Teen Mom Shaming 1/2

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Kat from MTV's Teen Mom 2 feeding her baby

The following post about teen pregnancy and parenting uses mostly gendered language. While a minority of teens of all genders face pregnancy risk, virtually all discussion of teen pregnancy focuses on girls, and sexism is a driving force behind this.

That teen pregnancy and parenthood are undesirable is an opinion with near universal agreement in my country. We can all point to statistics showing poorer outcomes for the children of teen mothers. Such children have higher odds of poverty and incarceration and lower odds of completing high school or attending college. They are also more likely to have children while teens themselves.

Rather than being seen as a familial or cultural difference in family planning, this hereditary behavior is categorized as a cycle of poverty. All too often, young mothers are blamed for the socially imposed negative consequences of poverty or single motherhood. And then these imposed consequences become the justification for creating even more.

Indeed, most people who object to “glorifying” young motherhood present the image of never-pregnant teens, how they are vulnerable and need our guidance. To protect these girls from the consequences of teen motherhood, we treat girls the same age who are moms badly. It’s such obviously bad thinking, yet it is the standard position for the American right and left.

What consequences do we use to punish pregnant and parenting teens? That largely depends on their economic status and level of family support. That dependency is created by our inadequate social welfare system. If every custodial parent received a living wage stipend and if we provided universal childcare to everyone who needed it, then having a child in high school wouldn’t have to predict dropping out.

We also punish girls who stay in school. Until 1998, the National Honor Society barred entry to girls who became pregnant in high school, regardless of their high academic achievement. Pregnant or parenting valedictorians have been barred from their own graduation ceremonies, because they’re succeeding too much to be an object warning to others.

What is rarely discussed in conversations on teen pregnancy is the fact that the majority of teen mothers were impregnated by adult men, most often in their mid to late 20s. I’d rather we treated teens and especially teen girls better in every respect, but especially after statutory rape resulting in pregnancy. We chastise girls for not knowing better but ignore the men five or teen years their senior who participated in conception.

(Continue to part 2)

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