Teenage Pregnancy & Motherhood Portrayed Throughout Television

REPRESENTING THE FAMILY

By Ashley Hofmaster

When did the topic of teen pregnancy get so popular in today’s television programs? Teenage pregnancy has always been going on in America, and for other countries for that matter.  It seems that different television shows portray teenage pregnancy and motherhood in different ways. Also, teenage pregnancy has been decreasing over the past couple years, but the media is still trying to hype it up. We all know that raising a child is difficult, but raising a child when you are still a child, oh my.

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The most popular teenage pregnancy shows are probably MTV’s 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom. Each of these television series let us view the reality of what happens when someone gets pregnant at 16 and decides to raise a child on their own (or less likely portrayed give their child up for adoption).  There are fewer examples of teens placing their baby up for adoption because a very small percent of them do. Another television show that shows teenage pregnancy is Gilmore Girls. This television show is a scripted drama.  Another difference between the shows is that Gilmore Girls shows the aftermath of teenage pregnancy, the show starts out when the daughter from the teenage mom is 16 and the mom is 32.  16 & Pregnancy/Teen Mom and Gilmore Girls portray teenage pregnancy and motherhood stereotypes in different, yet sometimes surprisingly similar ways.

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One thing I noticed while viewing these shows is the majority of the people are white.  I found this interesting while looking at teenage pregnancy because the statistics show that the race of pregnant teenage girls are majority Hispanic and black.  Race and young pregnancies are sometimes put together because of the stereotypes that are with the sexuality of the race group. “In spite of considerable evidence to the contrary, young motherhood is repeatedly represented as an epidemic and a crisis. It is frequently and simplistically correlated with certain class and race characteristics in ways such that Blackness and poverty, for example, are seen to somehow cause young women to be willful, wanton, and stupid” (Harris, 30).   Through this quote, Harris shows how the actions being perceived by a racial group are being applied to people who become pregnant.  Black and Hispanic women are perceived as being more sexually promiscuous than white women.  But yet, the media is showing white girls pregnant on television more than black and Hispanic girls; why is that?

Something else I noticed about the way race is portrayed in teen pregnancy is the white trash versus white privilege stereotypes ebing enforced in media. “White trash also speaks to another tension, that between what have for too long been competing categories of social analysis: race and class. Indeed, split white trash in two again and read the meaning of each: white now appears as an ethnoracial signifier, and trash, a signifier of abject class status” (Wray, 2).  This is a definition given by Matt Wray of what exactly white trash accomplishes; the shows on MTV are used to portray white trash and white privilege, but Gilmore Girls shows only white privilege.  On MTV the shows display girls of all ages, and it is clear there is a class distinction between certain girls. For example, Maci and Catelynn are both white, but come from very different socioeconomic backgrounds. Maci decides to keep her baby, and supports him with the financial help of his father and all of their parents.  On the other hand, Catelynn places her baby up for adoption because she knows that her dysfunctional family and low financial status is not a good environment to raise a child.  Maci would appear to have white privilege and Catelynn would be classified by most as white trash. In Gilmore Girls, Lorelai grew up with a very fortunate family with good socioeconomic standing.  Although, Lorelai rejects the help from her parents initially, she still turns back to them when she needs assistance to better her daughter’s education and lifestyle, which therefore enforces white privilege being applied to her life. It is interesting to look at how the representation of class and race differ from reality versus scripted television shows.  It seems that the reality shows on MTV have more diversity of class and race (even though they are enforcing negative stereotypes) than a scripted series.

One of the biggest problems of teenagers getting pregnant is they have not graduated from high school.  16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom portray that most girls in today’s society try their hardest to continue to go to school throughout their pregnancy.  But, in Gilmore Girls Lorelai dropped out of high school and did not finish her GED until her daughter was older.  She had a limited access to education because her parents did not want to ruin their socioeconomic standing in society.  Although, Rory (Lorelai’s daughter) achieves so much in terms of her education by attending a private high school and an ivy league school, and even receiving a nice job after graduation. Most of the teen mom’s on MTV also want to prove that they can accomplish this for their child and for themselves by finishing school.

Clip of flashback scenes of when Lorelai was 16:

Single mothers in media are usually given a tough time, and it is no different for single mothers who are also teens.  On Gilmore Girls, and a majority of the girls on 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom end up being single mothers.  On MTV a majority of these girls become less empowered because of their age of pregnancy.  They have to depend on their parents or the father of their child for a majority of things.  Many of the girls look at marriage as a solution to all of their problems because being married to the child’s father will supposedly “solve everything”.  Lorelai becomes more empowered from being a single mom because she figures things out on her own and knows that marriage is not the solution to solve her family problems.  But Lorelai’s empowerment is mostly shown when her child is a teenager, which the girls on MTV have not witnessed yet.  Also, when adding in the responsibility of taking care of a child on your own, financial stability is usually harder to achieve. “Increasing percentages of women were rearing children by themselves, generally with minimal economic numbers of single mothers who worked full time, year-round, were not earning wages sufficient to lift their families above the official poverty line” (Stacey, 424). Many single teenage moms risk economic stability while raising the child by themselves, but sometimes it works out better in other ways if the father is not in the picture because he was just adding stress to the situation.

Teenage pregnancy and motherhood appear to be a simple idea we see perceived in the media, but when analyzing it through the feminist lens, it becomes a much more complex idea.  There are so many things to incorporate when looking a teenage mother and not all of them are the same.  In Gilmore Girls and the teen pregnancy shows on MTV, there underlying genre is probably one of the biggest signifiers of how they are different portrayals of the same matter.  I wonder how long we will continue to see teen pregnancy and motherhood appear in the media through the stereotypes and ways I have described.

Works Cited

Chinow, Kathleen. “Gilmore Girls-Lorelais Past.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 July 2013. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_H8PcrnUDI&gt;.

Harris, Anita. “The “Can Do” Girl Versus the “At Risk” Girl.” Future Girl. New York: Routledge, 2004. 13-36. Print.

Stacey, Judith. “The Making and Unmaking of Modern Families.” Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late Twentieth-Century America. N.p.: HarperCollins, n.d. 415-33. Print.

“Teen Mom 2.” Cambio. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. <http://www.cambio.com/tag/teen-mom/&gt;.

“Teen Pregnancy and Adoption Statistics.” Adoption Under One Roof. N.p., 4 June 2011. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. <http://ouradopt.com/adoption-blog/jun-2011/lisas/teen-pregnancy-and-adoption-statistics&gt;.

“Trends in Teen Pregnancy and Childbearing.” Office of Adolescent Health. N.p., 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. <http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/reproductive-health/teen-pregnancy/trends.html&gt;.

Wray, Matt. Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness. 2006. Durham: Duke University Press. n.d. 1-19. Print.

“YA on TV: Gilmore Girls.” Pure Imagination. N.p., 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. <http://www.pureimaginationblog.com/2012/04/ya-on-tv-gilmore-girls.html&gt;.

One comment

  1. Hi Ashley! I really liked your analysis about being a teen mom in today’s society. I’ve only seen the first couple of seasons of Gilmore Girls, but I was extremely surprised when I found out that Lorelai was a teen mom. I think my reaction was due to the fact of her white privilege (as mentioned in your analysis); she has resources (her family) so to the viewer, it doesn’t seem that bad compared to another teen girl with no resources such as money, a supportive family, etc

    I believe that 16 & Pregnant show the true hardships of being a teen mom such as living on their own, finishing high school, paying child support, etc. On the other hand, a show that does glorify teen pregnancy is The Secret Life of the American Teenager. After teen girl Amy Juergens gets pregnant and gives birth to her son, she slips back in to her everyday life and often leaves the responsibility of looking after her son to her parents. I found this page online at Teen Ink that talks about teen mom shows and its affects on young girls in society (http://teenink.com/opinion/movies_music_tv/article/145041/Teen-Pregnancy-Shows-What-effect-they-have-on-you/)

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