Author archives: Laura Grossberndt

Michelle Williams Chose a Career Over a Child. But What If She Never Had to Choose?

by Laura Grossberndt

January 8, 2020

Michelle Williams made headlines with her acceptance speech at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. After accepting her prize for best performance by an actress in a limited series or motion picture made for television, Williams said she is “grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists.” She went on to declare that the award—and her career—would not have been possible “without employing a woman’s right to choose.”

When you put this [award] in someone’s hands, you’re acknowledging the choices that they make as an actor, moment by moment, scene by scene, day by day, but you’re also acknowledging the choices they make as a person, the education they pursued, the training they sought, the hours they put in.

I’m grateful for the acknowledgment of the choices I’ve made, and I’m also grateful to have lived at a moment in our society where choice exists because as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice. I’ve tried my very best to live a life of my own making and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I can stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over—sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise, but one that I carved with my own hand. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose. To choose when to have my children and with whom. When I felt supported and able to balance our lives knowing as all mothers know that the scales must and will tip towards our children.

Williams may feel gratitude for the choices afforded to her, but she shouldn’t have even had to choose between career and children if she didn’t want to.

For many women, pregnancy can feel like a career death sentence, with the potential to jeopardize their self-identity, education, training, and hard work. Meanwhile, their male peers rarely must choose between having children and a career. Working women everywhere are justified to feel dismayed at this imbalance. But the alleged solution, that of “a woman’s right to choose,” is not as egalitarian and empowering as its proponents claim.

When we talk about a woman’s “right to choose,” rarely do we discuss what exactly is she choosing between—and why she can’t have both.

Consider the story of Susan Struck. She wanted to keep both her pregnancy and her job in the Air Force. But military regulations at the time said she couldn’t have both. Struck wanted to choose childbirth and place her child for adoption, but her superiors would not allow Struck to keep her job unless she got an abortion. This shouldn’t have been a choice Struck had to make. But in 1970, it was. Ruth Bader Ginsburg recognized the injustice of this choice and took up the case on Struck’s behalf. Ginsburg noted years later:

It was, I thought, the perfect first reproductive-choice case to come before the Court. The government was telling Captain Struck, ‘You cannot exercise your choice for childbirth unless you give up your chosen career.’ She had the choice of leaving the service or having an abortion, available to her on the military base pre-Roe v. Wade. She became pregnant in 1970, if I recall correctly. Susan Struck’s position was, […] ‘[The Air Force] cannot force me to give up my career if I make the choice for childbirth.’

She further commented:

Susan Struck was told by her commanding officer you have a choice: you can get an abortion or you can leave the service, because pregnancy was an automatic ground for discharge. Susan Struck said, I am Catholic. I will not have an abortion. But I will use only my accumulated leave time, I have made arrangements for adoption of the child. Nonetheless, her choice was, you get an abortion or you get out. That’s the reproductive choice case I wish had come to the Supreme Court first.

After becoming a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg reflected on her legal career and credited motherhood as a reason for her own success, rather than a hindrance:

When I started law school my daughter Jane was 14 months … I attributed my success in law school largely to Jane … I went to class at 8:30 AM … so I came home at 4:00 PM; that was children’s hour. It was a total break in my day … and children’s hours continued until Jane went to sleep. Then I was happy to go back to the books, so I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other.

If Michelle Williams and other actresses like her think they need to have abortions to keep the careers they’ve worked so hard for, then it’s a somber indication of the cost of doing business in Hollywood. However, it shouldn’t be surprising. You don’t have to look any further than the #MeToo Movement to know that Hollywood has a long, ugly history of mistreating and exploiting women.

The lesson of #MeToo has been lost on Hollywood. Instead of making the entertainment industry more accommodating and respectful of women, it still demands its actresses submit and conform to a status quo shaped by and better suited to men. If Hollywood truly respected women, it wouldn’t exploit them as often as it stands accused of doing. If Hollywood truly respected women, it would value the children and families of its women. Instead, Hollywood insists that female bodies must perform like male bodies, leading its women to believe that they must choose between giving life to their children and having a career with which to support themselves. And after the women choose the career, Hollywood stands and applauds when these same women confess on awards stages to aborting their unborn children.

In her speech, Williams said she sought to carve out a life for herself with her own hand. But is that really what happened? Or is Hollywood’s handwriting all over her story? The scales may have tipped towards Williams’ children now, but not before Hollywood insisted that they tip towards her career first.

In addition, Williams said she felt ready to have a child when she “felt supported and able to balance our lives.” But what if Williams—and women everywhere—never had to worry about feeling supported? What if she knew her employer, family, friends, and community would be on her side and wouldn’t force her to choose? What if she knew there were health clinics and adoption agencies ready to help her should she need them (and there are)? Would she still think her abortion was necessary for her success?

Scientific advancements make an increasingly overwhelming case for life in the womb. The pro-abortion lobby is losing on that front, so they have fallen back on the argument for women’s autonomy. No woman should be robbed of her life choices and career opportunities, they say. But this is simultaneously a false and an unjust choice.

Why pit a woman against her children? Instead of expecting a woman to end her unborn child’s life for the sake of a career, we should make it easier for a woman to have both the child and the career (with which to support herself and her child). The most empowering thing for a woman is not “choice,” but instead not needing to choose at all—because she can have both.

How Game of Thrones Mainstreamed Sexual Exploitation

by Laura Grossberndt

November 25, 2019

The HBO television show Game of Thrones enjoyed much critical and popular acclaim during its eight-season run. It was heralded as “the world’s most popular show,” and its series finale drew 19.3 million viewers. However, this massive success was built, in part, upon the exhibition of its actors’ naked bodies in graphic, sexually charged situations—all for viewers’ entertainment. A recent interview with British actress and former Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke reveals her pain of being exposed for the camera. Her account should serve as a chilling reminder that the entertainment we choose to consume has consequences.

Clarke recalls being 23 years old and fresh out of acting school when she was offered the part of Daenerys Targaryen. She was eager to have a job on a film set, but when she received the script and learned that her character would be naked and brutally raped on-screen, Clarke was shocked and apprehensive.

I have no idea what I’m doing; I have no idea what any of this is…. I’ve been on a film set twice before then, and now I’m on a film set, completely naked, with all of these people—and I don’t know what I’m meant to do, and I don’t know what’s expected of me, and I don’t know what you want, and I don’t know what I want. Regardless of whether there’d be nudity or not, I would have spent that first season thinking, I’m not worthy of requiring anything; I’m not worthy of needing anything at all.

Clarke says she drank vodka and cried in a bathroom while trying to cope with filming the rape scene. Since that time, she has been repeatedly pressured to do nude scenes. Producers would try to coerce her, saying things like, “You don’t wanna disappoint your Game of Thrones fans.”

Most poignant about Clarke’s account of her early days on the set of Game of Thrones is her feeling of helplessness. Many women whose bodies have been exploited via the commercial sex trade and the porn industry have felt similarly powerless. That is because selling the human body is not female empowerment, but human abasement.

Movies and television shows such as Game of Thrones enjoy a patina of respectability due to their complex plots, extensive viewership, and numerous awards—making them more palatable to a wide audience than a pornographic film would be. However, by treating human sexuality as a commodity, Game of Thrones and its ilk are just another incarnation of the commercial sex trade.

In October of this year, I attended a D.C. Council hearing on the proposed decriminalization of the buying and selling of sex in the nation’s capital. Many of the witnesses opposing decriminalization were survivors of the commercial sex trade. Several of these survivors explained how it is common to turn to drugs and/or alcohol to deal with the anxiety, stress, and shame felt as a result of their bodies being bought and sold for others’ sexual pleasure.

Other witnesses, who were still presently engaged in prostitution, were in favor of decriminalizing the commercial sex trade. Tragically, they believed their economic wellbeing depended on selling themselves. They did not realize that their willingness to be sold (due to their desperate financial situation) makes them no less victims of sexual exploitation than those forced into the commercial sex trade by a trafficker. Choosing to be exploited, out of fear of retribution or financial ruin, is not much of a choice at all.

While the circumstances surrounding Clarke’s performance—e.g., her acting school training, the show’s critical acclaim and distribution on a major cable network—may have lent her some dignity not afforded to women who are trafficked, the trauma that drove her to tears and drinking is strikingly similar to the experiences of the sexually exploited. Feigning graphic sexual acts on a film set is not very different than any other type of commercial sex trade in that it demeans human beings and degrades human sexuality.

Consuming sexually violent and explicit media not only damages our mental, physical, and spiritual health, it negatively impacts those around us by creating a demand for this type of entertainment, motivating the entertainment industry to create sexually graphic content in order to meet the demand and increase profits. The industry will, in turn, pressure actors (particularly women) to degrade themselves in front of the camera. Christians and anyone who advocates for women’s dignity should oppose media that exploits human beings in such an offensive and toxic manner.

The Unintentionally Powerful Pro-Life Message of One Child Nation

by Laura Grossberndt

August 30, 2019

One Child Nation co-director Nanfu Wang stands with her son in front of a Chinese propaganda mural.

Faced with a national population approaching one billion, the People’s Republic of China instituted a one-child-per-family policy in 1979. This policy was in effect until 2015, when the government expanded the birth limit to two children per family. While the policy may have “succeeded” at slowing the national birthrate, it also forcibly violated the bodies of millions of women and resulted in the death or disappearance of millions of pre or post-born children, most of them female.

One Child Nation, winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of China’s one-child policy and the human rights violations that ensued. The documentary is narrated and co-directed by Nanfu Wang, a Chinese-American immigrant who was born in China while the policy was in effect. In the film, she conducts a series of interviews with victims of the one-child policy, former government officials and midwives entrusted with enforcing the policy, citizens who defied the policy, and members of her own family (some of whom supported the policy and others who opposed it). The result is a vivid portrayal of Chinese life and a compelling critique of government authoritarianism. Because of this, the documentary One Child Nation is the rightful recipient of much critical acclaim and deserves a wide viewership. However, a surprising moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes of the film prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact.

A Heartbreaking Account of State-Enforced Brutality

Aspects of the film worth commending include Wang’s compelling first-hand experiences about the one-child policy. She explains that propaganda supporting the policy was woven into virtually every facet of life while she was growing up: from murals and advertisements to entertainment and music. She recalls feeling shame for having a sibling (some rural families were allowed to have two children). Her family felt immense relief when her younger brother was born—if he had been a girl, the family most likely would not have kept the baby.

Wang expresses frustration that her family and the Chinese people did little to stop the practices that she believes are morally reprehensible. In terms of presentation, little of the documentary’s runtime is dedicated to expressing her own feelings. Instead, she and her co-director Jialing Zhang allow the interviews to speak for themselves, without inserting commentary.

The people Wang interviews have varying attitudes towards the one-child policy. Some, like Wang’s mother, maintain that the Chinese government was right and that the policy was necessary to prevent wide-scale starvation. Others, like the village midwife, deeply regret the policy and their participation in its enforcement. This particular midwife performed an estimated 60,000 abortions in her career. Now she tries to atone for her past by offering medical care for infertile couples and delivering babies.

The first-person accounts of One Child Nation appeal to the viewer’s humanity again and again. The documentary successfully communicates an important moral point: What may have begun as a government’s sincere attempt to raise a nation’s standard of living has resulted in a human rights crisis. The blood of discarded children practically cries out from the ground. During one interview, Wang talks with an artist committed to documenting the horror of infant bodies left to rot under bridges and on top of trash heaps. The artist shows the camera one such body he has managed to preserve in a glass jar and marvels about how the baby resembles his young son.

An Incoherent Conclusion

As the documentary draws to a close, Nanfu Wang reflects on her journey, including the shocking brutality and human rights abuses perpetrated in the name of the one-child policy. However, as she discusses everything she’s learned about China, her family, and the one-child policy, she arrives at a surprising conclusion: the horrors of the one-child policy are parallel to abortion restrictions in the United States.

Despite over an hour carefully describing the horrors of forced abortions, sterilizations, and the horror associated with abandoning one’s child, Wang argues that both countries are guilty of policing a woman’s sovereignty over her body, albeit in different ways. In an interview with Vox, she expressed much the same sentiment:

I remember when I first came to the US and learned about the restriction on abortions in the US. I was very shocked. It wasn’t the free America that I had thought it would be. I was surprised by the government control on reproductive rights and the access to reproductive health care.

Making this film, I also had a lot of conversations with people about the topic, and I was surprised. Sometimes people couldn’t see how forced state abortions and the state limiting access to abortions are quite similar; they are both the government trying to control women’s bodies and trying to control women’s reproductive rights.

I hope that the film reminds people what would happen if their government takes away women’s choice, or any individual’s choice. And sadly I think it’s happening in China, it’s happening in the US, and it’s happening in a lot of countries throughout the world, where women do not have the freedom to make their own reproductive decisions.

These statements are stunning because of the inconsistency with the moral appeals for the humanity of the pre and post-born throughout the documentary. After seeing footage of babies preserved in jars and thrown onto trash heaps, is the viewer supposed to believe that the sole atrocity of the one-child policy is the violation of reproductive choice?

The policy’s crimes against adult women—such as forced abortions and sterilizations—are horrific, and Wang is right to expose and censure them. But as One Child Nation clearly depicts, adult women were not the policy’s only victims. The countless children killed in the womb or immediately after birth, as well as the children abandoned in marketplaces, on roadsides, or in dumps were also victims. Furthermore, the Chinese government’s one-child policy, paired with the culture’s preference for male children, practically guaranteed that most of the slaughtered or discarded children were girls. Women—both adult women and infant girls—were the victims most deeply harmed by the policy.

It is worth noting that sex-selective abortions are a type of misogyny that is often ignored by the pro- “reproductive rights” wing of feminism because it doesn’t neatly fit their narrative of abortion-on-demand. But as long as some cultures value male children over female, sex-selective abortions and other crimes against female children will continue to be a problem.

An Inadvertently Pro-Life Message

While One Child Nation adeptly exposes the tragedy of China’s one-child policy to a wide audience, a moral inconsistency and a false comparison in the closing minutes prevents this otherwise superb documentary from having its fullest impact. Both children and adults are clearly victims of China’s government-imposed birth restrictions. Furthermore, China’s birth restrictions and America’s abortion restrictions are far from parallel policies. The former kills children, while the latter seeks to prevent the killing of children. The Chinese policy violates women’s bodies with forced sterilization, while abortion restrictions seek to protect the bodies of all women: adult women from risky abortion procedures and pre and post-born girls from being aborted.

Harrowing and poignant, One Child Nation illuminates the problems with China’s one-child policy while making a strong pro-life case that perhaps its own directors do not even fully understand.

One Child Nation is rated R for some disturbing content/images and brief language (via subtitles).

Speaking the Truth in Love: How The Bachelorette Got It Both Wrong and Right

by Laura Grossberndt

August 8, 2019

Is it ever okay for a Christian to question or “judge” the behavior of another person, particularly if that person also professes to be a Christian? ABC’s wildly popular reality dating show The Bachelorette, which wrapped up its 15th season last week, served as an unconventional and unexpected proving ground for this deeply theological question.

This season’s star of The Bachelorette, Hannah Brown, openly describes herself as a follower of Jesus and a woman of faith. One of her suitors, Luke Parker, is also a professing Christian. In the season premiere, Luke described the moment he decided to put his faith in Jesus and make a lifestyle change which included abstaining from sex until marriage. Luke quickly emerged as a frontrunner for the coveted “final rose” and Hannah’s love—and their seemingly shared faith was a primary reason.

The would-be couple’s budding relationship quickly turned turbulent, however, as Luke was constantly at odds with the other men seeking Hannah’s favor. But Luke’s sometimes imprudent behavior and immature reactions to interpersonal conflict were just precursors to the season’s most explosive drama: a highly-charged conversation concerning premarital sex.

We Can’t Have Grace Without Repentance

Luke wanted a verbal confirmation from Hannah that they were on the same page about saving sex for marriage. He tells Hannah that he would remove himself from the competition if she (hypothetically) were to reveal to him that she had been sexually intimate with another man on the show. Hannah then says that she has had sex with another one of her suitors, and while “sex might be a sin out of marriage,” she is confident Jesus loves her despite it.

Hannah compares Luke’s desire to end their relationship to the famous John 8 account of the woman caught in adultery. Hannah views Luke’s disapproval of her actions as him holding a metaphorical stone in front of her face. In her opinion, Luke’s sin of pride precludes him from objecting to her behavior.

Is Hannah right?

For context’s sake, here are some key takeaways from John’s account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11):

  • Jesus shone a light on the sinful nature of all those involved.
  • Jesus is the only one without sin.
  • Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery.
  • Jesus forgave the woman and instructed her to go and sin no more.

The woman caught in adultery committed sexual sin; and yes, Jesus still loved her. While Jesus, by virtue of his sinlessness, had the right to condemn sin, He does something unexpected, yet in keeping with His mission to fulfill the law. He extends grace (“neither do I condemn you”) while also instructing her to repent and change (“go and sin no more”).

Many want the grace Jesus offers without the repentance. But we cannot have one without the other. Receiving God’s grace is inextricably tied to repentance.

Avoiding Hypocritical Judgment

Can a Christian call another Christian to account for their sin? Was Luke wrong to find fault in Hannah’s actions?

In Matthew 7, Jesus warns his followers against judging others while simultaneously ignoring their own sin, because “with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

Does that mean Christians can never judge the actions and behavior of others? No. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to judge those within the church and refuse them the status of “brother” if they continue in patterns of unrepentant sin:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Speaking the Truth in Love

The act of a Christian calling another Christian to account for their sin can be a loving one, provided it is done out of a desire to help the other Christian toward righteousness, and that it is done with tenderness and humility, recognizing one’s own sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness.

Christians (“little Christs”) get our name because we are called to follow the example of Jesus. We are called to forgive one another and pursue holiness in our personal and corporate life. It is easy to emphasize one to the neglect of the other. However, to faithfully follow Christ, we need to be walking in both forgiveness and repentance. Extending forgiveness without requiring repentance leaves someone still under the curse of sin, while repentance that is not accompanied by forgiveness is antithetical to the gospel’s offer of reconciliation with God.

Hannah and Luke’s conversation in the late stages of the show reveals they were not as likeminded on sex and theology as they initially thought. A lot of pain and heartache could have been avoided if this conversation had taken place much earlier in their relationship. Whether one is a professing Christian or not, if you have radically different opinions on sex than the person you are dating, you should not be dating them. Those irreconcilable differences will inevitably cause problems down the road.

However, in addition to their disagreements about sexual intimacy, Hannah and Luke also displayed different, improper, and inadequate reactions to sin. Hannah demonstrated lack of remorse for the actions Jesus tenderly warns against. While Luke is justified for wanting to be on the same page about sexual intimacy as his potential future spouse, his manner of approaching the topic needed more Christ-like humility and discernment. Scripture speaks to both improper perspectives:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

[S]peaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ … [L]let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:15, 25-27, 31-32)

Wisdom says a reality dating show such as The Bachelor or The Bachelorette is not the ideal environment for Christians to find a spouse. The concept of dating multiple people at one time, while being cut off from the fellowship and counsel of friends, family, and church community for several weeks, is not a recipe for righteous living or lasting love (Proverbs 18:1, Hebrews 10:24-25).

But while it may be unwise, that does not mean that those appearing on the show who profess to be Christians are not sincere in their profession. While I do not know either Hannah or Luke personally, I wish nothing but the best for them and hope this experience will drive them closer to God and to a better understanding of sin, the gospel, true love, and compassion in Jesus Christ.

This season’s viewers of The Bachelorette probably did not expect to encounter conversations about sin and the nature of God’s forgiveness. However, the contestants are real-life people wrestling with real-life problems, and it is only natural for two people contemplating marriage to want to agree on matters as weighty as theology and sex. Unfortunately, the seriousness of sin and its consequences was minimized, while the love and forgiveness of the gospel was inadequately conveyed. Despite what The Bachelorette may have led its audience to believe, Christians are right to judge the behavior of other Christians, provided we do so out of Christ-like compassion, speaking the truth in love.

Laura Grossberndt is on staff at Family Research Council.

Archives