Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant may be making audiences more pro-choice. But these real-life public service announcements come with a cost.
Sarah of Feminists for Choice reports on a study showing that "Americans who have seen MTV's shows 'Teen Mom' or '16 and Pregnant' are significantly more likely than the general public to say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (65% vs. 56% of the public) and to say that having an abortion is morally acceptable (48% vs. 40% of the public)." She notes that the shows don't actually include much direct discussion of abortion — instead, they "may have helped Americans recognize just how difficult a choice parenthood can be — and how vital it is that other choices be accessible as well." That is, they depict their teen stars in often-shitty circumstances: "perpetually stressed out, undereducated, struggling financially, and more often than not raising their children as single parents." If this convinces viewers that no one should have to go through the experience of parenthood unwillingly, that's good news — but as Slate's Jessica Grose points out, it's not particularly enjoyable to be the one who shows America how much teen parenting can suck.
Apropos of Teen Mom star Amber Portwood's recent suicide attempt, Grose writes, "The shows themselves have real social benefits, but starring on these shows can be pretty terrible." She adds,
We hold up "fallen" women as cautionary tales so that others will know not to follow their wanton paths. But being propped up as the fallen woman is never very much fun.
Teen Mom stars are, in a way, victims of their own success. They're likely more effective than your average campaign ad or after-school special (Grose notes that teens who watch the shows may be more likely to use contraception), because they're real. And unlike, say, Bristol Palin, they're not didactic — they're just letting viewers see the stories of their lives. But the very reason for their effectiveness also makes these lives even harder — as Grose says, "Having cameras follow you around during a vulnerable time in your life [...] is not always such a positive proposition." It's nice if Teen Mom has the effect of promoting reproductive rights. But it's hard to celebrate that fact when it comes with such serious consequences.
MTV's Influence On Pro-Choice Attitudes [Feminists for Choice]
The Cost Of Starring In A Morality Play, Or The Amber Portwood Story [Slate]