Dear teens: Don’t have sex—or else.
This is the doom-tinged “advice” implied by a teen pregnancy prevention campaign put out by The Candie’s Foundation. In conjunction with National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the foundation recently released a series of celebrity-endorsed PSAs for its #NoTeenPreg campaign, the shaming attitude of which is captured in its latest tagline: “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not changing diapers.”
At first glance, it may seem feminist to tell girls that they have a responsibility to be out there changing the world, but take a closer look at these faux-empowering posters:
You think being in school sucks? You know what sucks a lot more? A baby—every 2 hours for feeding time.
Not really the way you pictured your first crib, huh? Raising a baby can cost over $10,000 a year.
Being a teen mother is certainly no cakewalk (nor is mothering at any age), but the Candie’s campaign shames both motherhood and teen sexuality under the guise of faux-feminism. Many of these PSA’s are not even specific to teen pregnancy: Mothers of all ages change diapers, and feed and pay for their babies. Theses messages make motherhood sound like a punishment for being sexual, and shaming mothers or female sexuality isn’t exactly what you’d call feminist.
[Campaigns like that of The Candie’s Foundation] serve only to add stigma and do nothing to address the material conditions that actually affect young families and the poor outcomes that they can face: access to things like education, affordable health care, childcare, housing.
Candie’s also presents pregnancy as a burden reserved for girls alone. Candie’s PSAs more-or-less follow the same female-focused format as the one above: sultry, made-up celebrity face on one side, boldfaced sex-shaming sentence on the other. Although two of the campaign posters and one of the PSA videos feature male celebrities, The Candie’s Foundation’s website is laden with gendered words such as “girls” and “moms,” making it pretty clear that pregnancy is a full-time worry for girls while boys have the option to remove themselves from the equation. Although the Candie’s brand is marketed to girls, the issue it’s decided to tackle is not girl-specific; girls don’t become pregnant without a little help.
As the foundation’s fact sheet indicates, nearly 750,000 teens will become pregnant this year, but it doesn’t include a stat of how many are doing the impregnating. In fact, the one statistic that explicitly mentions boys—claiming that 8 out of 10 fathers don’t marry the mother of their child—still seems aimed at girls (don’t expect him to stay around!).
Thus the onus to not get pregnant, to not “ruin” one’s life and to shoulder the blame if one does get pregnant is on teen girls—but they aren’t offered any help in making informed decisions about pregnancy, sex or relationships. There’s nothing about sex education, contraceptives or how to talk with a partner about consent—just this creepy (and kinda Pavlovian) crying baby app to help you snap out of getting “caught in the moment” by forever associating being turned on with the panic-inducing cries of (supposed) wasted youth and bad choices.
Although The Candie’s Foundation website offers input from teen moms (including that paragon of virtue, Bristol Palin), their stories are used only as warnings and examples of what not to become (unless you’re wealthy and famous, suggests Palin). The foundation paints these mothers as victims of poor judgment instead of who they also are: strong women. Raquel Ortega, who works with young people about reproductive justice at Choice USA, shares the side of young motherhood that Candie’s doesn’t show,
[Young mothers] not only raise their children, they also work full time, balance responsibilities and own their own homes … Any disadvantage that they had by getting pregnant is counterbalanced by the fact that they work harder.
Candie’s reduces teen mothers and their babies to abject lessons to scare teens away from sex and into abstinence (an approach that is silly at best and counterproductive at worst). The PSA below may not mention abstinence, but it doesn’t mention how to have safer sex either (nor does the video that flashes the word “condoms” across the screen—teens know what they are; what they need to know is how to use them).
Outraged by Candie’s take on young parents, Natasha Vianna launched a petition against the campaign and with the stated objective to meet with Neil Cole, the campaign’s founder, and offer ways of refocusing the conversation about teen pregnancy. A young mother and activist, Vianna asserts that motherhood and success are not mutually exclusive: “Although I was changing diapers at 17, I am changing the world.”
Candie’s has responded by posting facts about teen pregnancy on its Twitter feed. But the foundation seems to miss the point, implying that these numbers justify its reductive tactics. So far, The Candie’s Foundation has not further addressed the criticism.
To support young parents and challenge stigmas about motherhood, sign Vianna’s petition. You can also tweet the Candie’s Foundation @CandiesOrg and join the conversation at #NoTeenShame.
PSA from The Candie’s Foundation