teen Success that works with teen mothers to stay in school, and she knows only too well what can happen to kids who act like they know everything.
With all the focus on empowering girls and giving them choices, are we drowning out the questions they have about themselves?
Everett told me she often thinks about a teen mother whom one of her colleagues met during a counseling session in juvenile hall. “She was talking about a pregnancy prevention class that had been taught there,” Everett said. “And she said, `No one ever even asked me why I was pregnant.'” The implication was that the reason was more emotional than physical.
We still need to do a better job of listening to girls and talking to them about sex and love before they take it all on their slender shoulders. That will make it easier to avoid the Juno-trap, especially when they know that in real life that kind of story is unlikely to have a happy ending.
Tell us: Do you think Juno is an accurate portrayal of teen pregnancy?