Is Knocked Up sexist?

knocked up

Whilst Judd Apatow’s films are genuinely funny, there can be little argument that his portrayal of women is often less than positive. His 2007 film Knocked Up has perhaps been the recipient of the most vitriolic of sexist accusations.

Katherine Heigl, of Knocked Up, famously stated in an interview with Vanity Fair that Knocked up is:
a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humourless and uptight, and it paints the men aslovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women?’

Certainly Heigl’s character Alison is entirely humourless, demanding, unfair and just plain unlikeable for the majority of the film, whilst Ben (Seth Rogen), despite his lack of ambition is shown to be likeable and fun.

The film’s opening scene further cements this rather obvious contrast between the career-minded Alison, who lives in an orderly world devoid of fun, and the fun Ben enjoys whilst hanging out with his similarly minded friends. The viewer is treated to scenes of Alison waking up in a timely manner, preparing herself for work. Ben simultaneously is shown indulging in recreational drugs with a myriad of friends, clearly enjoying himself. Alison’s job is shown to be stressful, with a number of expectations that she is compelled to exceed: Ben simply doesn’t have a job.

This contrast between fun-loving and uptight isn’t just restricted to Ben and Alison; Alison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) is strict, paranoid, and sexless – asking her husband if he really wants to have sex (she clearly doesn’t) when he propositions her. Her husband Pete is a kindred spirit of Ben’s; so dour is Debbie that Pete is forced to hide his participation in a fantasy Baseball League for fear of upsetting her.

Not to sound entirely humourless, I do belief that Knocked Up is a wonderful, truly comedic film. It is also, without a doubt, sexist at times. Yes, the film is enjoyable, but its perpetual sexism does highlight that a positive representation of women is sorely needed, especially in male-led comedies.

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