Portrayals of Lesbian Motherhood in The Kids Are All Right and How To Get a Girl Pregnant
By Jude Kahn
Director Lisa Cholodenko’s 2010 film The Kids Are All Right brought lesbian parenting to the American masses, making lesbian motherhood cool, approachable, and relatable to the mainstream using Hollywood greats Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo. Yet it received criticism from the gay community for having Jules, played by the stunning Julianne Moore, cheat on her lesbian partner with the scruffy, veggie-growing/restaurateur sperm donor Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo.
At its heart The Kids Are All Right is just another family movie (at least that was its aim), about love, children growing up and finding themselves, and long-term partners growing bored with their stale sex lives. Director Lisa Cholodenko called it a “celebration of rootedness and tribe…a family values movies.” While, The Kids Are All Right explores the potential consequences and intricacies of using a sperm donor to conceive and the fascinating lives of two teenagers raised by two loving moms, it does not reveal much of a back-story. It is as its core entertaining Hollywood mush with a new-age twist— two moms and a hippie sperm donor dad who penetrates this happy nuclear family, just as the two teens are on the cusp of their sexual awakening.
Yet, Karleen Pendleton Jiménez’s new memoir How to Get a Girl Pregnant (Tightrope Books) is a much more honest, nitty-gritty portrayal of lesbian motherhood. In her memoir, Jiménez documents her difficult quest to find an appropriate sperm donor and conceive in her mid-30s.
In How to Get a Girl Pregnant, Jiménez weaves together sometimes funny and sometimes heart-wrenching attempts to get pregnant using traditional heterosexual sex, gay classifieds, and numerous IVF treatments. Jiménez, a lesbian Latino and self-proclaimed butch, chronicles her tumultuous and at times magical journey to find a successful sperm donor. The anecdotes in How To Get A Girl Pregnant are filled with vividly deliciously descriptions of Latino food and music, and memories from her Mexican childhood. Latin food, dance, and music are interwoven within this deeply personal account of Jimenez’s quest to conceive and come to terms with being a butch Latino mother.
The Kids Are All Right is also filled with sensual scenes involving home cooked meals, copious amount of red wine, and sensual organic gardening in Paul’s local co-op. The ingredients are “simple, American food,” Paul says. Both The Kids Are All Right and How to Get a Girl Pregnant incorporate fecundity, earthly pleasures and pursuits, yet they differ in their distinct cultural references. The Kids Are All Right is very mainstream, white upper-middle class America. Other than the sultry, 1970’s black waitress, Tanya at Paul’s restaurant, the only other non-white person in this film is the Mexican gardener, who is ridiculed and consequently fired for becoming aware of Jules and Paul’s affair. Annette Bening’s character, the more butchy controlling mom, Nic, is a successful obstetrician, while Jules is portrayed as a stereotypical unsatisfied housewife, who gave up her career as an architect to be a stay-at-home mom. Even the food they consume (fiddleheads and Swiss chard) and the music they listen to (Joni Mitchell’s Blue) scream mainstream hippie-California culture. Whereas, Jiménez in How to Get a Girl Pregnant continuously emphasizes the importance of her Latino roots. Jiménez focuses on preserving the Spanish language, the Latino food, the music and the physical appearance of Chicanos. Throughout her memoir, she is very concerned with preserving her rich cultural heritage. She writes:
“I want the father to be Chicano, to have Mexican blood. I come from a mixed family, part Mexican and part white. I know how to raise a kid who is Mexican and white. The Mexican part, in particular, is very important to me.”
In terms of sexuality, both The Kids Are All Right and How To Get a Girl Pregnant explore heterosexual and gay sex illuminating the complexities of human sexuality and blurring the lines between what it means to be gay or straight. Even Jiménez, the butch lesbian can venture into heterosexual sex with a former jock and the loving lesbian couple in The Kids Are All Right can watch retro gay male porn during sex.
Yet, there is something distinctly American apple pie in The Kids Are All Right and something distinctly Canadian in How to Get a Girl Pregnant, where mainstream heterosexual values (namely monogamy) and homogeny are upheld in the film and questioned in the memoir. Unlike Cholodenko, Jiménez paints a vibrant and complex world filled with trannies, gay dads, lesbian mums, threesomes, and open relationships, whereas The Kids Are All Right is at its core conventional and conservative. The lesbian partnership is merely glossed over in favour of ‘we are all the same’ kind of attitude, blending happily into mainstream America. Director Lisa Cholodenko says about the film: “all families are faced with the same challenges and emotional passages.” Julianne Moore explains this “movie is very much about marriage and families” (from DVD interviews). But what about the lesbian mums? Don’t these parents and families face distinct challenges? Or are we all the same in this happy, healthy place called white middle-class-overly educated, hippie America?
Unlike Cholodenko, Jiménez addresses these very unique challenges in her memoir How To Get A Girl Pregnant . Issues of ethnic identity, human sexuality, and the challenges of conceiving as a lesbian are fully explored in this honest, and illuminating memoir.
At its core, How To Get A Girl Pregnant is a sincere and thoughtful portrayal of lesbian motherhood.
Jude Kahn is an editorial intern at Tightrope Books.