Feminism | Posted by Laura H on 04/2/2010
The War Against Teen Moms
I’ve always thought us young women are pretty lucky in the UK. As oppressive, patriarchal societies go, I’d say the one we enjoy is relatively mild. Legal abortions (though only up to 24 weeks and if two doctors agree), access to contraception, comprehensive sex education. Compared to a lot of places I could name, we’re got it quite good.
But yet, of course, there’s always the threat that all this could come crashing down around us. And when that’s in danger of happening we have to strike back. Fast. Because heaven knows we recognise how fragile what we have is.
Recently, the Daily Mail broke the story that Tory MP Tim Loughton, Shadow Children’s Minister, who has spoken out about his desire to prosecute underage teens who are sexually active. Loughton stated that “[It is] against the law to get pregnant at 14. How many kids get prosecuted for having underage sex? Virtually none.” He also condemned the fact that there are not currently any “consequences of breaking the law and having irresponsible underage sex.”
Oh, so many sarcastic comments, so little time…
First off, how exactly is Mr Loughton planning on implementing this scheme? Will we have sex spies posted strategically around Britain? Will parents and friends be regularly quizzed over the sex lives of those known to them? Ooh, I know! Who’s for compulsory hymen inspection? Of course not. This isn’t about sex, this is about teen pregnancy. This is about criminalising young mothers. Hark! Can you hear the distant cry of sexism?
Ok, let’s take a step back for a minute. I’m not saying that underage sex is a good thing or something that we, as a society, should encourage. I’m all for young people waiting until they reach emotional maturity before they make the decision to have sex, and I’m all for getting a good education and a job before you bring a child into the world, because really, that’s just good sense. I’m iffy on consent laws, to be honest. I recognise that we need to have them; I mean, who wants young people being given a free pass to have sex before they’re emotionally ready for it? On the other hand, I don’t think it’s necessarily right to say that there’s this miraculous age whereby when you reach it you immediately procure the ability to judge whether you’re ready to have sex. Because in the real world that isn’t how things work.
There are reasons what we have consent laws and, by and large, they’re good reasons. In theory, they make sure that people don’t engage in sexual activity before they reach a time when they are able to deal with the issues that come with it, along with any problems that may arise. It also makes sure that young children aren’t exploited by adults for sexual gratification. That gets a big tick from me.
But being a sexually active teen who is underage doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person, and it certainly doesn’t make you a criminal. Morality is not synonymous with sexuality, on any level (assuming that both partners are enthusiastically consenting and nobody is being taken advantage of) and nobody should be judged on what they choose to do with their own body. The keeping place of a person’s conscience is not in-between their legs.
The Daily Mail also interviewed sociologist Patricia Morgan. She’s all for “more prosecutions” of sexually active teens and reveals that “when I was growing up, young men were very frightened about going all the way with girls under the age of 16”. Because, apparently, it’s only boys who actually want to have sex and girls have no sexual desires at all!
The idea is then, that teenage girls who have sex must either be (a) totally sleazy, slutty, whores who’ll jump on anyone in sight, or (b) the coerced victim of some over-sexed male. That doesn’t leave much room for compromise. What if you’re (c) a young woman making a reasoned choice about what you do with your body, or maybe (d) someone who just made one damn mistake? Or none of the above. What if your sexuality is personal and private to you? What if it’s just none of anyone else’s blasted business?
And so we’re back to the girlies. It’s their virginity that we’re so keen to preserve; nothing to do with the boys because obviously it’s perfectly okay for a teen boy to do whatever the hell he wants with his sexuality. Boys will be boys, ya know.
But when it comes to girls; now that’s totally different! Somehow it’s become logical to think that it’s the girls who have to preserve their virginity and be “pure” (don’t you want to get married?) and, all of a sudden, it’s our responsibility to prevent sex from happening. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but last time I checked, I think it takes two. So it’s the old dogma that I’m sure is so familiar to all of you: girl + sex = whore/slut/skank but boy + sex = total stud! And now, apparently, girl + sex + baby = criminal mastermind. Ah, math…
Patricia Morgan also notes that we are harming young people by “telling [them] they can be sexually active whenever they are ready and we will make it safe for you.” Um, so how is that a bad thing? We give out information about contraception and safe sex to teens in order so that, if they do decide to have sex, they will be able to do so responsibly with minimal risk of pregnancy or STIs. Sounds pretty sensible to me. Better say “we will make it safe for you” than “we’re gonna make this as dangerous as possible”. This to me reveals the real reasons that people think like this. They hide behind their concern for the family or keeping young girls safe when actually what they’re trying to say is that they think having sex is intrinsically bad and those “sluts” who dare to go against their ideals must be punished immediately.
This blatant sexism goes on as Morgan continues: “that means anyone who has sex with a girl under 13 is committing statutory rape.” Ok, that’s true and totally fair, presuming the perpetrator is over 16. But, again, what about underage boys having sex with older women; are they fair game? Rape is rape is rape, and I completely agree that a child that young cannot possibly consent to sex with an adult (or teen) who should no better. But we must always remember that we’re not just defending young girls here; young boys are just as vulnerable and worthy of our care and protection. See, sexism works both ways.
The thing that really gets me about this whole issue is this: if we’re saying (rightly or wrongly) that before a certain age a person cannot reasonably decide what they want to do sexually with their body, how can we then turn it around and say that this same young person is legally accountable for the decisions they make regarding their sexual activity? If a young person does not have the capacity to decide to have sex then, by that logic, they can’t be held accountable because, apparently, a young person cannot possibly decide for themselves if they want to have sex.
This sort of stuff really scares me. Mr Loughton is the Shadow Minister for Children for the Conservative Party in the UK. Therefore, if the Tories get in at the next election (which, to be honest, is looking pretty likely assuming we don’t get a hung Parliament) then it’s most likely going to be him, or people like him, making these sorts of decisions. There have been so many positive steps forwards regarding women’s rights in the UK over the past few years, but sometimes it seems like it’s one step forward for feminism, two steps back…
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