Candies Foundation and #noteenpreg – sexism, moralising & shaming young mothers

The Candies Foundation uses hashtag #noteenpreg to discourage teen pregnancy for “teen pregnancy prevention month”. (Yes, you did read that right: they want to control teens’ reproductive choices and eradicate an entire family form.) I’ve previously blogged about how the concept of ‘teenage pregnancy’ is a social construction dependent upon acceptance of older pregnancy as the norm, and how it entails number-fetishization (because in English numbers below 20 end in the suffix “teen” which is an arbitrary and language-specific way to define parenthood). So I’m not going to write about that here. What I will say though is that the Candies Foundation is stigmatising and ‘othering’ young families by trying to eradicate them. There is also too much focus on the female parent and almost none on the male parent, which is misogyny.

#noteenpreg

On the Candies Foundation website they boast about the fact that #noteenpreg trended on May 1st, though actually a cursory glance at the hashtag reveals that it trended because people – especially teen parents and their relatives- were ‘sabotaging’ #noteenpreg. Columnist Prym Face who writes about teenage parents had tweeted that we should stop the shaming of teen mothers by tweeting facts into #noteenpreg. I remember seeing it trend as we all tweeted into it. This episode made me curious about who was behind #noteenpreg and I decided to find out. This blog post is the result.

The Moralising

The Candie’s Foundation hired top US Republican politician and abstinence ‘education’ supporter Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol Palin, as their ambassador. Bristol herself is a teen mother. Bristol Palin preaches abstinence on television shows, a Candies commercial and by visiting schools as part of her role as a Candies Foundation ambassador. So the Candies Foundation is promoting abstinence to impressionable young minds. This leaves no doubt about the fact that Candies is trying to repress female sexuality. It’s not pregnancy that bothers them, it’s sex. If they really wanted to prevent teen motherhood the Candies Foundation should promote abortion as much as they promote abstinence, but they don’t. No prizes for guessing why.

And Candies Foundation founder Neil Cole publically states on his blog that he and the Candies Foundation believe in abstinence: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/neil-cole/how-the-candies-foundatio_b_203701.html

The Candies Foundation website also states that teen pregnancy should be discouraged because most teen dads don’t marry the mums and teen mothers’ daughters are morely likely to become teen mothers themselves. The second argument is an obvious fallacy because it’s based on the assumption that teen pregnancy is bad so the conclusion that teen pregnancy is bad because it begets more teen pregnancy only makes sense if you believe the premise. But enough phiolosophizing; the point I’m getting at here is that for Candies:

Marriage-good. No marriage=bad. Abstinence=good, promote that shit with celebrities and pay them 266 milion to do it! Abortion=Don’t even mention that!

It’s an attitude that seems familiar. Where have I seen it before…?

This also begs the question: Is the Candies Foundation a teen pregnancy prevention foundation or is it, as numerous media outlets call it, in fact an abstinence foundation? A religiously motivated abstinence foundation masquerading under a cooler, more acceptable title?

The Corruption

Most donations you make to the Candies Foundation don’t go to charities – they go to top-level staff and celebrities, who were paid hundreds of millions (366 times the donations to charities!). Founder Neil Cole is paid millions: http://www.forbes.com/sites/elisadoucette/2011/04/06/bristol-palins-compensation-seven-times-candies-foundation-donations-to-charities/

The Sexism

The Candies Foundation focuses on girls not boys as is clear from their tweets. All their Real Stories are told by mothers, not fathers – despite the fact that some of the mothers telling the stories are married to or in contact with their child’s father. Only 2 out of 10 anti-teen pregnancy posters on the Candies Foundation’s website are aimed at boys.

The Candie’s Foundation was founded by a man, Neil Cole, in 2001.

The Candies Foundation poster children

But just like anti-abortion groups and the anti-sex work industry (or ‘rescue industry’ as it’s known), no rescue-oriented organisation would be complete without its poster children. Given the Candies Foundation’s vast resources and glitzy celeb-fuelled image, I was expecting to be wowed by carefully crafted Cautionary Tales of Woe. But the ‘Real Stories’ section of the website is a little disappointing. All the teen mothers featured got pregnant over the age of 16 (the age of consent in Britain where I live and the age at which you can marry with parental consent). The vast majority got pregnant at age 18 (the age of majority in both the USA and Britain, and in most countries.) So, can they really be called “teen mothers”? I mean yes, their ages do end with the obligatory “teen” but when I think teenage parents I’m thinking of under 16-year-olds. I mean, if you’re old enough to consent or even marry…it’s confusing, isn’t it? The teen mothers who told their stories mostly didn’t think that the media glamorized teen pregnancy (though each interview included leading questions to that effect) and cited social stigma as a main concern – the stigma that Candies is contributing to.

Candies admits on their website that they shape the way teens think about pregnancy by influencing teen culture. So at least they’re honest about teaching our children to shame young families and indoctrinating them to feel shame if they ever do have a child before 00:01am on their 20th birthday. Candies uses the word “statistic” to shame young families and created a poster featuring Bristol Palin with her son Tripp and the words “I never thought I’d be a statistic”. Which makes no sense as older parents are also statistics. Everyone’s a statistic for multiple things – your age group, gender, relationship status, health, race…

The Lies They’re Feeding Teens

One of the Candies posters (also featured on their website) is captioned “You’re supposed to be changing the world, not changing diapers”. This indoctrinates young minds with the lie that they can’t go to university or have a career if they’re a father or mother. This may create self-fulfilling prophecies of teens not going on to higher education because they believe in the lie.

The Secret of their Success

I didn’t report Candies’ shaming tweets and #noteenpreg hashtag to Twitter because I believe everyone has a right to free speech. I also believe that to challenge harmful attitudes and behaviours we must first allow those responsible to speak. But if I had, I doubt Twitter woould have suspended the account. If Candies had tweeted #noteengays or #noteenblacks everyone would have been outraged. But, like other slut shamed minorities (lone mothers, sex workers, ‘sluts’, swingers, poly people) teen mothers are still fair game.

That’s the secret of Candies Foundation’s success. Culling a class or a race or religion would be beyond shocking, but getting rid of an entire family form is acceptable. Pull the PR strings right, and it can be seen as responsible and good to prevent ‘teenage pregnancy’ in a way that preventing older pregnancy never could.

This is just moralising and control of female sexuality

The Candies Foundation isn’t doing something new by leading the fight to destroy an entire family form by brainwashing innocent young teens and dazzling them with celebrities. It’s the misogynistic legacy of controlling womens’ agency, sexuality and behaviour. Just because the Candies Foundation uses an image of care and allies itself with feminist goals of wanting young women to have careers doesn’t make it any better. Think about it: nobody trying to get taken seriously uses the N word anymore, right? They’ll go on about the negative effect of immigration. No one says “kill all the gays”, they have to use words like “traditions” and “values” if they want any support. So it’s no surprise that the Candies Foundation has dropped the Fifties-style “illegitimate mothers” in favour of a caring feminist-esque image.

The Candies Foundation’s email is info@candiesfoundation.org. (This information is publically posted on their website which is why I feel comfortable about making it available here.)

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