Monday, September 18, 2006

For Shame?

Christianity Today looks at Christians' attitutdes towards unwed mothers.
Yet the most blatant use of shame I have found in my work on the history of reproduction and domesticity in the U.S. does not come from the eugenicists of 60 years ago. It comes from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a 21st-century effort. Pictures posted in high schools and featured in teen magazines show a Latina girl with "CHEAP" emblazoned across her body. The African American girl is labeled "REJECT," the Asian girl "DIRTY," and the working-class white girl "NOBODY." The very fine print places these labels in a different context—recommending "cheap" condoms, for example. But the overwhelming effect of the design is bold-print humiliation, suggesting that teenage mothers are cheap, dirty nobodies, social rejects with no future and with little hope for their children. The stark photos are reminiscent of social-hygiene posters from the eugenic era, cultivating a potent combination of disdain and fear.

Possibly the most troubling of the posters features a white boy whose sexual activity resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. He is labeled "USELESS," and the fine print reads: "My scholarship is USELESS. Now I need a job to support my baby." Taken together, the posters convey a deeply problematic message. The college boy who leaves behind his scholarship to take care of the CHEAP REJECT's baby is USELESS.

The board of directors for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy includes CEOs from major corporations and leaders from both political parties, representing a broad consensus across the United States, as well as leading members of the black and Hispanic communities. The urgency of eliminating teenage pregnancy is one of the few matters on which conservatives and liberals agree, and the stakes are deemed sufficiently high to warrant the use of brute shame.
Is this how Christian congregations should react? The authors think not. Read on.
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