It turns out there’s this movie star who is a feminist. Uh oh! Right? Men are people too you know. Human rights. Don’t talk to me about women’s rights; human rights.
Who is this twisted radical person who is a feminist? Ellen Page, of the irritating Juno in which our quirky brave intelligent heroine age 16 decides to have the baby and give it to some nice people instead of having a nasty filthy ol’ abortion, because girls of 16 have nothing better to do than bear children.
Apparently she didn’t realize it was an anti-abortion movie until this reporter pointed it out to her, which seems odd for a feminist.
There is, though, an unfortunate irony that one of the very few young actresses happy to describe themselves as a feminist remains most closely associated with a film that many saw as having an anti-abortion message. In Juno, Page, playing the eponymous 16-year-old, decides to have an abortion, only to bump into a classmate in front of the clinic who is protesting against abortions. “Your baby has fingernails!” her classmate tells her.
“Fingernails, really?” Juno replies. She then decides not to terminate her pregnancy.
Was she surprised by the furore the film sparked?
“No because I know what people are like in America about women’s ability to make choices for themselves in regards to their bodies. The only thing that was annoying was people taking it as a pro-life movie because she had the baby,” she says. After all, Page continues, “if she’d had the abortion it would be a short movie”, which is a fair point*. But her voice rises a little when she adds: “And at least we say the word abortion,” suggesting she knows that’s a pretty weak argument.
But the problem wasn’t that Juno had the baby, I say. It was that she decides not to have the abortion because of something a pro-life protestor said.
“Ohhhh, I see, that’s a good point,” she says, sitting back in her chair.
No, it was also that she had the baby.
But apart from that she’s pretty good. (I saw her talking to George Stromboulopooulos recently and she was pretty good then too.)
Ask an American female celebrity today whether she is even a feminist and you are likely to get ignorant verbal diarrhoea (Lady Gaga: “I am not a feminist – I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male and beer and bars and muscle cars”) and fearful denials (Björk: “[To say I'm a feminist] would isolate me.”) The best Beyoncé could muster when recently asked if she considered herself a feminist was: “That word can be very extreme … I do believe in equality … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.” She was, she conceded, “a modern-day feminist”, and that is probably true, seeing as, if you are a female celebrity, being a “modern day feminist” seems to involve distancing yourself from the word. “At this point,” New York magazine writer Maureen O’Connor blogged in response to Beyoncé’s comments, “women who have a vested [interest] in being popular – ie celebrities – are still afraid of the word feminism.”
It’s a good thing I don’t have a vested interest in being popular, isn’t it.
Like nearly all of Page’s films, The East aims to unsettle the audience as opposed to seeking mass popularity, and Page agrees that she finds it “satisfying” to be in something “that provokes people, even if it’s not positive”. More importantly, perhaps, Izzy – like all of Page’s roles – is a tough, independent woman who isn’t there just to bolster the leading man. Does Page feel a responsibility to seek such roles out?
“Yeah absolutely,” she replies before I finish the question. “Also if I played those other kinds of roles I would just die a slow death. But yes, I think it’s really important, but it can be hard. Only 23% of speaking roles in films today are for women. It feels we’ve gone backwards.” Partly in response to this, she has started writing her own script “which is definitely feminist – definitely. But of course, if you just write a script in which the woman has control over her destiny and love isn’t the main thing in the film, that’s seen as super feminist.” She is also slated to direct a movie, starring Ana Faris, but filming is still some way off: “It’s hard to get stuff made, especially if it’s about women. Everything’s about in-ter-nat-ion-al bank-a-bility,” she sing-songs to words, mockingly.
So has she ever encountered sexism in Hollywood?
“Oh my God, yeah! It’s constant! It’s how you’re treated, it’s how you’re looked at, how you’re expected to look in a photoshoot, it’s how you’re expected to shut up and not have an opinion, it’s how you –” she pauses. “If you’re a girl and you don’t fit the very specific vision of what a girl should be, which is always from a man’s perspective, then you’re a little bit at a loss.”
A dangerous radical. Yay.
*No it isn’t. You could have stuff happen after the abortion. It’s not very feminist to think Juno’s story would stop once she was no longer pregnant.