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.


mdc said...

I was reminded of my awe at young women: they have that incredible power, whenever they want, to become pregnant.

You have GOT to be kidding. Since when is a biological function a "power"? Especially when it's been used against women by men for millennia?

With nearly seven billion people on this planet and resources becoming ever more scarce, it's long past time we started demystifying and de-glorifying breeding, instead of gawking at it in awe like cavepeople.

Anonymous said...

Agreed! Since when is the biological function that sperm + egg in the right environment = baby "power"? That's like saying "the power to take a crap" about another biological function that teenaged girls (among others) have.

The truth is that the babies resulting from this very self-centered exercise ("Oh, everyone will love ME if I have a baby!!") are doomed to a life of misery, a young, young mother who will grow tired quickly of her responsibilites once the baby showers and the fawning is over. If you disagree, I'd appreciate your administering a follow-up study in 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years, and see just how "overjoyed" these girls still are with their "power" at that time.

HumanProject said...

I'm with you, mdc. Let's demystify and deglorify.

So -- do you agree with free clinics and no parental consent laws for under-aged teens?

Any readers recall the good ole USA back in the 1970s? Governor Ronald Reagan, in step with the politics of the times, signed into California law the mandate that under-18 teenagers could get free contraception. When's the last time you showed up to get a free doctor visit without showing a health insurance card or even a picture ID? Well, I had that honor in Beijing, 2008, but setting aside countries with free health care, for me, I didn't even give my real name, when I got my state-paid for contraceptives as a teenager in Los Angeles.

HumanProject said...

Uh, anonymous, that study has been done. See the book I cited in the original post above, or at least Bitch Ph.D's summary of the book.

mdc said...

I have no problem with free clinics and no consent laws. The more abortions teenage girls get, the better.

But I agree with Anonymous: I'm tired of the pro-natalist "feminist" movement lowing and mooing about how "brave" and "courageous" it is for teenage girls to spawn. OMG I WANNA BAYBEE TO WUB ME!!! Give me a break. A lot of us didn't get unconditional love as kids. Not all of us went out and spawned kids we couldn't afford to make up for it.

Oh, and spare me lectures about my "misogynist" language. Again, I'm really tired of this newfangled "feminism" that bends over backwards to avoid blaming girls and women who breed when they have no business doing so.

You might have a *legal* right to have a whole passel of brats, regardless of your fitness to raise them. You do not have the *moral* right to.

HumanProject said...

mdc, I can understand your viewpoint. As you said, you toughed it out, even with an unhappy childhood, why should these teen girls be said to be "courageous" when the harder thing is to be sexually responsable and wait to have a child when one is financially secure.

So how can our society be made more pro-abortion or pro-contraception? Groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood face an uphill battle given right-wing politicians in Congress and the general conservative, anti-abortion beliefs of many Americans.

Do you think it influences teens to see movies like Juno that glorify teen pregnancy?

Anonymous said...

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?

One of the great things about having a reasonably advanced society is that we are not necessarily slaves to our own biological limitations any longer.

Just because it's "natural" or "biological" does not mean becoming pregnant in one's teenage years is a necessary or productive act. Certainly women who don't know any better and who have little concept of the difficulties, challenges, miseries, and sacrifices involved in pregnancy and childrearing might consider having a baby to be guaranteeing themselves unconditional love. In a world where celebrity magazines drone interminably on about so and so's "baby bump" and when so and so is due, it's hardly surprising that the baby-as-accessory trend is taking hold in high-school kids. And it's understandable that girls with fewer resources to draw on would be less likely to achieve high career aspirations and therefore go for breeding first and working later.

What isn't underlined is the fact that by getting pregnant in their teenage years these girls are effectively throwing away what chances they may have for career advancement. They may not have much of a chance to start with: getting knocked up takes away what hope they might have had.

Miss Conduct said...

See, when "Sweeney Todd" wasn't available, this is why I thought "Juno" was too political a movie to see on Christmas Day, so we bought tickets to "Charlie Wilson's War" instead, and look how *that* turned out ... Damn projector malfunction, I'm sure we all could have agreed baking barbershop customers into pies is morally problematic!

mdc said...

Wow, Human Project, you seem to have switched over in your post from glorifying De Majikul Wundur of Pragnutsy 'n' Buuurrrrth to agreeing with me that, yeah, teenage girls are much better off not having kids. Interesting.

Most recent Anonymous: What isn't underlined is the fact that by getting pregnant in their teenage years these girls are effectively throwing away what chances they may have for career advancement.

Oh, noes, how dare you imply that it's not absolutely marvy when some 14-year-old has a bun in the oven? How dare you not support her "reproductive rights"? You womyn-hating slut-shamer!!!

(Seriously, rock on.)

HumanProject said...


My earlier statement about my awe at young women's power to get pregnant doesn't mean I fawn over their courage, it was simply a personal statement of amazement and envy: Teen girls can get pregnant at will. I can't. (I explain this in an earlier post, August 2007.) This strikes me as amazing because I don't envy teen girls in a single other thing, except this one. I have money, they don't. I have a wonderful male partner, they don't. I have status, they don't. Althogh decades older, I'm even probably more attractive than many of them, thanks to the obesity epidemic. But, they have an ability that I don't have, and nothing, nothing, nothing can change that.

But, don't leap to the conclusion that because I missed out on motherhood by pursing a career, I'm fawning over the miracle of birth. I don't want teenagers to get pregnant. I want them to have all the sex they want with multiple partners using double condoms, a diaphragm and only oral sex when they're ovulating. I want them to have abortions when they get pregnant, and I'd like to pay for the abortions with my tax dollars or charitable contributions as well.

But more important than all this: I want society to give low-income teen girls the prospect of a better future so they don't want to get pregnant. That's the point of my reference to Planned Parenthood's slogan and my plea for our society to follow Europe's path.

The Neurocritic said...

Teen Pregnancy Pact Just a Rumor

By Benjamin Radford, LiveScience's Bad Science Columnist

News of a teen pregnancy pact in Massachusetts is only the latest in several high-profile stories that turned out to be mostly or totally based on myths.

Time magazine, as part of a cover story on teen pregnancy, reported on a "pregnancy pact" among girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Seventeen girls at Gloucester High School all became pregnant at about the same time, a rate far higher than expected. In an interview, the school's principal said that the teens had made an agreement with each other that they would all become pregnant and raise their children together.

. . .

It's not clear if the principal or the Time reporter first claimed that a "pact" existed, but wherever it originated, it was based on little more than rumor.