The cultural criminalization of motherhood

Last updated on May 1, 2016

no-sexOn April 21, 2016, NPR put out an article that said, “Teen moms trust their gut, even when it puts their babies at risk.”  Feel free to click on the article and get the scoop, but for the TL;DR crowd, the upshot is this:  43 teen mothers (seriously, that’s all that asked) were inclined to ignore the advice of pretty much everyone around them, including doctors, mums, and the like, even when that advice was supposed to be clinically proven as safer for their kids.

I posted about this on Facebook, and I had to wait to finish discussing it here because of that pesky 30-day challenge thing (which I totally nailed, by the way).

Noting that the sample group in question is too small to render effective conclusions, I still want to explore the observation because it is supported marginally by anecdotal evidence.  We all know that whole “teens know everything” cliche that’s been done to death, but could that really be the reason?  I mean, I’ve known more than a few teens in my life, and very few (actually none that I can recall) ever stuck to their “I know better” guns if they were truly offered conclusive evidence of their error.

Because teenagers are actually humans and not just convenient tropes, by the way.

No, it’s not the know-it-all-itis that we’d like to blame this trend on.  I have a much more culturally damning theory:

Teen mothers (and, really, teen parents) are so often vilified and shamed for their “choices” (i.e. succumbing to overwhelming hormones designed to continue the species) that of course they’re going to rebel against pretty much every single authority that comes their way.  Teens who get knocked up are “ruining their lives”, they need to “pay for their mistakes”, they are “destroying their future”.  The act of propagating is wrong wrong wrong WRONG, don’t you know, and you should be ashamed!  And now you have to carry this albatross around your neck for the next 18 years, or else you have to rip your own heart out and give it away to complete strangers who will always look at your child with a little tsk-tsk in their hearts that your fuck-up (and, no mistake, you fucked up, just ask anyone) was their happy fortune.

Don’t think for a moment I’m kidding, but the really really fucked up thing is, this attitude doesn’t stop after a girl leaves the teen years.

Women at every age – married, single, or otherwise – are marginalized to some degree or another for breeding.  All the young single and/or non-childed friends dissolve into the woodwork.  Life becomes a revolving door of diapers and bottles and daycare and car pooling and laundry – so much laundry – and that is when we cease to exist as humans and are only regarded as child life support machines.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask any mum about her day (maybe a bulletted list) and then compare it to 1) any guy and 2) any non-childed person.  If we were actually paid (i.e. valued) for our work, we’d pull serious bank, but we all know that will never happen because motherhood is it’s own reward, right?

Whatever.  Try putting “ran a household single-handedly for five years before the kids started school” on a resume, and let’s see how easy it is to get back into the work force.  The sad thing is that the skills required to successfully run a household involve project management, personal assistant work, and being a freakin’ expert at everything from plumbing to medicine to logistics to IT, but good luck making that argument to a hiring manager.

Pretty much every mother in western society feels this “otherness”, which is probably why there’s such a high rate of closet alcohol and drug use – trust me, it’s higher than you think – but teens are especially judged harshly. We seem to have forgotten as a society that the physiological age to breed begins in the teen years, and there is an evolutionary incentive to have such raging pro-sex hormones going on during that time. We end up on the wrong side by diminishing the men and women who give into that urge, and then we spend the rest of their lives punishing them for “ruining their lives” by breeding young.  And mothers who didn’t start until their 20s or even 30s are especially harsh.  I wonder how much of that is based in the realization that teen mums are going to be (theoretically) free and clear after 40 while the ladies who wait until later are stuck at home into their 50s?

Regardless, of course any authority is going to have zero trust equity with a demographic that’s pushed this far out of the nest by an arbitrarily moralistic societal voice. That’s just common sense.  Why would you listen to someone who claims to have your best interest at heart after (or while) they’re telling you how disappointed they are?

I think I’ve made my point, what do you think?

normfac Written by:

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