Tuesday, June 24, 2008
What's so bad about a pregnancy pact, anyway?
Why are local officials so eager to determine if a "pregnancy pact" led to 17 teenagers at Glousester High becoming pregnant in the same semester?
I'd be more impressed with the gumption and drive of these girls if they got pregnant from a pact than if they got get pregnant by accident. But sex and pregnancy are are apparently still seen as moral issues for teen girls. Studies beginning in the 70s showed that the more guilty z girl felt about premarital sex, the less likely she was to use contraception. Like murder, its morally worse to plan for sex than to be swept up by passion.
Which made me wonder outloud during our after-dinner reading/news watching: "Why is a pregnancy pact among teen girls so terrible?"
H ignored me, wrinkling his brow over some oddity in James Wood's The Broken Estate .. or maybe he was reading Pages from the Goncourt Journals.
I persisted, "Is it because the current power structure and rule by elites could topple if people banded together to support each other in making life-changing decisions?"
H snorted. "Because teens are suppose to be at school to get an education, not to do a loser thing like get pregnant."
Me: "Oh. But why is getting pregnant for teens a loser thing..." I was reminded of my awe at young women: they have that incredible power, whenever they want, to become pregnant.
Evolution has prepared teenage women to become pregnant. Its the most natural thing in human biology for a young woman to desire to be a mother. Would we make more progress with our goals as a society if we accepted this, and then started social planning from there?
But H cut short my reverie with a reminder that more is going on than society's lack of understanding of the naturalness of teen pregnancy.
H: "Its because Glousester is a loser town."
I realized I was finally understanding. There are conflicting goals in American culture. These are girls from working class and low-income families. Their cheap labor serves a societal function in this sea-side resort town: inexpensive hotel maids, waitresses, factory workers, and girlfriends. Their presence in the labor force, rather than collecting wellfare as new mothers, has a ripple effect across the economy, keeping wages where elites like to see them: low.
To its credit, the Time Magazine article hinted at what sociologists have long known: Young women will stop getting pregnant when they have something better to do with their lives. 10 years ago Planned Parenthood's slogan was "The best contraception is a future." (Write me if you know if they still use this slogan.) "
In the book Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, authors Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas uses national statistics backed up with myriad interviews to explain why early pregnancy makes economic and emotional sense for women from low-income families, even though it most certainly does not make economic sense for women from middle-income and high-income families.
Altough economic mobility is possible in our culture, it is statistically unlikely. Women from middle-and high-income families are likely to earn substantial salaries in the future if they avoid early motherhood and continue their education and training. Low-income women have no such future, so there is little economic loss from early parenting. Single-parenting also makes sense, because the pool of available men is not of sufficiently high quality to afford a benefit, since getting married when pregnant means you may need to take care of a low-earning male in addition to a child. (Readers may enjoy Bitch Ph.D's thought-provoking review of this book.)
So what should be done in Gloucester? It all depends on what kind of society you'd like to engineer.
For me, I'd start with getting Medical Director Dr. Brian Orr and chief nurse practitioner Kim Daly back on the payroll. Then let's take some some public planning advice from Europe, which stole the American Dream a few decades ago.