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‘The Affair’ Boss Sarah Treem: ‘My Daughter May Grow Up Less Free Than I Did’ (Guest Column)

Variety logo Variety 1/17/2017 Sarah Treem

When I was younger, I had an abortion. I had been involved for a brief amount of time with a very bad guy. He took money from me, he tried to control me, he was verbally abusive; by the end of our relationship, he was threatening me physically. I finally woke up and ended things. Two weeks later I found out I was pregnant.

I found out because I woke up in excruciating pain and had to go to the ER. The doctors said I had developed an “ovarian torsion” as a result of the pregnancy. They asked me if I was planning on keeping the baby. They were asking because they wanted to give me morphine. I said I didn’t know. They gave me Tylenol.

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Upon reviewing my ultrasound, the OB-GYN told me the fetus was smaller than usual and probably not viable. She also said the only way to stop the pain would be to end the pregnancy. I thought about being connected to this man for the rest of my life, and I made a decision. I took the drugs, and a few days later I scheduled a D&C.

Or more accurately, my mother scheduled it for me. I was planning to go to Planned Parenthood, but instead, she found me a private doctor, and she made the appointment. Afterward, I sobbed on the examining table in my best friend’s arms. It was one of the worst days of my life. Anyone who claims a woman would carelessly or recklessly have an abortion has never actually had an abortion. Years later, I can still see details of the room clearly. I can still feel every step of the procedure. I can still conjure my immediate, acute grief.

That said, I have never regretted the choice for a minute.

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Earlier this year, I gave birth to a daughter. I suspect that, like many women, this has caused me to recontextualize much of my relationship with my mom. I remember, after my abortion, she kept congratulating herself on finding such a good doctor. Her attitude struck me as grotesque at the time. I was angry that she wasn’t more sensitive to my feelings. Only now do I understand what was actually happening. My mother, who had lived through Roe v. Wade, was celebrating the fact that I could have an abortion. That she could help me. That we both were, in this way, free.

I had thought my daughter would be born the year this country finally elected a female president. I had expected her birthright to be gender parity, immigration reform, and climate-change resolution. I was looking forward to a future for her, brighter than her mother and grandmother’s past. Instead, we are facing the threat of mass deportation, a climate catastrophe, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and the likely repeal of Roe v. Wade. All in the early years of her life. My daughter may very well grow up less free than I did. One day, I imagine, she’ll come to me and ask, “Mom, how could you have let this happen?”

That’s why I’m marching on Jan. 21. Not because it will change the outcome of this election. I know it won’t. Because I want to be able to face my daughter in 10 years, or 15, or 20, and say that when the country knowingly elected a president who bragged about grabbing strange women by the p—-, who continuously and with apparent pleasure derided and degraded women on television and in print, who had multiple sexual assault allegations pending against him at the time of his election, and who has basically promised to gut a woman’s right to choose, I didn’t cover my eyes, plug my ears, and turn back to my own concerns.

I don’t know why America is so misogynistic. In the past half century, 59 other countries have had a woman leader. But here in the States, we are still deeply distrustful of female desire, female power, female success. Earlier in my career, I was in a writers’ room of all men, and I watched as, episode after episode, they took agency away from the female lead and gave it the character of her boyfriend or her boss. The girl wasn’t allowed to pursue anything. She couldn’t even buy pillows unless someone told her to. Eventually, they came to me, as a sort of male collective, and said, “Treem, this character isn’t working. You’re a woman. Fix it.” So I said, “The reason she isn’t working is because we don’t know what she wants.” And they answered, “She’s confused.” So I said, “Right, but even if she’s confused, she wants something. Everyone wants something. The only people who don’t want something are dead.” There was a bit of silence in the room and then the EP said, “Well, listen, we don’t want her to come across like a c–t.”

I walked out of the room and onto the studio lot. I was so upset I called my agent, who is a woman exactly my age, and I told her I was quitting. She gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. She said, “This is not the last job you’re ever going to have. If you quit, there will be nobody to fight for this character. Get back in there and tough it out.” I was furious. What was I supposed to do, I asked her — go back in and say, “You guys are right? A woman shouldn’t have her own agenda, that’s crazy?” And she said: “No. Go back in and say, ‘This doesn’t make sense. I don’t know any women who behave like this. The storyline doesn’t make sense.’”

So that’s what I did. And you know what? It worked. And that one little piece of advice has come back to serve me more times than I can count in the years since.

I find it applicable again now, so it bears repeating one more time: This is not the last president we’re ever going to have. If we quit now, there will be nobody to fight for the voiceless. We need to tough it out. We need to keep saying, loudly, over and over again, for the next four years: This doesn’t make sense.

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