In a brave and creative project, 17-year-old Gaby Rodriguez, a high school student in Toppenish, Washington, faked her own pregnancy in an attempt to study how her community would react. After six months and a half months in which only a handful of people – her boyfriend, parents, and close friends – knew her secret, she held an assembly in which she revealed the truth. In the presentation, which was titled “Stereotypes, Rumors and Statistics,” she asked several students and teachers to read aloud some of the rumors that had floated around the school.
Her best friend read the following: “Her attitude is changing, and it might be because of the baby or she was always this annoying and I never realized it.” Students became increasingly uncomfortable until Rodriguez finally admitted,
“I’m fighting against those stereotypes and rumors because the reality is I’m not pregnant.”
Rodriguez performed the experiment with help from her mother and high school principal, who approved the fake pregnancy as her required senior project. She began to tell peers that she had gotten pregnant at Homecoming by her boyfriend of three years. Many of her siblings didn’t know the truth, and neither did her boyfriend’s parents.
The fact that some teens are more likely to experience this kind of discrimination was not lost on Rodriguez. She pointed out that black and Hispanic girls have a higher teen pregnancy rate. Most students at her high school are Hispanic. Rodriguez’s experiment was a creative way to demonstrate the myriad stereotypes and stigmas that are attached to teen pregnancy. The point is to provide teens with information about responsible sexual decision-making without demonizing teen pregnancy itself. As Kierra Johnson pointed out in an op-ed for the Huffington Post last summer,
“The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) has shown that teen pregnancy campaigns that rely on shame and stigma don’t work. In a recent white paper, NLIRH suggests that we should support policies that promote access to information and resources but only as ‘part of a platform to increase women’s ability to make informed choices that are relevant to their lives, and not to make choices for them.’”
Rodriguez will attend Columbia Basin College starting in the fall, where she will study social work or sociology. Let’s hope that her future work is as innovative and exciting as this project!
Photo from Flickr.