Will the teen mom shaming ever stop?

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, which basically means it’s the season for teen mom shaming. And damn if the Candie’s Foundation doesn’t deliver! On May 1 they revealed their new celebrity-endorsed PSAs, which include lots of messages that provide the super useful combo of shame and no actual helpful information whatsoever. I want to throw up all over these:
Hilary Duff with a caption saying: "You think being in school sucks? You know what sucks a whole lot more? A baby - almost every 2 hours for feeding time. And breastfeeding isn't always easy, so if you choose to use formula, you're looking at about $1,500 a year. Guess school doesn't suck that bad huh?"
Did you know being a mother totally sucks??? What’s interesting to me about that one is that it’s actually not specific to young people at all – infants have to eat every couple hours regardless of how old their mother is. Does the Candie’s foundation think that motherhood just sucks in general?
And OMG, this one:
candies psa hayden

A lot of these ads include the stuff about the cost of raising a child, which once again, is not particular to the age of the mother. What gets to me about these are the class implications of this kind of approach – i.e. if you don’t have this kind of money, then you have no place being a mother. Sure, young folks likely have less independent sources of income, but we can’t decontextualize this from the class status of their families, and thus their access to financial support. Economic arguments like this one serve to reinforce racist, eugenicist notions that poor folks are unfit to parent.

But the maybe worst one, the one that gets the most under my skin, is this one:
Picture of Carly Rae Jepsen w caption: "You're supposed to be changing the world...not changing diapers."

This one makes me wanna flip tables and take off my earrings because I am ready to step. There is so much wrong here, but let’s start with the idea that mothers can’t change the world. WHAT! Yep, too busy changing diapers, you can’t possibly use that little brain of yours for anything else amiright? The sheer absurdity (and, oh yeah, sexism) of that notion is really beyond comprehension. Was nobody involved in this ad campaign a mother? But we know this ad is targeted at youth, and perhaps the idea is that YOUNG mothers can’t possibly create change. Of course, this is no less ridiculous – young mamas are resisting shameful messages, hitting up their  representatives in DC to demand the support they need to raise their families, fighting for paid sick time and the right to stay in school. Young mamas are making it happen y’all! They’re changing diapers and cooking dinner and organizing the protest, they’re securing childcare and figuring out how to make ends meet, and that survival is resistance in the face of bullshit like this ad campaign.

How about some real solutions? How about increasing access to contraception and abortion for young women who don’t want to become parents but can’t afford these options? How about acknowledging that these even exist and are safe and effective? How about working toward a world in which young parents have the support they and their children need to thrive? We need less shaming and more expansion of health care access, less useless PSAs and more support for young parents to stay and do well in school. This isn’t a new concept – communities of color have been calling this out for years. It’s obvious that these initiatives serve only to add stigma and do nothing to address the material conditions that actually affect young families and the poor outcomes that they can face: access to things like education, affordable health care, childcare, housing.

No one has any business telling people when or how it is appropriate to start their families. Reproductive justice at its core is about bodily autonomy, supporting people’s reproductive decision-making, and making sure that folks can raise the kids that they have with dignity. We cannot meaningfully stand for these values and shame young moms at the same time.


New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/adcaela/ Charlie Rose

    Woot! Glad to see this, especially on Feministing. (My other experience of people talking about teen moms, well er me, on Feministing wasn’t so hot and involved lots of teen/poor mom shaming in the 150+ comments – http://feministing.com/2009/04/09/quick_hit_teen_mom_counters_cl/comment-page-4/#comments)

    More teen moms are fighting back at http://fuckyeahteenmoms.tumblr.com/

  • http://feministing.com/members/jenni/ jenni

    ALL young women are “supposed” to stay in school and get an education and after that a good job for a few years and then get heteronormatively married and have two to three children for which they are supposed to give up their job and stay home. That is just the BEST WAY TO LIVE and any other way or order of living your life is terrifying to society for some reason.

    Both of the girls in my class in school who had their first child in their mid teens have good jobs, one of them is now a doctor. I myself had mine at nineteen and went on to university and found my time to start a career conveniently coincided with my child being a bit older and enjoying after school-clubs/not requiring my constant presence.

    Oh and definitely agree that the “its so horrible to be a mother”-theme is strange (but so common). It is a serious job to take care of children and should not be romanticized to “cute babies” if that is what they are trying to achieve, but the way to get that message across cannot be that by parenting you give up all your abilities to do anything else. Besides from being wrong it also harmful as those who already are young parents may start believing it.

    • http://feministing.com/members/apbblue/ Amy Phillips Bursch

      And of course the “It’s horrible to be a mother!” chorus continues until you’re my age (37) and don’t have kids. Then you’re RUINING your LIFE and YOU’LL REGRET IT and YOU’LL BE ALL ALONE in YOUR OLD AGE and the COUNTRY is RUNNING OUT OF BABIES and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!

      In other words, women can’t win if they diverge at all from the “traditional” path. Ugh.

  • http://feministing.com/members/flwrlily/ Lily Ellis

    You tell them! This is such a stupid ad campaign. Also, it takes two to tango, how come none of this is directed at the men that impregnate young mothers? Or is teenage pregnancy only an issue for women because men are just excused from the responsibility? I really hate all of the thinking behind this sort of thing. Shaming women helps no one.

    • http://feministing.com/members/thressabel/ Thressa

      Thank you! Where are the blue-coded ad campaigns with pictures of young male celebrities whose lives don’t suck because they never got a girl pregnant at 16? In the name of equality, I demand an equally unhelpful campaign aimed at the fellas.

    • honeybee

      They probably took off and left these women to raise the child on their own.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dikeju/ Diké

    I am truly amazed to discover the Candie Foundation and its business avatar, Candie’s fashion brand. The fashion brand’s website (http://www.candies.com/spring2012/) promotes images of female teen stars standing in typically gender stereotyped posture, and the same stars are being used to convey the shaming messages.

    On the one hand Candie encourages young teens to be attractive and seductive, on the other it blames them for having succumbed to the “game” of attraction and seduction. I’m using the word “game” as the Candie Foundation orders teenage girls to “stop playing”, implying they are only silly girls.

    As Lilly Ellis mentions, no mention of men and boys in both cases. Candie’s only interested to manipulate girls and young women, and make them bear the responsibility of everything : seducing and becoming a parent.

    This is the best way to encourage boys to be completely irresponsible in their experiments/relationships with girls.

    Besides, a teen mom doesn’t necessarily means that the father is a teenager himself. Do we have statistics about the father’s age ? In case of an adult father and aminor mom, I think it raises serious questions about consent.

    It’s not enough to educate teenagers about contraception and STD prevention (which are technical matters), it’s also important to educate about free consent (which is a moral matter, a matter of respect). Girls should be taught that at any point of a relationship, they have right to say no to their partners (which doesn’t mean they MUST say no). Boy should be taught the same thing of cours : at any time, they can refuse sex, and reciprocally they should not insist if their partners refuses.

    I’m sure the teen stars didn’t know their portraits would be used next to such messages. They’ve been used too.

  • http://feministing.com/members/fltc/ F.Toth

    As the child of a teen mother, I can tell you it sucked.

    It was bad to have a mother who could not get a good job because she was uneducated.

    And it was bad to be parented by someone who wasn’t an adult.

    And yes, the reasons it sucked to have a teen mother had to do with her being a teen. For every “This teen mom is so inspiring!!” anecdote there’s at least one, maybe more, that go quite the opposite way.

    The ads, which target females without making the males take responsibility, are awful. And the idea of shaming teen moms without offering contraceptive advice is idiotic.

    But we’re coming dangerously close, in this thread, to the anti-choice, every baby is wonderful, you can make it work if you really want to song. And that, also, majorly is bad.

    • http://feministing.com/members/jenni/ jenni

      I see what you saying and I am really sorry your mother had no opportunity to get an education and the problems this created for you her, but I think the key point here that differs from the anti-choice propaganda is choice itself.

      I kept a pregnancy relatively early in life (19 when got pregnant gave birth at 20 so not actually a teen mum technically) but that was because I wanted my child after taken factors such as support from family and society into account. For that matter I later terminated another pregnancy at age 25 as I would not have had the financial or emotional ability to raise one more child at that time.

      Like I said none of the teen-mums I went to school with dropped out but that is obviously due to our society having adequate child-care and both of them having support from their families which should not be hidden away as it is a huge privilege. You can of course not make anything work just because you want to, you need to have the societal structures necessary.

      • http://feministing.com/members/jenni/ jenni

        I guess what I´m trying to say is that instead of society deeming teen parenting as something inherently wrong that should be “shamed away” (as if that worked) it should actually help teens by making it easier for them to stay in school if pregnant and by providing good childcare in colleges and such. I bet children of teens in societies that does this have more stable upbringings.

  • http://feministing.com/members/dikeju/ Diké