As Doortje Braeken noted in her telegraph column, “we’re not teaching young women about teenage motherhood because we don’t believe it’s a good idea because we do see that it reduces a woman’s future choices.” She went on to say that personal choice is absolutely sovereign. I fully agree with Doortje Braeken but I want to highlight the issue of believing that pregnancy limits choices.
Because the idea that starting a family at a younger age somehow magically limits a woman’s choices is absurd. If you’re under 16 it is the law that you have to go to school so even if a young parent wants to stay home with their child, they can’t. No university will ban you from attending because you are a mother or father and it’s the norm for older or mature students to be parents. If older students are often parents why are younger students assumed to be unable to cope? And that’s without considering the fact that while kids take up lots of time and attention, many students work while studying so it’s not like being childfree means you have unlimited reserves of time.
As for finances, SAAS (and its English/Welsh equivalent) take whether students have dependents into account when calculating student loans and grants. Universities have Childcare funds for student parents and university creches.
Enough of the theory – what about real life? There’s a woman with a PhD in my town who had her first child aged 17. I know someone who had a baby while in high school and last I heard of her she was in her third year of university. Another young woman had a child while at university and she got her degree. A top politician in the early 1990s had been a lone mother when she was aged 19.
This lie that having a baby will ruin your life is just a subconcious knee-jerk reaction born of fear of teen sexuality. It is designeed to encourage girls to have abortions or decide to postpone pregnancy so they can appear pure young virgins. Because if they were married or older we would expect- and welcome– pregnancy. It’s their age and unmarried status that we discriminate against. As a society we feel uncomfortable seeing evidence of female sexuality especially when those women are young. We’d rather they were abstinent or at least didn’t plan on having babies or aborted the foetuses they were carrying.
Teen boys aren’t targeted with this lie as often as teen girls, possibly because we believe all teen fathers are deadbeat dads – which is far from true. But it’s precisely our shaming of teen parents which discourages young fathers from being involved with their children. The stigma is hypocritical because it stems from conservative religious-based attitudes about women’s sexual behaviour. It’s also quite stupid when you remember that in Britain and most other countries our ancestors married much younger than we do today and so we’re all descended from teen mums.
Something that doesn’t get talked about much is what if a girl or boy actually plans to try for a baby? Respecting sovereign choice doesn’t just stop at not forcing an abortion on a teen. It also means respecting and valuing the decisions of teens and preteens to plan to start families. A 12 year old having a baby he or she has wanted and planned for is a good thing, and certainly a much better parent than a thirtysomething who doesn’t really want children.
When I was 14 or 15 years old, we were made to watch a VHS (so retro!) about a girl who gets pregnant and has to choose between going to uni and raising her baby. In reality there is no such choice and after the video was over I stuck my hand up and said as much. I said the video was a lie and there was no reason why you couldn’t go to university with a baby. Nobody disagreed and neither did the teacher. I was sickened by the film and I decided right then that I would never let such lies go unchallenged. Shortly after it was hometime and I thought of the film in the bus back home. Despite using MSN and MySpace and planning my own website, I didn’t know blogs existed back in 2004/5. If I had, Slutocracy would be a lot older.