The Shame Game

26 Apr

Every Saturday I wander my way to Union Square to see a lady with a mohawk to move among her garbage cans and worms and dump my frozen compost.  This particular Saturday, the copious April showers forced my adventure there subterranean.  Sitting on the subway with a clear plastic bag of rotting fruit and vegetables, I began to notice my car mates staring and sniffing.  At some point it became a challenge to see how many people would look, would anyone say anything?  Would they scoot away to escape the smell?  To not be associated with the trash girl?

Well, as much as pride myself on my little social experiment I was topped this week by a brave young woman who subjected herself to such a trial for six months.  She sacrificed much of her senior year to her mission.  Lying to even her best friend for what she believed would be a greater good.  At 17, that alone is no easy feat.  But what she lied about makes it all the more complicated: she faked a pregnancy.

Now in her words she, was “fighting against those stereotypes and rumors because the reality is I’m not pregnant.”  By “those  stereotypes” she referred to the nasty things her peers had said about her in the six months prior at school, before they knew she was not truly pregnant.

But a reproductive justice frame—well that tells a different story.  The media attention and stigma around pregnant teens is very powerful, unless you happen to be on Teen Mom.  National media is, perhaps, the most powerful advocacy tool we have.  But what was the message transmitted here?  Everything’s okay because she’s not pregnant?  She was an A-student so she couldn’t have really been pregnant, it’s only those dumb people who go around having babies “too young.”  You should lie to your partner’s family about pregnancy?  Lie to your siblings?  Lie to your best friend?

At 17, I was barely aware of anything besides an overwhelming urge to leave the burbs and spread my wings.  There was no way I would have had the forethought or persistence to pursue any cause, let alone commit myself to something so time intensive.  For that I give Ms. Gaby Rodriguez all the credit in the world.  She is very brave, and I have no doubt will go far.   But I think by accident she may have propagated her own shame game when she said, “I’m not planning to have a child until after I graduate.”

Unto itself it is a fine decision, and in a lot of cases logical.  But after all that effort to support young pregnant women I would have hoped that one of the two quotes she gave wasn’t othering herself from the women she was so eager to fight for.  It would be simple to blame the media, and it may be true.  But then you return to the question of the advocacy message being projected.  Most of the articles I saw ended on this note that she wouldn’t be breeding for years, with the implication that’s the happy ending.  Bright young girl survives social experiment to not have babies.

With that we return to trash girl.  Now that shame game had few consequences beyond my blushing.  No media attention, no lies, no wider motivation.  Simply an interest in human reaction.  What I pose to you is tomorrow (or perhaps the next day) prompting your own shame game.  Ideally it would be reproductively related.  I recommend whipping your birth control on the subway, flaunting tampons on the trip from your desk to the bathroom, or perhaps even * gasp * pulling a condom out of your purse in a bar.  See who looks, see who doesn’t, and let us know.

3 Responses to “The Shame Game”

  1. Sophia April 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I adore this article, you really summed up the way I feel about the subject… the shaming is terrible.

  2. Steph L April 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    I’m going to disagree. In many parts of the country teen pregnancy is practically normalized if not expected. Now THAT is a real shame.


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