Alas readers who saw Whale Rider might remember Keisha Castle Hughes, she was the young Maori actress who was nominated for a best Actress Oscar for her role as Paikea. It has just been announced that she is pregnant at 16. Span and Cactus Kate (of all people), have already covered some of the ways the coverage of these facts has been extremely offensive. But I want to look at this discourse in a little more detail, because it is pissing me off. From the NZ Herald:
National MP Paula Bennett, a mother at 17, said whichever way you looked at the situation, 16 was far too young to have a baby.
She believed there was no way a 16-year-old had the maturity to cope with the demands of raising a baby.
and from The Dominion Post
Family Planning executive director Jackie Edmond said New Zealand had the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy in the world. She hoped other teens would not want to “copy” the actress.
This level of tsk-tsking has a very clear subtext about young Maori girls who get pregnant. It’s part of a concerted strategy to blame poor people for being poor.
Look I’m a middle-class white girl, I find the idea of having a baby before I’m economically and socially secure terrifying, but I get to think that one day I will be economically and socially secure. Not everyone grows up with those set of assumptions about their life, and if you don’t have those assumptions your feelings about pregnancy and motherhoood are going to be qutie different.
But there’s actually a bigger issue here. Anika Moa has a song on her new album about the abortion she had when her music career was taking off, that she now regrets. She was told from all sides that if she continued the pregnancy she wouldn’t be able to have a music career – that she had to choose.
That’s why I hate the rhetoric of ‘choice’. Women shouldn’t have to choose between being a musician and a mother. Obviously in the months immediately after you give birth you do have physical restrictions on what you are going to do (longer the longer you breast feed). But so? Why does that mean that you can’t make music – and if you make music people want to listen to, why can’t they get to listen to it?
The answer is, of course, ‘capitalism’. I get that – most women do have to make that choice. But the way most people talk about it you’d think these choices forced on us by something people have no control over, rather than our economic system. You’d think that there was some law laid down that once you had a child you couldn’t do anything else, or if you did it would be 100 times harder. The reason that having a child at 16 is so very hard is that having a child is seen as an individualised project. Parenting gets no economic resouces and no support. It’s hard enough to do with a reasonable amount of money – if you don’t have a reasonable amount of money being able to do anything but parent when you have a child is really difficult.
We could organise our world so that parenting wasn’t just supported, but treated as the necessary work that it is. If we did that, if parents didn’t have to work huge amounts of outside hours (or live on the DPB, and all the poverty that that implies), then parenting wouldn’t be the end or your life. Women who were mothers, whether at 16 or 40, could do other things as well, parenting wouldn’t be seen as the end of your life, and your chance to develop.*
Maybe if we lived in a non-capitalist world that valued parenting women would have children young – when they had lots of energy. Maybe women would have them late, because they wanted to grow up first. Maybe women would make a wide variety decisions based from what they want from life.
But until we build that new world I wish people would just stop judging young women.
Note for commenters: This is not the place for a discussion about Keisha Castle-Hughes or her pregnancy – please keep the discussion general rather than specific, or on the discourse rather than the event.
Also published on Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty