Mtv's 16 & Pregnant Glorifies Teen Pregnancy

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According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 86 percent of mothers who give birth out-of-wedlock are teenagers. MTV’s show “16 & Pregnant,” which has only been on air since June 2009, is already reflecting the rapid boom in teenage pregnancy across various cities in America. Since the early eighties MTV has been considered somewhat of a cultural phenomenon for American adolescents and its depiction of gender has a strong impact that continues to this day (Holtzman 2000). Created by Morgan J. Freeman (director of teen shows Dawson’s Creek and Laguna Beach), the show “16 & Pregnant” has been said to be guilty of exacerbating, normalizing and even glorifying teen pregnancy. Perhaps, it’s just reflecting a current social dilemma occurring amongst female youth. Each week a new episode revolves around a different girl struggling with the challenges of teenage pregnancy. The network presents these characters as “real”, plucked from the grips of reality, validated and “chosen” to represent some sort of normalized or otherwise glamorized middle-class identity of teenage motherhood. The show depicts women’s roles that are often typified to include traditional gendered norms of heterosexual relationships, marriage, motherhood and femininity. “16 & Pregnant” serves as a platform to broadcast what is seen as a stereotypical American culture that is now engulfing teen girls everywhere. The social identities MTV presents reinforces those of traditional female roles and gender norms and attempts to establish a new model for pregnant teens in a modern age.

Just by airing the show, MTV is assimilating new ideas of teen pregnancy into American society. Historically, there has always been some sort of unspoken Christian tradition that has governed American women’s birth rights; that one should not get pregnant out-of-wedlock. Today, however, teenage pregnancy is so rampant that families are forced to deal with the situation in a positive manner, often honoring the decision the child has made in regards to keeping and raising the newborn child (Gallagher 2009). In a 2004 survey, the Parents Television Council reported that MTV is the most watched program for those between the ages of 12 and 19. Studies showed watching MTV created a more liberal attitude toward pre-martial sex. Teenagers who watch MTV receive messages about sex that are likely to sway their own behavior. MTV is shaping the identity of the “teenage mom,” a pregnant 16 year old high school student whose uncertainty about motherhood is due to the fact that she views her pregnancy as the consequence of a selfish action that was ultimately unavoidable. “16 & Pregnant” normalizes sexual behavior that eventually forces teenage girls into the traditional gender role of the “grieving mother”, one who is forced to take care of a baby while struggling to support herself (Schmidt 2009).

The first episode of “16 & Pregnant” takes place in Chattanooga, Tennessee and documents the life of Maci who gets pregnant by her first boyfriend, Ryan. For Maci, adoption and abortion were never an option, she figured she made the decision to have unprotected sex so now she must deal with the consequences. At one point during an argument in the show, Ryan yells out, “If we didn‘t have a kid, we wouldn’t be together,” and it’s clear from watching the that the two are still just teens. Maci struggles to take care of her newborn child, who, once born, requires constant attention and deals with the turmoil of trying to get Ryan involved in the relationship of fatherhood. The “teen mom” is now a stable identity offered up on the MTV network to heterosexual female youth; a child who is forced to mature and deal with adult realities as an accepted way of life. The show is sending a message that it is normal for teenage girls to deal with such serious issues as: birth control, adoption, abortion, marriage, and finances, further cementing these issues into the female identity at a young age. Maci...
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