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

By Deirdre M. Kelly | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Stigma Stories in the Media: Four Discourses about Teen Mothers, Welfare, and Poverty

That [newspaper] lady totally twisted what we said because she wanted it to sound worse. I wrote her a letter and said, “If you weren't going to write what we said, why did you waste your time and our time? You might as well just have sat home, made up the story yourself—not even bother us if you weren't going to use the facts.”

—Molly, mother, age 17, La Fuente 1

Feminist and other critical researchers have produced studies that have challenged conventional wisdom about teen mothers causing, and being produced by, poverty. But critical feminist research has been taken up infrequently by the mainstream media—and rarely as authoritative. Although ideas about teen sexuality and “alternative” family structures may have become less rigid over the last 25 years, the mainstream media's representations of teen mothers remain for the most part stigmatized, albeit within updated constructs.

Although the social stigma about teen pregnancy is popularly perceived to have lessened in recent times, I have shown in Chapters 2 and 3 that it is still quite prevalent, although its manifestations are evolving. Over the last 25 years, the forms taken by the stigma have been far more openly contested by various social and political groups. This contest is waged among those who continue to believe that adolescent pregnancy should be stigmatized as a deterrent to early sexual activity and welfare dependence and those with rival interpretations of the meaning of teen pregnancy and motherhood. This contest is making headlines in the United States at a moment when teen pregnancy and birth rates are leveling out at non-epidemic proportions after a slight increase in the late 1980s,

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