Pregnant with Meaning: Teen Mothers and the Politics of Inclusive Schooling

By Deirdre M. Kelly | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Pregnant with Meaning: Teen Mothers as Catch-all Enemies

The targets of displaced resentments or guilt are often “catch-all” enemies: people who become magnets for the suspicions and anger of many different groups and therefore serve to condense and transform a range of discontents and also to build political coalitions.

—Murray Edelman

In many communities across North America, teen mothers have become a “symbol of suspect status, ” thus making them likely “`catch-all' enemies” (Edelman, 1988). The image of the teen mother is pregnant with meaning; as a “condensation symbol, ” the image “draws its intensity from the associations it represses” (Edelman, 1988, p. 73). For people concerned about changing family structures and gender relations and sexual “permissiveness, ” teen mothers represent adolescent female sexuality out of control. For those worried about the breakdown of traditional lines of authority, teen mothers represent rebellion against parents and other adults. For those anxious about global economic restructuring, teen mothers represent dropouts who refuse to compete yet expect the welfare system to support their “poor choices.” For those distressed about poverty and child abuse, teen mothers represent both the cause and consequence. Unstated assumptions about “the good mother, ” “the good student, ” and “the good citizen”—shaped by inequalities based on age, gender, sexuality, class, and race—often form the backdrop to the ongoing morality play about teen mothers.

Why is it important to detail the various negative stereotypes attached to the category “teen mother”? To the extent that these repressed associations can be identified, explicated, and viewed in a fuller social context, it will be that much easier for those who feel teen mothers are being unfairly scapegoated to challenge the political uses to which they are being

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