It’s hard to imagine an identity with greater stigma hoisted on top of it in this country than than that of teenage mother, and there may be no greater antidote to stigma than reality.
Welcome to Our Reality, the brainchild of Carrie Nelson and Avital Norman Nathman, a writer and volunteer at The Care Center who has spent the last two years working with teen mothers. Nathman’s work typically involves the helping-with-homework variety, but, given the nature of the environment and the girls, Nathman often found herself chatting with some of them and realized these were stories that needed to be shared. “While the majority of our time is spent reviewing fractions, editing essays, or working on reading comprehension, we inevitably end up just chatting a bit as well. The more I spent time with these young women, the more I wanted others to know about them. These young women defy expectations despite the multitude of challenges they face” Nathman said in an interview with Care2.com.
“They are not the same teen moms that are both glorified and fetishized in our reality TV-based culture. The more I got to know the mothers at The Care Center, the more I realized they were worlds apart from the mothers propped up by MTV. The girls agree. When we talk about the various reality shows that look at teen pregnancy/motherhood, they continuously note that they don’t tell their stories. They don’t see themselves or their lives represented in these shows, which is remarkable considering that the majority of teen mothers in this country are low-income Latinas–the exact population served by The Care Center.”
That’s what drove the idea of helping these mothers tell their own stories. “There is a certain narrative being fed to the general public via mainstream media regarding teen pregnancy. It’s either glorified via reality shows or demonized via news outlets, and neither of those experiences satisfies the girls I work with. They are frustrated with the way teen mothers are portrayed in society, and after spending two years with many of them, I understand their frustration. Much of my work and writing revolves around motherhood, and its significant to note that it’s those with the power who have their voices heard. These girls may have the strength of voice, but nobody is handing them a microphone or a platform and telling them to start speaking. While a website that shares mini documentaries of the girls’ lives might not be much, it’s certainly a start.”
The idea is to create a platform for these women to share glimpses of their daily lives, which will help tear down the stigma associated with teen motherhood, a reasonable goal for a project just getting off the ground.
Of course the potential is even greater. Teen mothers often feel most acutely the policy decisions made in Washington and their states, despite the fact that they usually cannot vote and have no say in representation. Humanizing the effect of our policy decisions, whether in spending cuts to family health clinics, after school programs or other forms of assistance makes those effects real. To the extent these stories can influence that dialogue then these young women will have a form of enfranchisement not previously available.
To learn more about the project or how you can get involved, go here.
Photo from frankdekline via flickr.
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