Two Unusual Tales

From the section of the paper actually called Unusual Tales.

Court overturns father’s grounding of 12-year-old [link]

“At her age, children test their limits and it’s up to their parents to set boundaries.

“I started an appeal of the decision today to reestablish parental authority, and to ensure that this case doesn’t set a precedent,” she said. Otherwise, said Beaudoin, “parents are going to be walking on egg shells from now on”.

“I think most children respect their parents and would never go so far as to take them to court, but it’s clear that some would and we have to ask ourselves how far this will go.”


Seventeen schoolgirls pregnant after making pact [link]

“Nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together,” Joseph Sullivan, principal of the high school in the fishing and beach town told Time.

It was unclear why the pact was made, as none of the girls or their parents agreed to speak with Time.

“Having a baby fulfills two functions – one is that they have the love of a male, well they believe they have the love of a male,” she told Boston news website

“Then, the baby gives them a sense of status and purpose which they wouldn’t necessarily have in another way.”

Time wrote that Gloucester High “has done perhaps too good a job of embracing young mothers”, providing them with on-site childcare and healthcare facilities.

The tabloid outrage aimed at both these stories is pretty predictable, following closely along the lines of the quoted lawyer and teacher above. Reestablish Parental Authority! and These Girls Are Just Silly (And We’ve Made It Too Easy For Them)! But let’s play Devil’s Advocate just a little.

Might it be a good thing that a 12 year old has the determination and nous to go to court to prevent her father taking discipline to the extreme of stopping her going on school trips as part of her “grounding” punishment? Doesn’t she have a right to make her own decisions about whether her father’s punishment is inappropriate, and seek redress in court? Isn’t a message to kids that they are not powerless with regard to parental authority actually a really helpful message for lots of kids to hear?

Might it be a good thing that young looking at their future and when actually is the best time for them to start childbearing look at the support in their high school (and the extra support from fellow young mums pledging to coparent) and say “if I don’t do this now it’s going to be a lot harder when I start work or go to college” and decide to take advantage of a support structure that’s far from guaranteed at any other time of their lives? And will allow them to continue their education?

I discussed alternative co-parenting arrangements a few weeks ago: the nuclear family is not necessarily the best way to raise children. Marriage and families are being delayed until later in life because of the economical/professional constraints of people’s careers and expectations thereof, which means that new parents are often a long way away from the social networks of their upbringing when they have children of their own. The general expectation that it’s the mother who will stay at home with the baby often means women are raising their kids in suburban social isolation, which is stressful and often leads to depression. The kids don’t get the same level of socialisation that they would if their parents were part of a close network of friends/relatives who were also engaged in childrearing.

Say what you like about whether these teens have adequately considered the consequences of all becoming pregnant together right now (the blithe assumption that what they really want is a boyfriend but they’ll settle for having a baby really irritates me), but it can’t be denied that their bodies will recover quickly because of their youth, they will have a close network of peer support for themselves and their children, and if they do go on to careers and higher education having already had their family then that’s a gap from work that they won’t need to take in later years. This is a model that could actually work really well for these girls.

Jo Tamar had a good post on choices and alternative parenting models in May too.

Categories: gender & feminism, law & order, media, relationships, work and family

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23 replies

  1. My thoughts when reading the story about the girls making that pregnancy pact were along the lines of “How radical!” You’re right, it really is laughable that people are suggesting that the girls are after the love of men when the whole arrangement seems geared towards using other young women as their primary support network. I couldn’t believe that people were saying that the school was “too accommodating” to young mothers, simply because it had decent arrangements in place to ensure that they wouldn’t have to give up their education. Of course, I think a lot of people just think that girls who get pregnant deserve to be punished.

  2. Presumably the people who say the school is ‘too accommodating’ would also suggest that paid maternity leave from industry later on would also be ‘too accommodating’ or that a reasonable expectation of decent and reliable part-time work, or working from home, or time off during school holidays, would all be crazy talk.
    Schools should make parenting and work/education possible for staff and students. So should universities, and workplaces, and the wider community. Mostly what we have now is either/or.

  3. The punishment story – it’s really hard for me to comment without knowing more (was the class trip educational or recreational? What exactly had she done? etc).
    But the pregnancy story, there is soo much there! I love the accusation that Juno and Knocked Up glamourised single pregnancy. Anyone who got “glamour” out of those films really needs a good stroking with the cluebat.
    Not also the absence of male people in the story: anyone would think that the young women had gotten themselves (or each other?) pregnant. Oh wait, just at the end – a note that one of the fathers is a “24 year old homeless man” and the others are in their mid-20s also. But this isn’t a story about rape, no, it’s a story about how evil the girls are.
    I agree that I felt a little radical cheer when I heard of their plans to support each other. And I think this is exactly what the mainstream finds threatening about it. Women supporting each other, raising families, deliberately and clearly saying “We can do it”? Nothing like a hint of something that might look a little like radfem separatism to get the Patriarchy frothing at the mouth.
    I think there is also an underlying assumption here that teen mothers are necessarily bad mothers. Mother-blaming, one of the media’s favourite pasttimes, rounded out with hefty serves of teenage rebellion and get offa my lawn and give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. It’s a juicy story indeed.
    Spot on tigtog about this possibly being the only doable time to have children until they’re in their thirties. That’s not a problem with high school pregnancy/babycare support systems; that’s a problem with the _lack_ of college and workplace pregnancy and babycare support systems.
    And the “they just want a boyfriend” accusation… I have no words.

  4. The SMH has a new article up here that talks a little more about the men and boys involved. It seems to vacillate between suggesting that they should take responsibility for their actions, and an “OMG, the poor exploited boyz” approach, as though the boys/men didn’t have the option of using a condom or saying no to unprotected sex (often with girls far younger than themselves).

  5. Beppie, this line does leap out of the SMH story:

    The school forbids the distribution of condoms and other contraception without parental consent – a rule that prompted the school’s doctor and nurse to resign in protest in May.

    Yeah, they’re real serious about students being safe.

  6. Oh yes, I meant to mention that as well, but I forgot. Of course, now they’re saying “But look, these girls wouldn’t have used birth control anyway”– but they really can’t know what would have happened had the girls (and their partners) had access to proper comprehensive sex education.

  7. Thanks for the shout-out, tigtog!
    With respect to the teenage mothers, does anyone remember Plumpton High (the ABC had a program on it a couple of years ago: [link]). For those who don’t know/remember: a visionary principal realised that a significant number of girls were getting pregnant and dropping out of school because of that, thought “why should this ruin the rest of their lives?” and set up a program aimed at supporting young mothers and ensuring they could finish school if they wanted.
    I’d love to know if the high school these Massachusetts teenagers are at has considered something similar – but of course, it’s not mentioned. Gee, wonder why that is …
    What struck me about the grounding case was exactly the quote from the father’s lawyer that tigtog mentioned, about setting boundaries. I mean, sure, it’s true, but more than that, it’s a truism. It seems to me that nobody ever SAYS that sort of thing unless they’re using it to justify some broad discretion which they wish to continue using unreasonably. Like “everyone has the right to free speech” – sure, true in some places, but it doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want whenever you want wherever you want.

  8. But let’s play Devil’s Advocate just a little.

    That’s a slippery slope. Satanic advocacy is always wrong. Just Say No.

  9. I agree that I felt a little radical cheer when I heard of their plans to support each other. And I think this is exactly what the mainstream finds threatening about it. Women supporting each other, raising families, deliberately and clearly saying “We can do it”?
    But the point is, they’re not women, they’re children. Legally unable to give consent – so how can they be capable of childrearing if they’re not considered responsible for their own sexual activity? Quick but brutal solution to the under-16s getting pregnant would be to put the babies straight into care on the grounds that the mothers aren’t old enough to be competent.

  10. When issues of age of consent arise, the onus is on the older person involved, not the younger– so there’s no point condemning the girls on that ground. The radical aspect of this is not that the girls are underage and pregnant, but that they are planning to actually support each other– to create non-traditional family units that could actually provide a decent working model for young mothers, allowing them to continue with education and work, while learning to be parents.
    I fail to see how tearing babies away from mothers who want them is going to help these girls. Why not instead provide them with assistance until they reach an age at which they are more capable of handling things on their own? Why not assist them in building the community that they desire, rather than doing something that would only cause heartache.

  11. Deus Ex Macintosh, the fathers aren’t children, they would be looking after the babies rather than foster care.

  12. OMGz, the poor exploited boyz! Those bitchez forcing them to have sexz!

    I hope the girls form a commune and grow up to be badass radical feminists.

  13. I wrote about the pregnancy pact for Broadsheet (last night, before I saw this) and lightly touched on the co-parenting thing, which did intrigue me, though I wasn’t as optimistic about it as you two. My problem is, I don’t have all that much faith that the grand co-parenting experiment would pan out over time, when I imagine what might have happened if my own teenaged friends and I had made such a pact.
    Having said that, most of the coverage of this is awful, especially the claim that the resources for mothers at the high school are making it “easy” for girls to have babies, and of course the “they’re just looking for the love of a man” angle. The reality is, in towns like Gloucester, it’s certainly not unusual for women to have children in their late teens and early twenties anyway — it’s only shocking because the girls are still in high school. And there’s a lot to be said for being done with child-rearing by your late thirties or early forties, let alone the co-parenting plan. I have two friends who had kids very young — one became a lawyer and the other a college professor in their late thirties, after many long years of shit jobs and occasional welfare while their kids were young. Considering I feel, at 33, like my career is just beginning to take off, deciding whether I want to have kids is incredibly hard. If I do it, I’ll be trying to juggle work and toddlers at an age when those friends had their kids out the door or well on their way. That’s not to say I regret not having kids young, but it’s ridiculous to automatically equate that with “ruining your life.” There’s certainly more than one way to skin a cat.

  14. the co-parenting thing, which did intrigue me, though I wasn’t as optimistic about it as you two. My problem is, I don’t have all that much faith that the grand co-parenting experiment would pan out over time, when I imagine what might have happened if my own teenaged friends and I had made such a pact.

    Well, I was playing Devil’s Advocate! I too can see all sorts of potential problems, I just wanted to offer a contrary view to the tabloid reportage. (I’m not blind to the fact that pregnancies in girls this age have more complications than pregnancies in one’s early 20s do, either) Still, the girls’ situation has more than just negatives for them, there are some tangible benefits as well in having their first children now rather than later.
    Only some of them will go on to further education, of course, even though the school offers the creche/healthcare option for them – but at least they will still have that important high school diploma. Most will sort themselves out in their hometown with retail/tourism work etc once they’ve finished school, or at least will try to (resort towns generally have a pretty high unemployment rate in the off-season period).
    It’s also not like these girls are swearing off having a committed relationship with a man forever. It’s just that it’s not on the radar right now for them. probably most of them will go on to cohabitation/marriage(and have more children as well) at a later age.
    I know several women professionals around my own age who had children while in high school (unplanned, not any pregnancy pact) and who with a lot of support from relatives managed to still get their education and a career so that they could support their child independently. One woman still wanted more children and ended up eventually partnered with a nice guy and giving her child two younger sibs. The other women I knew didn’t particularly want more children, which made them very attractive to divorced men who already had their own children and didn’t want to have more either.
    For these women, separating childbearing from finding a partner to settle down with worked well in many ways, despite being unplanned and fraught with difficulties while they were still in school. If they’d actually been part of a co-parenting co-operative with other teen mothers, particularly once they went to uni, those difficulties would have been greatly minimised.
    The coparenting pact is certainly not a fairytale answer to the problem of modern life requiring a long training/establishing period before adults can financially support a family in comfort despite the fact that physically women are suited to bearing children when younger. However it’s not a bad bloody try.

  15. Just a couple of later thoughts – I didn’t address this part of your comment, Kate:

    The reality is, in towns like Gloucester, it’s certainly not unusual for women to have children in their late teens and early twenties anyway — it’s only shocking because the girls are still in high school.

    If these girls know lots of other girls who are only a few years older and who are struggling to balance childcare and their jobs/further education, then choosing to have babies now rather than at 19 or 20 may well seem like the sensible option to them.
    The other thing I was considering is the issue of statutory rape for the pregnant girls who are still under 16. There is definitely a problem if girls of 15 are deliberately going out of their way to encourage others to break the law just so that they can become pregnant. That doesn’t excuse men in their 20s who should have known better – it’s a small town where people know how old these girls are. They really don’t have the “but she looked older” excuse. However, I’m presuming that (eta: most) other men involved were fellow teenagers, who would fall under the Romeo & Juliet clauses and so are not liable to prosecution.
    I don’t blame the girl’s families for not talking to any reporters, I really don’t. Complicated doesn’t begin to describe the situation, so any soundbite chunks are guaranteed to make it all sound worse.

  16. It’s interesting to me to watch this unfold because my school did have options for teen mums – an in school creche, parenting classes, lots of support, and a lot of them graduated with pictures of them and their children in the yearbook. I thought it was awesome, even though I wasn’t interested in having sex, let alone having babies, at that age.
    That said, easy???? I don’t think for one moment being supported in having a child makes having a child easy. Ug.
    Annas last blog post..Photos!

  17. Well, whaddayaknow – it seems that Time magazine might have been loose with the facts.

    ”I am not able to confirm the existence of a pact,” Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk told reporters after meeting school and health officials to discuss a June 18 Time magazine report about teenagers who entered a pact to get pregnant and raise babies together.
    “Any planned blood-oath bond to become pregnant, there is absolutely no evidence of,” she added, blaming a rise in pregnancies on a lack of health education funding and the media’s “glamorisation of pregnancy”.

    Dunno about the glamorisation of pregnancy stuff a couple of movies where an unplanned pregnancy is not the total ruination of a woman is “glamorising”?

    Gloucester Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Farmer told the news conference there was a “distinct possibility” some of the pregnant high school girls decided to “come together for mutual support” after becoming pregnant.
    It was also clear some of the girls were not trying very hard not to become pregnant, he said.
    Some gave high-fives and planned baby showers, he added.
    Others appeared upset if their pregnancy tests at the high school health clinic produced negative results.
    But Time magazine did not distinguish between “a pact to become pregnant or a pact because we are pregnant,” he said.

    If they made a decision for mutual support after becoming pregnant then all I can say is good for them for realising that the more parents watching over kids the better for everybody, even if the parents are all mums. So much better than trying to go it on one’s own.

  18. No, Tigtog, it’s definitely an overweening matriarchal conspiracy and it’s got Ozcon Mark really worried!

  19. I saw reference to that, Helen. But after all, he’s worried about the family-destroying ideologies of two feminist bloggers who are actually happily and productively cohabiting with the fathers of their respective children, because we happen to believe that there are other equally valid family models for raising children. I suspect he spends much of his time worried about overweening shadows.

  20. I just want some of these lavish support programs for unwed mothers. Probably would have helped out the women I saw every day when I was working at the Social Work Department in the Children’s Hospital in Perth.

  21. I suspect he spends much of his time worried about overweening shadows.

    “Hey! Who turned out the lights?”

  22. “Hey! Who turned out the lights?”
    LOL!!! Vashta Nerada= Feminist Conspiracy. Muahahahaha. >:)

  23. People really don’t like adolescent girls making decisions about their own lives, do they?
    I just spotted this one:
    School uniform protest goes to Premier
    A 15 year old student in Tasmania has been excluded from school excursions, assemblies, and physical education classes for the past two years for not wearing a school uniform. She says that the prescribed uniform is uncomfortable and too cold.
    Ten to one it’s skirts or dresses only for girls, not available in sizes/cuts that fit her comfortably, or both. But the comments are all outraged guff about the young people of today, personal remarks about how she could do with some PE and about how she’s only going to have babies and live on benefits anyway, and digs about how she’ll have to wear a uniform when she’s working at McDonald’s.

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