The paper I want to present at the 2007 Red River Women’s Conference will have a radical feminist approach and/or view on Single Parenting, as well as touch on ageism. Ageism will touch on taking charge of reproductive rights (and radically defending them!) at any age, being a former teen parent and dealing with "what age is right for becoming/being a mom?" (Is there REALLY one?) There are many taboos in our own modern society about being a feminist, a mother – especially a single mother, as well as dealing with others in society who look down at teen parenting, especially mothers. This is a topic rarely brought up in a positive way and I think a conference like this would really be something that could benefit from it.
"She must be a whore." I am sure we have all heard this when referring to a teen mom, or at least a mother who looks young. It seems as a society we’ve been conditioned to think that, to think young mothers, teen mothers, single mothers just won’t make it. That we are all doomed to be on welfare, not work or continue our education, or go on and have more children to "just add to the problem". There is a lot funding that goes into preventing teen pregnancies and abstinence-only programs. There’s not much out there that empowers young parents or to give us support and help us feel validated by our choices. Instead, it downs us and makes assumptions towards shame. Single parenting and teen parenting is hard, but reinforcing that parents CAN be any age, defending our choices in a positive way and demanding support from the outside is so imperative to change society views on it.
We are all sexual at some point or another, I admit I had sex when I was 18 and in high school still. I had my first kiss when I was 17. A month after my "virginity" became non-existent, I was pregnant. And I know the day it happened. The sperm was from my boyfriend at the time, my first love, this boy whom I really cared about. But who’s really to say what I was doing was wrong? I was on birth control when I did get pregnant, but who’s to say that if I wasn’t – it was still bad? I spent the last five months of my senior year in high school throwing up during band and art class, hiding my pregnancy in shame and feeling so scared and worthless As the words, "you’re not married, you’re in high school, you’re a teenager, no! I can’t be pregnant" just repeated in my mind.
Society has deemed us to do the "norm", which having sex before marriage is a sin and/or bad, that teen pregnancy is automatically deemed a bad ordeal for one to get themselves into, and that single parenting just doesn’t work for financial reasons and even saying that child NEEDS both parents to function "normal" in life and society. Is society, in general, trying to enforce fear in us?
At the United States Social Forum in June in Atlanta: "There is an important understanding of timing," one mother activist explained. "You can't push pregnancy prevention when a woman is already pregnant, by doing so you reinforce her shame." Another woman added, "Sexual health education, access to contraception, how to have healthy relationships are critical parts of the conversations our communities should have. However, once a woman decides to continue a pregnancy, her choice and her family should be supported and included in our movements." (A Report Back: Girlmom at the United States Social Forum 2007).
These statements reinforce how women feel about pregnancy, parenting, abortion and other reproductive choices within their communities and families. A lot of pressure is put upon one who is a single parent, to change the views of others towards them alone and we need that support. We also need to understand that sometimes we choose to go into single parenting from either the very beginning of contraception and/or the moment we find out we are pregnant – whether it be a sperm bank, a one night stand or a relationship that never worked. Sometimes we are almost forced it to it and outweighing the decision to stay with the other parent or to leave. And in my choice, the decision to leave was far healthier for my daughter and myself, so I did it and made the transition into single parenting.
Life in the Fast Lane, is a website produced by Idaho Public Television for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. It has information for teens, parents, teachers, resources, FAQs and personal stories. When you click on stories, it has photos of teen parents and/or former teen parents.
All the stories associated with that parent’s picture is something negative, "Terry dropped out of school to support his child" and "she was a cheerleader before she got pregnant." (Stories).
To the contrary and some digging I did find a program in Portland, OR that is called the Insights Teen Parent Program.
According to the website, "Insights Teen Parent Program is the primary agency serving teen parents in Multnomah County. Every year, Insights serves an average of 1,500 teen parent families, offering our services at the agency, in homes, schools, and in other local non-profits." (Insights).
Life in the Fast Lane makes assumptions that you can’t do certain things while being a teen parent, they are scaring teenagers into thinking you have to drop out of high school and/or college to raise your child and that you can’t do other "teen" activities while still parenting. Of course, becoming a parent can make things harder, but isn’t that at any age, social status, relationships status and other situations we are in? Insights Teen Parent Program is empowering teen parents, supporting them and understanding that it IS hard but you can still do it. They are enforcing that teen parents need support from society, the community and families and using that as a more positive venue.
In further discussion on the 2007 Social Forum, girl-mom.com contributed to the forum, my amazing single mother friend, Rebecca put together a contribution of girl-mom:
I stated: "I have always been pro-choice, but there's always that weird stigma around abortion and it's a hush-hush subject. I don't think it's fair for girls, sexually active or not, to not know about such an important issue and option they CAN have at any age, any time, any situation and to NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. I have a daughter. I want her to have all reproductive options available for her. Reproductive rights go beyond abortion." Skykid45 adds: "I think its because I had a kid when I was young or something they think I only continued the pregnancy because I was against abortion.... People have all these assumptions of what a feminist or a pro choice person is supposed to be, and they usually do not picture a teen mom."
On a personal level, I am a former-teen, single mother. I am now twenty-five years old with a six-year-old daughter. I gave birth to her shortly after turning 19 and four months after I graduated high school. I tried for several years to make the relationship with her dad worked, but after years of mental and emotional abuse, I got out. And that was probably the best decision I have made in recent years of my life. He doesn’t live in the same town and she sees him every once in a while. But she is thriving. She’s a very smart girl with awareness of society around her and can think for herself. Since becoming a mother, I graduated high school with honors, I have an Associates degree in Graphic Design and do freelance work on the side. I am now Sociology major and Women’s Studies minor at UND and plan on getting my Master’s and PhD in Sociology. I am the first to admit, it’s been a hard road and that sometimes balancing just myself between motherhood, my child and everything else has been hard but I do little things to make sure I am still Heather. One mistake I don’t want to make is consuming my entire-self of just being a mother. I am still myself and I still have a lot of interests outside of mothering.
We all may decide or not decide to become parents at some point. One thing to keep in mind is to understand that there are parents at different times in life, married or not, heterosexual or not, as well as, age variant, educational status, class status, and keeping these things in mind. We all need a support system, a community that can help us – whether it is from our immediate family to friends to society in general. We need to demand support when it comes to parenting, especially teen parenting and single parenting to help break the mold of "stereotypes" and breaking society’s views on these situations. Take a look at the history; this issue is not new. Reproductive rights, parenting issues and have always been around. We will stand up and keep fighting and fighting, we will not stop.