AKA Jane Roe

AKA Jane Roe

FX has put out a new documentary regarding Norma McCorvey AKA Jane Roe. Yes, the JANE ROE whom the famous Supreme Court decision regarding a woman’s right to an abortion is upheld. Norma is the woman whom the lawyers used to base their case on. Given how important and tumultuous this court decision was and is for American women, I wanted to tune in and watch this show to learn more about her.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I am questioning, however, if I am disappointed in who she is as a person or the way she was portrayed in the documentary. My guess is more of the former and then disappointment in how this played out in the women’s movement somewhat.

Norma appears to have been a woman who was traumatized as a child by a series of events, most not of her own making until she was old enough for them to be of her own making. From childhood sexual trauma, to reform school, to an alcoholic parent, to socioeconomic poverty, Norma experienced many early events set her up for a life that would be hard.

However, choices were made. She does get pregnant several times out of wedlock. She never had an abortion herself. However, when she sought an abortion in the state of Texas, the Doctor asked if she had been raped. She lied and said she had been. Even with this reason behind her, she could not access an abortion, but she makes a great plaintiff for two young lawyers who are looking for an economically poor woman who could not access a legal abortion in Texas. When they found Norma, she fit what they were looking for perfectly, and the fact that this pregnant happened by rape did not hurt the case.

Apparently, there is no mention of rape in any of the legal briefs, but the story of the plaintiff was known and many felt it was this unstated, but known, reason that Roe v. Wade came to become the landmark court case that ensured women access to abortion in the first three months of pregnancy.

What am I disappointed in? That Norma lied and then told the truth. It feels like this threatens the decision on some societal level that has played out again and again between the two sides of this debate ever since 1973. Even more disappointing was how leaders in the feminist movement saw Norma. She was not to be trusted because of her lie, but it was also insinuated in the documentary that leaders, like Gloria Steinem, did not want her to speak because she was not an educated, beautiful woman with means. These are the types of women who were invited to speak.

Now, the whole case was able to be put together because Norma was poor, uneducated, and without any means to help herself. Yet, when it really comes time to amplify these women’s voices, the women’s movement preferred Valerie Harper and Morgan Fairchild. I still feel much of the women’s movement is really about white women privilege and not really about serving women. This was a great disappointment for me to see in action.

Norma continues to pay the center stage actress in the debate regarding Roe v. Wade. Later in her life, she was paid great sums of money to switch sides and work with the evangelicals to try and overturn the Court’s decision. Her “deathbed confession” that is the center of this documentary has Norma giving one more shocking piece of information. She simply did all of that pro-life stuff for the money — she really stands by her pro-choice stance.

It was not a huge revelation to me. Norma seems to be mentally unwell and her decision to tell truths, lies, make decisions that give her money at the expense of others, and flippantly turn on herself and the movements at whim all serve herself and not much more. To me, this was quite disappointing. I wanted Norma to have raised herself up to be a woman of substance that was honest, truthful, stood by and for women, and whom others important in the movement would see and recognize, and that I could turn off this program and feel good about her, her life, and who the whole Supreme Court decision rode on.

Instead, this woman was traumatized, opportunistic, a survivor, and one who had no idea what it all meant outside of herself and which side was buttering her up depending on which stage of life she was in. She was used by both sides, but willingly. At some point, I found myself fed up with Norma and who she is as a person.

Yet, she was real. She is the face of millions of women who seek reproductive medical care for themselves each and every day. She lives on for the original bravery to stand up for herself. We have a lot to say thank you to her for, but it’s good to know the entire picture and realize all people are complex, complicated, and even, for me with Norma, disappointing.

How can anything good come out of such a person? And yet her impact is great for those who agree with whatever side she was on when she was on it.

I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True Review

I Know This Much Is True is a book that was published in the late 1990s by Wally Lamb. Someone gave me a copy that year and I was riveted by the story of these identical brothers and how one has developed full-blown schizophrenia and the other is functioning in his adult world, but emotionally paralyzed.

It’s a dark, sad, harrowing tale about life, mental illness, bad stuff that happens along the way — most of it not of our choosing. When I think about the paths that set these two brothers up for a terrible time in life it has nothing to do with choice, but who they were born to and how they were raised — and by people who had their own traumatic history wrought on them by their elders. The lot of these brothers feels generational, set in stone before their bodies and spirits ever entered. So many of our stories are already written before we are born.

So, this story is a downer. It is difficult to read and now the book has come to the small screen in a six-part limited series that brings the story alive. I had appreciated the book two decades ago and now, having studied mental health counseling for the past four years, I was ready to see this show and look at this story through a more clinical lens. No matter how clinical my eye, this story breaks my heart.

Mark Ruffalo is amazing as he plays both twin brothers. I understand that he shot the scenes as Dominic and then returned months later, weighing 30 lbs more, to play his brother, Thomas. The cast is strong all around, and I get the sense where one brother may be psychologically weak the other has strength and vice versa. Still, for Dominic, who promises his Mother to care for his schizophrenic twin brother for the rest of his days, we get a keen sense of the pain it is to take on such a role.

Each episode, I am actually horrified at what I am watching. It’s not really the mental illness that unfolds in the story, but the everyday catastrophes that we have difficulty facing let alone ever recover from. Our own lives are made up of those moments, people, episodes of difficulty and the way the story is told there is really no place to hide from the raw power of pain.

I do want to recommend this book/show to you. Yes, it is difficult. Certainly, during this pandemic, it may not exactly strike your mood, but it’s worth a watch. This is a six-part series, I am two episodes in. Yes, I am overwhelmed, but I am also riveted for the next episode.

Dead To Me

Dead To Me Show

Dead To Me. This show’s title is catchy and ended up catching my attention a year ago when I was running a grief group during my internship year. I was curious to see what Hollywood would do with a premise that surrounds a grief group because it is a different time in one’s life when one is actively grieving a loved one.

The show’s premise goes off on some pretty offbeat tangents, but it begins with the two main characters — Jen and Judy — meeting during a grief group for people who have lost their spouses. Jen has literally been hit by the loss of her husband who lost his life to a hit and run driver, and Jen is mourning her fiancĂ© to natural causes. The two of them approach their grief very differently. The former is intense, bereft, and angry while the latter is soft, optimistic, and positive.

However, there are definitely Hollywood plot twists to this story that takes you far away from the happenings in a grief group and into the drama of the story. I suppose the drama of grief and how we process it is not enough to keep the attention of the audience. Whatever you think about grief, American society is not very good at grieving. As such, people turn to grief groups for support.

Although the plots twists and turns in this show, and much of them are comical and unbelievable, I almost feel it is a metaphor for what unfolds when we grieve in our daily lives. For a time, we may become obsessed with the loved one who has died. The person may be on our mind and we may find ourselves looking through their personal belongings and trying to learn more, figure out more in an effort to maintain closeness. The show takes this idea to an extreme, but it makes sense when we grieve.

Also, we may find ourselves being with people who are not who we would regularly choose to spend time with or who regularly match us as we consider friendships. Jen and Judy would probably never have become friends without the loss of their partners, but this loss is exactly what bonds them together and, as a result, opens them up to a completely new person. Whether these relationships will continue past the time of grief or not is yet to be seen, but new people who are not typical of those who surround us may become an important part of our lives for a period of time.

Emotions run raw and high when in acute grief and even as the acute phase dissipates and the low, aching dull feeling of loss comes in to stay awhile. Dead to Me shows both phases as Jen and Judy process their losses. At some point, they are the only two people who sort of get all of the emotions the other is running through. This is a show that provides people actively grieving with the companionship they need as they feel their emotions.

Whereas people in America have a set way to grieve, the funeral rite, the food, the passing shoulders for comfort, and then the sharp turn toward, “It’s time to get out there, your person would want you to live” starts to be the recurring mantra, which actually goes against the natural course of grief. Society is uncomfortable with loss to death. What better way to avoid it than to push people to get back to life.

This show is worth a watch. It goes to some crazy places with major plot twists, but I also think you will find the threads of what it is to be in grief during a significant loss in one’s life. This is the underlying rhythm that plays against all the plot’s craziness. And this is why it seems to work.