"The Pregnancy Pact," a hokey
Lifetime dramatization of a non-existent "pact" between a group of pregnant teen girls
in Gloucester, aired Saturday as basic cable’s most successful original movie in years even though the film’s premise is based on
rumors and even blatant lies. Still, given that the movie was made with
the blessing of the National Campaign for the Prevention of Teen and Unplanned
Pregnancy, whose work in the dramatic
department I’ve written
about before, I thought I’d tune in and see whether the movie made any
worthwhile points. To help pick through the hackneyed dialogue and earnest
acting, I got the insight of feminist blogger Veronica Arreola, who blogs at Viva La Feminista and was vigilantly tweeting her way through
the film’s premiere on Saturday night.
"The Pregnancy Pact" opens with a nurse (played with a brisk air of
concern by Camryn Manheim) administering a pregnancy test, telling a young girl
her test has come back negative and watching the teen’s face fall in disappointment. As
she leaves the office, she is greeted and comforted by her friends, many of
whom have lanky, thin limbs and swollen bellies. After administering 150
pregnancy tests in one year and having 18 come back positive, the nurse
threatens to resign because the school isn’t offering contraception to its
Right from the outset, the naivete of the pregnant girls is thrown in our
faces: "This is the most amazing feeling," one squeals. "Oh my
god, I have a tiny baby inside me… a little girl to hang out with and
be my best friend." This was the first of many egregious examples of
demeaning these teenage girls as naive idiots with self-centered reasons for
getting pregnant. The point is meant to be that they’re too young–but these
kids are such caricatures it’s hard to see any teen viewer identifying with
One of our pregnant heroines, Sarah, has a boyfriend with professional-baseball
dreams and a family-values mom who abhors premarital sex and is leading the
fight against the nurse’s push for contraception. Neither of these facts is
going to stop Sarah from following the pact she’s made with her girlfriends
(yes, in this movie the pact is real). "We thought you were going to
chicken out," her friends tell her, when she at last triumphantly reveals
her positive pregnancy test.
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The movie’s focus on the "Pact" belies its supposed message. As
Veronica notes, "If I had seen this as a teen I would have thought, ‘That
won’t happen to me!’… An unplanned pregnancy looked almost okay whereas the
pact was vilified." Indeed, the devious, purposeful way the girls get
pregnant renders many of the issues at hand–the role of honesty, the role of
contraception, the role of knowledge–moot.
Enter Thora Birch’s character Sidney, a blogger, a feminist, and an alumna of
Gloucester high, who wonders why everyone is focused on Jamie Lynn Spears
instead of Hillary Clinton. Birch’s character points out that "teen birth
rates are up all over the country"–an assertion that’s been reinforced in
2010 by this week’s data. She goes back to her own high school to
investigate–but in a twist that was hinted at a mile away, her past is waiting
for her back home (hint: this past allegedly involves an abortion.)
As Sidney struggles to find out the root of the girls’ decision to get pregnant
at the same time, the media picks up on the story, and we’re treated to two
hours of platitudes and truisms about the birds and the bees, in a movie that
tries so hard not to offend anyone that its message of prevention, education
and caring for teen mothers is totally diluted into, well, a Lifetime movie.
Gender roles throughout the "Pregnancy Pact" are painfully
stereotypical and the teenagers are basically all hormone-driven morons. Every
single woman in the film is revealed to be a liar when it comes to her own
sexuality. Sarah lies to her parents and her boyfriend, swearing there was no
pact when there was–swearing she’s pregnant accidentally instead of on
Sidney lies to her high school boyfriend, now the assistant principal
at the school, and tells him she’s had an abortion when really she gave their
baby up for adoption. Somehow, the fact that she didn’t get an abortion
ultimately absolves Sidney’s character in the eyes of her ex and the film. "I was
angry that the ex-boyfriend seemed to have redeemed her as not being a
baby-killing slut," says Veronica.
And Sarah’s mom has lied to her
daughter by swearing she herself waited until marriage to have sex, when she
didn’t, giving her daughter an unrealistic standard to live up to. Meanwhile,
no responsibility seems to be pinned on the various boys who went all the way
without condoms. "All the teen boys
seemed to have plans & dreams for the future. The girls were so dumb they
didn’t have dreams outside of marriage and babies," adds Veronica.
Meanwhile, the film does nothing to counteract the assertion that teenage boys
are entitled to act on their lust all day, every day, and that it’s up to the
girls to be gatekeepers.
By the end of the film, Sarah, Sidney, and Sarah’s right-wing mom have all
lived through a media firestorm, learned some feel-good lessons and come
together to agree on–well, I’m not sure exactly what. While the film seems to make
a pitch for the availability of contraception–the Christian mom comes around
and agrees contraception should be distributed at school even though it’s
against her values–it demonizes abortion and swears that "just handing
out condoms" is not enough–that parents and kids have to have an honest
conversation about sex. But what that conversation entails is never clear.
"While the idea of condoms was thrown
around I don’t think it effectively got the message of safe sex, family
planning, etc., through," Veronica says.
Sidney delivers the lines that sum up the message of the National Campaign for
the Prevention of Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and "The Pregnancy
Pact": "When you get pregnant that young, there are no good options:
adoption, abortion, keeping it, they’re not going to turn out exactly as you
think. They’re going to be painful. Your life will be changed forever."
the message is, don’t get pregnant to begin with. But this scare-tactic message
is patently false, as is the movie’s portrayal of teen sexuality. While we can
be thankful that the film halfheartedly endorsed contraception, it’s another
supposedly educational film that ends up being there to shock and titillate and
make us feel better than those stupid girls in Gloucester. As Anna at Jezebel wrote this morning, "we as a culture are fascinated with
teen pregnancy — just not with teaching kids real ways to avoid it."