Feminism | Posted by Laura H on 04/2/2010

The War Against Teen Moms

teen moms: the enemies

teen moms: the enemies

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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  • Juliet @ at 10:15 am, April 2nd, 2010

    Well, that’s the Daily Mail. Even touching it will give you an STD.

  • Samuel W. @ at 11:34 am, April 2nd, 2010

    Typical Daily Mail conservative banter if you ask me. They’re no stranger to condemning everything they see as, by way of conservative Christian views, immoral, whether it be media violence, adolescent sexual behavior, permissive parenting, and the long uptight list goes on and on. It’s one thing to believe in a certain age of consent everybody can agree with, but it’s another thing to prosecute kids who have sex and condemn teen mothers. I obviously think there must be for most people an age, sometimes during the preteen years and in most other cases sometime during adolescence, in which they understand the consequences, benefits and know-how about sexual activity and how to responsibly manage it. But what these people are trying to do is not only enforce a law, but to focus on shunning and throwing stones at those who’ve had sex under this age. An age of consent law has many good uses and is fine with me, but I think we, in the US and UK, need to open up to realities about teen sex behaviors rather than condemn them as evil. Not immediately hating on the 12-year-old who might’ve had sex out there, you know? And not hating on teens who’ve gotten pregnant.

  • Amy CT @ at 11:36 am, April 2nd, 2010

    My sentiments exactly!

  • Amy CT @ at 11:36 am, April 2nd, 2010

    Obviosuly, I mean I share Juliet’s sentimenets. Not the sentiments of the Daily Mail. God forbid.

  • Vimbai @ at 11:44 am, April 2nd, 2010

    I’ve always been intrigued by the prosecution of young parents as well as any teenager that does have sex and yet sex is thrown in our faces every single day. How can teenagers be prosecuted for doing what the media seems to suggest is essential for a fulfilled life?

  • Maren H @ at 12:12 pm, April 2nd, 2010

    This first thing I immediately was concerned about is young rape victims. We all know the majority of rapes aren’t reported, and if they are unreported they are near impossible to prove. If a young women were to become pregnant as a result of a rape, and being pregnant below the age of 14 is illegal, is it possible that the women would actually be criminally punished for surviving a rape? Thats a whole new level of victim blaming! Terrifying.

  • Laura H @ at 5:52 am, April 3rd, 2010

    Maren- that’s so true. I hadn’t even thought about that. As a SA survivor myself, it’s so difficult trying to navigate the rampage of prejudices out there. Just one more to add to the list.

  • Valerie B. @ at 3:52 pm, April 3rd, 2010

    Geez, these teen moms already have a lot on their plate that spawned from one mistake; let’s go ahead and prosecute them, too!!! Also, I agree with Maren…what about rape victims? What if the girl is so embarassed that she doesn’t want to say it even in court?

  • Rose @ at 4:12 pm, April 3rd, 2010

    I don’t understand his argument at all.
    I thought laws on the age of consent were there to protect rape victims, not slut shame teenage girls. The law is to stop adults having sex with children, not prosecuting the children.

  • Alex @ at 4:41 am, April 5th, 2010

    I could get into a whole debate about what it means to consent, and what’s required for the ability to consent, but I don’t think that’s what’s motivating people like this. I don’t really understand the logic behind it, but to social conservatives there is a long list of sexual do’s and dont’s. There’s do’s and dont’s for everything, but sexuality is one of the important subjects, with one BIG don’t being teen sex. Their do’s and dont’s wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t feel that they apply to ever body, and that they ought to be the law. Yes, morality is supposed to be universal, but these conservative ideas about morality don’t leave a lot of room for human variability.

  • belated Easter body loving blogosphere @ at 12:55 pm, April 5th, 2010

    [...] fbomb, The War Against Teen Moms [...]

  • Toongrrl @ at 2:30 pm, April 5th, 2010

    As if teen girls weren’t demonized enough since the 1930s

  • marta1 @ at 4:23 am, April 9th, 2010

    It gets worse- the article also says ‘He blamed sex education, state support for teenage mothers and media portrayals of young motherhood.’
    He blames sex education for teenage pregnancies??????????? As though sex education is telling us to have sex? I thought it was just trying to arm us with the facts so we can make responsible and informed judgements- but NO lets keep the ‘children’ ignorant so as to protect them? Where is the logic in that??????
    He also blames state support for teenage mothers and quotes a situation in Holland as though it is an ideal we should aim for:
    ‘If you are a 15-year-old single mum, you don’t get benefits or a flat. It is assumed you will be supported by your parents’ Well, that would be nice if every teenage mother had parents who were willing/able to support her. What about those whose parents disown them due to their pregnancy (still happens, unfortunately), or who simply can’t afford another mouth to feed? Then, without benefits, both the mother and the baby would be placed in a very difficult and potentially dangerous situation.
    Finally, ‘media portrayals of young motherhood’. What, such as this daily mail article, which seems to view teenage mothers as, you described it, ‘criminal masterminds’??? His entire argument contradicts itself.

  • liz4 @ at 8:13 pm, April 12th, 2010

    How can he have this idea that sex education causes pregnancy? I mean I can understand their argument but I dont see how some one could actually believe it. Sex education…educating women on how to have safe sex. Now, the other side of this argument I can understand, they dont want young women to be taught about sex because then they will practice it. So in their world they just want to hide the fact that sex happens. I mean look at the media…it encourages sex, it encourages risky sexual behavior. These girls that are getting pregnant are following what society says is sexy. So dont teach them about safe sex when the all the world is telling them that sex is everything?

  • Courtney B @ at 4:52 pm, April 14th, 2010

    We actually have people of legal age who have children and don’t take care of them. We have children starving, being beaten, sexually abused, and neglected, just to name a few things; by parents who are of age to consent. I don’t think age has anything to do with parenting ability and if we are going to prosecute somebody maybe we should start with the people who bring children into this world and don’t care for them!

  • meriah @ at 4:15 pm, April 26th, 2010

    this article is soooo rude toward all teen moms out there. if we choose to have sex and have a baby thats none of your damn bbusiness. i got pregnant at 17 and i now have a beautiful and healthy daughter and she is well taken care of and i do it with her father. my parents are not taking care of her at all. i support my daughter money wise and emotionally. if your going to critize some teen moms point them out because alot of teen moms are doing a great job raising there babies and theres only a few that are neglectful and sleazy.

  • meriah @ at 4:16 pm, April 26th, 2010

    i agree with courtney B 100%. age is just a #

  • Sarah @ at 6:56 pm, May 9th, 2010

    It also places the blame of what migh be considered a far more damaging crime (e.g. a 15 year old boy/girl being manipulated and exploited by somebody much, much older) by blaming the victim. This might make victims much less likely to come forward, as is the case with many women/men whom accuse (whether falsely or not) people of rape. Some are prosecuted (in some cases, highly unfairly), and it’s cases like this that help keep rape unreported.

    Obviously I am not saying that all (even most) cases of underage sex are as sinister. But the implications could be terrible in such cases.

    Also if the law states (whether rightly or not) that under sixteens aren’t emotionally equipped to have sex, then surely they are victims, not criminals (even if both parties are underage- perhaps we can say that they are victims of hormones!)

  • A @ at 9:06 am, April 19th, 2011

    “The keeping place of a person’s conscience is not in-between their legs.”

    Fabulous line, Laura!

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