When Parker’s body began to change I got nervous—terrified that I had passed on the body angst. I’ve tried to teach Parker that being smart, funny and kind is more important than being thin and beautiful. But I worried that I hadn’t reinforced her sense of being lovely as she is. So I sat Parker down for one of our frankest conversations. I started by asking her what she saw as the biggest change in her body.
Parker: That’s easy. I have breasts now. It’s kind of weird to have these things stuck to the front of me. But I am also much more independent. Like, I used to be scared to sleep over at a friend’s house. But now I have a good time.
M.H.P.: Your breasts make you braver?
Parker: Ha, ha, ha! Yeah, they are like body armor.
Parker is braver and more independent, but I had no idea she perceived her breasts as partly responsible. As a tween I’d never thought much about mine. In fact, it was Parker who first gave me an appreciation for them.
I’m not sure how many people know about Julie Dash’s experience. Her book is the only reason I knew about her experiences. I don’t think most people (who aren’t in her personal circle) who don’t own or haven’t read the book know about it. What’s fascinating for me is that I couldn’t wait to delve deep with the book because of my desire to read anything and everything about Black women filmmakers’ journeys in their own words. Dash sharing about her abortion was an unexpected gift for me on multiple levels as I embarked on my own emerging cinematic journey, which focused on Black lesbian identity and heterosexual rape. It was a very bold and courageous move on her part. Afterall, it was 1992, and not 2012. Julie Dash is definitely one of my sheroes.
What I love about our sharing, Monica, is that we clearly have very different life experiences in a myriad of ways and yet there are some similarities. We made very different choices as a result or our abortions and yet our paths have intersected/connected in this profound way. Your testimony is very powerful and I believe an important one of choice, exploration, empowerment, and motherhood.
I’m very close with my divorced parents who are also my comrades and friends. Things were very strained between my mother and me during my pregnancy and subsequent abortion. My father was out of the country working in Eastern Europe during most of the ordeal. He actually returned home on the day of my abortion. After the abortion, he was a lifesaver, including taking me to Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain to attend a nuclear disarmament conference with him. I stayed after the conference, to backpack alone for five weeks throughout the country. It was in Grenada, Spain while looking at the Alhambra that I wrote in my journal in 1989, “I want to make films that affirm the lives of Black women. If I have to go in debt, it will be over a film and not a degree.”
I shared about the difficult time with my mother to discuss the complexities surrounding my pregnancy and abortion. She was the first self-identified pro-choice, feminist woman that I knew, with my paternal grandmother coming in at a close second. Though Nana didn’t call herself a feminist, she definitely was one and she was pro-choice. In spite of this reality, it was a rocky road with both of them during that time period in my life. I’m honored to be my mother’s daughter and my grandmother’s granddaughter. I would not be the woman I am without both of their and my father’s profound influence on my life. I’m not a parent and I do not want to be one, but I understand what happens when one has dreams and visions for one’s child and those dreams and visions don’t womanifest in the way a parent envisions. I firmly believe this is what happened with both my Mom and my Nana when I came home pregnant and unable to name the biological father…
I often wonder if I did carry my pregnancy to term, would I have come out as a PROUD Black feminist lesbian or would I’ve been afraid and concerned about what that would mean for the unborn? Would I have made NO! The Rape Documentary? …. Who knows? Even if the answers are yes, what I know is that it wouldn’t be what it is today….
These are the stories and dialogues that we don’t get to have because we’re so busy fighting the surge of the Right Wing to take away all of our reproductive rights. We often don’t get to hear the nuances, the complexities, the back stories…For many on the rabid (my words) Right, it’s as if women are incubators for fetuses and receptacle for (unwanted) penises….
Babies’ Mamas exists — or would have existed — in a television landscape that is increasingly devoid of shows with black casts, and the term “baby mama” itself makes a lot of people concerned about the number of black children are born to unmarried parents see red. It’s a perfect storm of anxieties about cultural representation and pathologies. There aren’t a lot of images of black people on TV, the argument goes. The ones that appear could at least be affirming, or barring that, not stereotypical.
One of the odd side effects of many reality shows — even those shows meant to paint their subjects as ridiculous or distasteful — is that they can humanize their stars. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’s detractors are myriad, and they often single out the disdain the producers seem to take toward the Thompsons, the family at the its center. But the show’s fans point out that that disdain (which is nakedly class-based) is undercut by the fact that the Thompsons are affirming toward each other and actually kind of boringly level-headed about their strange notoriety.
If unconventional families — polygamists, huge broods, marginal celebrities — are a staple of the reality show genre, Babies’ Mamas would seem to fit neatly within those parameters. What if the show’s subjects were mostly concerned with mundane stuff like carpooling logistics and dance rehearsals? Isn’t it possible that Babies’ Mamas could have also granted some humanity to real baby’s mamas and complicated some simplistic, ugly stereotypes about them?
While early organizing saw abortion as one of many facets of women’s liberation and reproductive autonomy, in the decades following Roe, this more expansive view has somewhat narrowed. More recently, mainstream feminist organizing around choice has focused predominately on contraceptive services and abortion. In many respects this shift has marginalized the panoply of ways in which reproductive choice and autonomy is constrained in the lives of women of color in a number of discursive spaces and institutional settings.
Indeed, feminists of color have long resisted this narrow definition of reproductive choice and autonomy. While emphasizing the central importance of access to contraception and abortion services, women of color activists have also highlighted the ways in which the denial of reproductive capacity and the denigration of their identities as mothers has been central to their subordination in the context of slavery, colonialism and Jim Crow. Women of color also contested the idea that they were unable or incapable of controlling their reproductive destinies. In so doing they mobilized to fight sterilization and other practices that burdened the choice to bear children.
Yet for many poor women of color, full reproductive choice and autonomy has remained elusive. Indeed, the reproductive capacities of women of color are often targeted for suppression or derision within contemporary political discourses and official policymaking within a number of institutional settings including the criminal justice and welfare systems. The injuries suffered by women of color in this context, however, are seldom articulated as part of the broader attacks on reproductive rights of women. This targeting of women of color and their families, and the silences that often accompany this targeting, combine to form what I am calling “reproductive profiling.”
I use the term “reproductive profiling” to draw upon the ways in which people of color are profiled in the policing or law enforcement context. Similar to the failure of the Fourth Amendment’s privacy rationale to fully extend to victims of racial profiling, individuals subject to reproductive profiling are denied the autonomy and privacy interests guaranteed by the Constitution. As Dorothy Roberts and others have noted, the lives of poor women of color are often public due to frequent interactions with government agencies. Consequently, those who choose to become parents do not benefit from the privacy or dignity rationales represented by Roe and its progeny. In various institutional contexts, such as immigration, prisons and social welfare, poor women of color are subjected to behavior policing policies that limit reproductive autonomy or punish the choice to become a parent. As Michele Goodwin has noted, this “brings private, intimate spaces into the public theatre, creating spectacles of poor, pregnant women and their children; and this public humiliation functions to visually inscribe these women’s place in the social hierarchy.”
Moreover, like victims of racial profiling in the policing context, women of color are singled out for suspicion because they are deemed to be in places that they do not belong. Indeed, poor women of color have historically been denied identities as mothers, which are informed by the normative values of the white middle-class. In this way, constraints on their choices to become parents are a reflection of social views that women of color who seek to parent are attempting to access a space that is inappropriate or one that they are not equipped to navigate. The race, gender and class identities of women of color, when attached to their choice to become parents, often raises a suspicion of wrongdoing. Consequently, they confront significant regulation of those choices and are subject to pervasive surveillance.
Every time Willow does something to her hair the Black blogosphere goes crazy. One of the biggest reasons, I think some Black people have an issue with the Smith’s form of parenting is because this form of parenting doesn’t fit the “normal” Black parenting model. Too many of us either believe that we are either raised by The Huxtables, The Evans, or a crazy Madea. I call attention to these two tv families not because of their class and socioeconomic status, but because these are the two parenting styles that many of us believe that all Black people interfaced with. The Evans were strict and didn’t run a democratic household. While the Huxtables appeared to be more democratic, and tended to rationalize with their kids more, but at the end of the day it was Claire or Cliff’s way. The Smith’s in my opinion are not adopting a new parenting model, it simply may be new for many of us who are Black and Brown. Will and Jada don’t treat their children like objects that they posses or facsimiles of themselves. They see their roles as parents in relation to their kids in a more egalitarian fashion. Will and Jada approach their power as parents differently, their power that doesn’t seek to silence or oppress the power and individuality of their children.
Willow as a little girl is learning that she is a force to be reckoned with in this world, and that her gender, and gender presentation will not serve as impediments. Jada who is now championing the cause against human sex trafficking, of which girls are disproportionately victims, understands that women need to own themselves fully, if not someone else will. Girls are being trafficked at an alarming rate and not just abroad, but also in our own backyards. In the U.S. alone 80% of human sex trafficking victims are women and girls and 50% are minors. Jada is making the conscious choice to take her daughter along with her on her journey to help end human sex trafficking. In a world where little girls are raped, stolen, and sold as a commodity, hair isn’t all that important. Sometimes I wonder, have some of us adult Black women forgotten what it’s like to be a little Black girl in a white heterosexual patriarchal society? Again to quote Lorde, “easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness…” Our Black bodies and Black psyches are always being assailed and violated. Healthy validation is often hard to come by in these streets riddled with harassment. Therefore, let us save our vitriol and condemnation for more important things like the perpetuation of rape culture or Donald Trump.
I wish to raise a Black man who will not be destroyed by, nor settle for, those corruptions called power by the white fathers who mean his destruction as surely as they mean mine. I wish to raise a Black man who will recognize that the legitimate objets of his hostility are not women, but the particulars of a structure that programs him to fear and despise women as well as his own black self.
For me, this task begins with teaching my son that I do not exist to do his feeling for him.
When I look back on those frightening moments in the hospital room and being too afraid of the nurse’s judgment to push the call button, I wonder about how many young moms and dads hesitate to reach out for help and support when they need it?
Now that I am well into my 30s and have seen my friends have babies at every age, I know that all new moms struggle with uncertainty. Most of us have both a powerful love for our new babies and a nagging fear that we won’t know how to be good mothers. The women who thrive in motherhood are usually those with trusted networks of support and the humility to ask for help when needed.
When I see the dismal statistics and negative images our communities are bombarded with, I wonder how many of the negative outcomes are caused not by the age of the parents, but by the stigma heaped on them and the isolation that results? We all know there is nothing inherently wrong with giving birth at 18. Humans have been doing it throughout time; President Barack Obama’s mom did it, every 30-year-old I know has a mother who was “young” by today’s standards.
In a generation, the “proper” age to become a parent has changed. Economic security sure helps in raising kids. Having a partner does too. But 40 percent of babies in the US are born to mothers who are not married, and their ages range across the board. The Great Recession has taught us many things, including that we can’t count on financial security at any age.
Maybe instead of a National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, with statistics and images that demonize young parents, we could have a National Day to Support Young Parents? We could have a day when service providers, teachers, ministers, and the media celebrate all of the great achievements by young parents and their kids. We could enjoy a day when we are honored for all we have taken on, and all that we have succeeded in doing, when the folks around us ask us how they can best support us, instead of telling us what we should have done differently.
There are myriad reasons why adolescents become parents including wanting to be a parent, lack of access to contraceptives, lack of access to comprehensive sexuality education, and lack of opportunities. Working with youth to delay childbearing and parenting is not inherently wrong, however viewing youth sexuality in a vacuum of “prevention” does not meet the needs of Latina/o youth. Similar to adults, half of youth pregnancies are unintended. In other words, half of youth pregnancies are planned. Acknowledging that youth sexuality is a normal part of development and that some youth will become sexually active as adolescents compels us to think beyond preventing pregnancy. Efforts to address adolescent pregnancy and parenting must expand to address youth’s sexuality and social needs holistically.
In a misguided attempt to support youth in avoiding the perceived “negative consequences” of adolescent parenting, the dominant prevention frame centers on changing individual behavior, which has both intentionally and unintentionally categorized pregnant and parenting youth as a social problem and a “drain” on society. Young Latina/o parents are stereotyped as unsuccessful, irresponsible and unfit caregivers. This punitive strategy of blaming young Latina/o parents and categorizing them as “costs” further stigmatizes the community while ignoring the social, economic, and political factors that shape their lives and behavior.
Providing Latina/o youth support and resources to parent does not enable them to become adolescent parents, it provides them with their legal right to the same educational and economic opportunities as their peers. Young parents are part of many Latina/o families’ reality, and they contribute to California’s socio-economic fabric. Pregnant and parenting youth must be treated with respect and dignity, recognizing that they too form part of our state’s future.
As attacks intensify on women, immigrants and anyone who is not a rich, white, heterosexual, conservative man, the vociferous response in defense of women’s autonomy and health has omitted any discussion about healthy sexuality, acquiescing to conservatives that sexuality is inherently bad. The same can be said in the case of adolescent childbearing and parenting. To many, discussing adolescent pregnancy and parenting among Latinas/os is often an unwanted reminder that youth have their own sexuality. By distorting this issue into a widely “palatable” public health prevention framework, we have undermined the conversation around healthy youth sexuality and pigeon-holed the approach to one that is punitive.