My Blog__ Teen Mom: Stop Crossing Her Fingers
After obsessing over Teen Mom, sexual education and the feminist backlash that has clearly started in America, I had the pleasure of chatting with Maci from MTV's Teen Mom to talk about her experience with sex ed, parenthood and being in the spotlight.
For about three years of my life my only system of birth control was the "pull-out" method. I had a steady boyfriend, regular pap check-ups and the occasional Plan B episode. I'm lucky this worked as well as it did. This method--really, not a method at all--was stupid, especially when I live in Canada, a country with a health care system that offers me access to all kinds of effective, safe birth control. It's like I was vacationing in Mexico with my own personal truck-load of bottled water, but decided to use a home-made filter system instead and just, you know, cross my fingers.
Unfortunately, a lot of girls in America are just "crossing their fingers" but not by choice--abstinence-only educators are telling them to sit on their hands and stay pure until married. And even when they do get married their hands are reserved for wiping diaper bums, because according to powerful, government supported and funded groups like the National Advisory Council for the Abstinence Clearinghouse, sex isn't about pleasure, it's about reproduction. I'm pretty sure that that is the kind of sex that doesn't even require hands.
For the last two months, I have watched as the four women of MTV's reality series, Teen Mom--Farrah, Maci, Catelynn and Amber--dealt with the result of being required to "cross their fingers." While in high school, each of these young women had an unplanned pregnancy, documented the nine months on MTV's show 16 & Pregnant and then, after the birth of their babies, came back for round two: Teen Mom. All of the girls in the series, although diverse in socioeconomic situations, live in states where anti-choice prevails, abortion is not legal unless with the consent of a parental figure and the support of safe sex is about as real as Tinker Bell. It's no secret that women's sexual and reproductive rights are at stake, despite the fact that Obama has eliminated abstinence-only funding and set aside $100 million for comprehensive sexual education programs. I mean, you can't just shake off nearly ten years of born-again bullshit that tells women they are incapable of making their own decisions regarding their bodies and expect no after-shock. Sorry. What you can do is watch Teen Mom and start talking.
Maci Bookout, the petite, red-headed star of 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, got pregnant with her first boyfriend, Ryan. Maci finished high school, got engaged to Ryan and after the birth of her baby boy, Bentley, tried to juggle motherhood, a job, school and her rocky relationship with millions of people watching. She views her and Bentley's time in the spotlight as "surreal" considering she got the gig from an ad on Craiglist.
Maci is now single, studying Journalism and raising Bentley on her own (with support from her parents) and yes, she will be back for another season of Teen Mom. Over the phone last week, Maci told me she never thought about how important sexual eduction, access to birth control, contraception, or just even people who are willing to talk about it, is until after she got pregnant.
"Honestly, if I think about sexual education we had in my school I can only remember one time ever having a class about it and it was only for one day and it wasn't for all the students--only kids in certain classes. There definitely needs to be more talk about it, and not necessarily abstinence, but safe sex, information about sex and stuff like that. There was never talk about anything to do with protection or about how to get birth control. Nothing at all."
Maci now goes to neighboring high schools and tells her story in hopes that she can further spread the discourse on teen pregnancy issues.
"I'm just glad that I got to take such a big event in my life and make it into something that can help others to kind of avoid it and wait for it to happen to them at the right time instead of having an accident."
When I asked Maci why she decided to go through with the pregnancy, she tells me that she didn't want to adopt, plus she has very supportive parents. She is not "a fan of abortion."
"I've never thought about [abortion] enough to be able to make a decision about it."
But this is just the problem: access, information and choice. After talking with Maci it became very clear that she wanted more information, was trying to get her "message" out there, but was still dissociated from a multitude of options. There is no reason for this. Feminist blogger and founder of Feministing.com, Jessica Vaneti, argues that the abstinence-only movement in the U.S furthers a culture that doesn't trust women to make their own decisions and therefore, limits the choices they can make especially regarding sexuality. It sends a pretty clear message about how young women's autonomy is respected. (It's not.)
Teen Mom was littered with examples of women being treated like "moral children." Take for instance, Farrah who decided to go to the doctor to get herself on birth control, when she got home she hid her Nuava Ring in the family refrigerator. Her father eventually found the birth control and instead of being proud of his daughter for taking precautionary measures towards safe-sex, he took away the Nuava Ring and told her she had no use for it. When Ryan neglected his son, Maci and parenthood all together, Maci moved out and back in with her parents where she could focus on her school and raising her baby. And when Catelynn found out she was pregnant, she made the decision to give her baby up for adoption so that she could offer her a better life, despite the fact that her parent's practically disowned her for this brave decision.
"Parents will come up to me on the street that have thirteen, fourteen year old kids and they are like 'You know, I love the show' because they can sit down and watch the show with their kids and it gives them an opportunity to talk about sex," Maci explains. "If the show hadn't been on, I don't think [sex] would ever get talked about because it's such an awkward subject."
What is it about sex that is inherently awkward? Everything and nothing. Everything in the sense that sex has become the most socially complex issue for humans. Nothing is the sense that we all do it eventually. I think that because of sex's intimate blend of the personal and the political, we should be asking as many questions as we can about policy, legislation, gender, health and everything else that comes along with it. Why sit on our hands?
Teen Mom was an innovative series that captured the problems surrounding sexual education and how this is affecting women's rights by bringing these topics into popular culture. It premiered as the highest rated series on the network in more than a year and gathered a massive interactive fan base of people from all over, who looked to these young women's stories for both entertainment, discussion and inspiration. Most importantly, it showed us that young women are capable of making their own decisions and deserve the right to chose. No longer should women be told to "cross their fingers" and just make the best of it.