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

By Deirdre M. Kelly | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

The Good Choices Discourse: A Fashionable, Flawed Attempt to Avoid Stigma

Perhaps the most recent and increasingly marshaled negative stereotype of single teen mothers is that they are “people who make bad choices.” This stereotype is evoked, for example, when people refer disapprovingly to the “teen mom lifestyle”—the term “lifestyle” implying something freely chosen. The unstated assumption is that most teen mothers are personally responsible for their choice and therefore blameworthy; people thus attribute to them a “conduct stigma” (Page, 1984, p. 6).

By focusing on the choices of teen mothers, some people hope to avoid stigmatizing the teen mothers or their children as persons; instead, they want to stigmatize their practices, such as the choice to raise their babies themselves. This is analogous to the attempt to keep the practice of “homosexuality” stigmatized, while “the homosexual” “increasingly is awarded civil rights and civil liberties” (see Epstein, 1987, p. 47). Whether this distinction between people and their behavior can be maintained is dubious. A policy analyst in the area of teen pregnancy put it this way: “A lot of us are uncomfortable about moralizing. How do you stigmatize the behavior without stigmatizing the children? Do we want to make the kids feel lousy and like outsiders? I don't think we have a very good answer to that” (quoted in Gallman, 1995, p. 8A).

“Sociologists from Max Weber to Pierre Bourdieu have noted how groups of individuals use behavior patterns as `markers' to distinguish themselves from others” (Luker, 1996, p. 92). A clear example of this process was provided in an interview with a teacher at Town School, by her own description a member of the “upper middle class” and a vocal opponent of school-based day care programs for teen parents. Halfway

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