i recently found the website XhibitP via TheNuBlack website. XhibitP is a virtual gallery that houses works from various artistic mediums that address social issues. currently, they're tackling issues surrounding teen pregnancy.
teen pregnancy seems to be everywhere in the media right now. Sarah Palin's daughter was a teen mother, MTV has a new show entitled '16 and Pregnant', and there was a story in the news recently about a high school in Tennessee that housed more pregnant females than ones that were not. conversations have arisen which have asked whether shows and movies (like Juno) that showcase teen pregnancy are glamorizing teen pregnancy or educating the general public.
most episodes of 16 and Pregnant feature white teenagers being raised by their middle/upper-income families. Jamilah Lemeiux brought to light the fact that at a time in which pregnancy was only though to inhabit poor women of color, it was something to be ashamed of, but now that it has a white face, it is something to look at sympathetically.
it's interesting the way the media has chosen to portray teen pregnancy. when young black and brown women were getting pregnant (Claudette Colvin), it was seen as something to further negative attitudes against black women. they were seen as loose, promiscuous, and void of any value (which, in our society, almost always centered around virginity) they may have had (which wasn't much to begin with considering their "race"). the ideas about a black women being nothing more than lascivious sexual objects were then coupled with the idea of that women of color were negligent and irresponsible mothers, all while we took jobs mainly as care-takers, wet-nurses, midwives, and baby-sitters to white families. the idea has not changed much. although it has currently been joined with the idea that we're having abortions like it's a Sunday ritual.
unfortunately, this is nothing more than racism functioning in the social realm. when black and brown women do something society as deemed irresponsible, devious, and sexually deviant, there are movements that call us feeble-minded and justify sterilizations. when a white woman does it, and Lemeiux said, it's something to feel sympathetic about, and something that truly needs to be addressed now; something for politicians to rally around; something the society needs to get to the bottom of. if shows like 16 and Pregnant are going to be shown, they need to show the diversity and the reality of these situations. they have failed to show women from lower-income housing; ones living in government housing; ones struggling to make next month's rent; ones that do not know who the father of their child is; one's without cars, without parents to depend on, or without enough money to have baby showers.
but on another note, what is the deeper issue with teen pregnancy? is it the fact that they are having sex at what our society sees as a young age? is it because the US doesn't have the economic or social stability for a teen mother to be independent? is it because these women are nowhere near the mindset one needs in order to be a mother in this country? is it because religious influences convince us that celibacy is the only right way to go about procreation?
in traditional indigenous societies, women had children regularly starting in their teens. the problem between their societies and ours is that we have taken away rites of passage and other social forms of teaching the youth to be adults, not to mention genuine respect for human life over that of career opportunities and monetary gain. so do these young mothers have the issues or the society?
society is definitely the problem, although we should not wait on young women to get pregnant in order to act. when a young woman becomes pregnant, there are organizations willing to give her an abortion (although it is illegal in some states), and the government willing to give free food (WIC). but where is the other help? where is the help a young woman needs in order to know how to care for her child? financial advice to help her be independent? or any other type of social safety net that insures she's in the most healthy (physically, but most importantly, mentally) state she can be for herself and her child?
after reading a very insightful and inspiring chapter from bell hooks about sisterhood, i feel as though women of color (and ultimately all people of color, but there needs to be a model, first) need to rally around one another and create these types of safety nets. we need to build organizations that offer mental, physical, economic, and spiritual aid to teen mothers, as well as single-mothers, or just mothers in general. we have to be the ones that decide how our communities receive sex-education and demand that it not be saturated in religious nonsense and sexist notions of value and womanhood.
when women of color look down and spread gossip about other women of color because they happen to have 2 and 3 different fathers to their children, or may keep more than one sexual partners, we are maintaining the social cesspool that these children are unfortunately born into, not to mention that it severs any relationships that could garner unity.
bell hooks quotes Toni Morrison in Feminist Theory where she urges women to repair our relationships:
"i want not to ask you, but tell you not to participate in the oppression of your sisters....I am alarmed by the violence that women do to each other: professional violence, competitive violence, emotional violence. i am alarmed by the willingness of women to enslave other women. i am alarmed by a growing absence of decency on the killing floor of professional women's worlds."
bell hooks follows up by saying this:
"To build a politicized, mass-based feminist movement, women must work harder to overcome the alienation from one another that exists when sexist socialization has not been unlearned, e.g. homophobia, judging by appearance, conflicts between women with diverse sexual practices. ... we must renew our efforts to help women unlearn sexism if we are to develop affirming personal relationships as well as political unity."
i think once we (as women of color) take control of ourselves and commit to one another - young and old, pregnant, not pregnant, post-abortion, academically educated or not - only then will we see a situation in which children are welcomed into the world as opposed to being looked at as burdens that our society has made us bear or obstacles we have to overcome in order to live with any level of stability.
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