ABC Family's much-hyped teen pregnancy drama The Secret Life of an American Teenager debuts tonight and that, coupled with the Gloucester High baby explosion, has inspired a slew of articles discussing the state of barely-legal uteri. Christopher Caldwell of the Financial Times claims that the current "ideology" of teen pregnancy was devised by "baby-boom feminists" who are pushing their career-minded priorities on a lower class that wants nothing to do with Friedan-style goals. "As it gets harder to climb out of the class one was born in, the opportunity cost of being a young mother falls…Poor teen mothers 'have about the same long-term earnings trajectories as similarly disadvantaged youth who wait until their mid or late twenties to have a child'" Caldwell notes. "Given the increasing likelihood that a woman will raise her children alone, might not the teen years be a prudent time to become a single mother, while the financial and day-care resources of one's own parents are still available?"
And I suppose, from a purely statistical standpoint, Caldwell can make his argument. But being a good parent isn't exclusively about finances. I find it hard to believe that these young women would not make better mothers with a few more years of life experience, added maturity and potential earning power. "Baby-boom feminists did not replace a superstitious attitude towards teen sexuality with a rational one. They replaced one set of priorities with another. Their careerism prevented teen motherhood as reliably as did their mothers' moralism," Caldwell writes. "The Gloucester girls appear equally unimpressed with both logics. If the old 'pregnancy pact' that went by the name of marriage is no longer so readily available, they are not fools to look for a substitute." Caldwell is making a host of assumptions and relying on many stereotypes of the American lower classes, and both his sweeping generalizations and the fact that he needs to bash second wave feminism to make them are distasteful.
Also distasteful: Brenda Hampton, the creator of The Secret Life of an American Teenager, tells Reuters, "I don't have anything to say about the issue of teen pregnancy…I'm just telling a story about a girl who happens to get pregnant." That's the most patently idiotic thing I've heard all week. Especially since the New York Times review of the show points out that when the heroine of Secret Life discovers that she is pregnant, "Her friends tell her she has options, but abortion is apparently not one of them; that choice is dismissed right away in horrified tones." (Sound familiar?) I think Hampton was missing a word in her quote. She meant to say, "I don't have anything intelligent to say about the issue of teen pregnancy."
The Ideology Of Teen Pregnancy [Financial Times]
TV's "Baby" And "Secret Life" Explore Teen Taboo [Reuters]
A Teenage Pregnancy, Packaged as a Prime-Time Cautionary Tale [NYT]