Sociologist calls for more abortion-based comedy

A sociologist at the University of California, San Francisco wants more comedians to joke about abortion, calling it “new ground” for television comedies to address.

The argument was made by Gretchen Sisson, PhD, a sociologist at the UCSF research group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), where she focuses on “representations of abortion and reproductive decision making in popular culture.”

In line with her research at the ANSIRH, Sisson just published an article in the new issue of the journal Feminist Media Studies arguing that the use of “abortion plotlines” in television shows could be a valuable tool to help “destigmatize” abortion.

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"The purpose of including an abortion plotline is simply to make jokes about abortion, recognizing that such satire is valuable for some people as both a means and an end,” Sisson explains.

“This should not be surprising: comedy has often been used as a subversive way of challenging predominant social structures,” she adds, arguing that because comedy has a history of challenging taboo social issues, abortion “is even intuitive new ground for comedy to address.”

Not only could an abortion plotline be “funny,” but it could also help encourage mainstream support for abortion access because television can have a strong influence on popular culture, Sisson speculates, citing for example the rise of feminist and pro-abortion iconography based around the Hulu show The Handmaid’s Tale.  

“The inclusion of abortion stories on shows other than dramas will only increase the diversity of real and inspired stories that are told, expanding our culture’s idea of appropriate ways to experience and share a full range of reproductive choices,” she contends.

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Sisson concludes that “while abortion rights advocates may have little hope of policy advancement on a federal level—and, indeed, justifiable fear of regressive policies related to access and funding—the potential of popular culture to communicate new, progressive, feminist stories about abortion, rooted in reproductive justice, is real and urgent.”

Although this is her first article for Feminist Media Studies, Sisson argued in a different journal two years ago that watching the film After Tiller, a documentary about third-trimester abortions, could be used to fight “misinformation” and increase “support for legal third-trimester abortion access.”

Campus Reform reached out to Sisson for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen