If you live in New York, chances are you have seen signs about teen pregnancy plastered across the city. My (least favorite) features a sad-eyed child next to the copy, “Honestly mom…chances are he won’t stay with you. What will happen to me?”
These signs are provided by the HRA’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign, and they are both racist and sexist, playing into the desperate fear-mongering that is taking place in a futile attempt to keep teenagers from having sex. They manipulate people with the image of a cute child who looks sad and a caption like, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate from high school because you had me as a teen.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “This campaign makes very clear to young people that there’s a lot at stake when it comes to deciding to raise a child. By focusing on responsibility and the importance of education, employment, and family in providing children with the emotional and financial support they need, we’ll let thousands of young New Yorkers know that waiting to becoming a parent could be the best decision they ever make.”
Along with the shame, another aspect of these advertisements that infuriates me is the implicit theme that a family should consist of two heterosexual parents who are married. Yes, a two-parent household might contain two incomes, but the delivery of the message – “Chances are he won’t stay with you…” (hinted at: “Because you were such a slut and got pregnant…”) are patronizing and insulting.
Yes, teen pregnancy is a big decision, weighted with many different factors. And yes, education and employment are important things to take into consideration when thinking about having a baby. But rather than play into fear and guilt, why isn’t all of this money being spent on a campaign to raise education and empowerment? Why not provide information about obtaining birth control if you don’t have health insurance? Or information on where to have a safe and healthy abortion? I know a middle school teacher whose students asked him if a Wal-Mart bag could be used as a substitute for a condom. There is no doubt about it: teenagers need to be educated.
A healthy sexual relationship should not be riddled with shame or guilt. It should be a consensual decision made by two young adults and pursued in a healthy and safe way. The effective way to avoid unwanted pregnancies is through education and empowerment, not fear. Abstinence-only programs are proven to be ineffective.
This education can take place. New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice (NYCRJ) is launching a campaign named “No Stigma! No Shame!” in response to the campaign to push for a teen pregnancy prevention campaign that doesn’t shame and blame teen parents, particularly teen parents of color.
They have put out a call for individuals and organizations to stand with them and sign on. To do so, send your name, any affiliation or organization, and state to firstname.lastname@example.org and help spread the word by tweeting to handle @NYC4RJ or using #NoStigmaNoShame.