We’re recapping 16 and Pregnant, Season 5! The first episode of the season starts with Maddy, who’s 16 and from Tinley Park, Illinois. You can watch the episode online here.
Megan: Should we start by talking about why we wanted to write about this, besides that we secretly love watching reality television?
Chanel: I always feel like a terrible reproductive justice activist when I watch this show. I think one of my reasons for wanting to recap is to place an RJ lens onto it, if that’s possible.
M: I totally agree. I think there is a lot of possibility, and when I watch it I always find myself rooting for the moms to be able to make their own decisions without the adults in their lives telling them that they’ve messed up. But when I was thinking about us wanting to watch this for those reasons, I was also thinking about why this show is still on and why so many other people watch it? What do we see in that narrative put out by MTV to scare and shame young people? Why are we fascinated by that as a theme and willing to watch it happen over and over again? Why do people want to see that and not the story we see through our frameworks?
C: We need to see young women as being incapable of making good choices. Like, no matter what, I’m not sure M could have made a choice that would have made the audience feel okay about her getting pregnant. Sex is wrong and terrible, and young women are stupid and irresponsible. I think that’s pretty ingrained into our narrative.
One thing MTV has done is bust up the idea that it’s young women of color who get pregnant as teens-the girls on this show are mostly white.
M: That’s true. But while they’re defying the stereotype that it’s only poor girls of color who are getting pregnant, it’s also blocking those girls from seeing their own experiences. So we’re also choosing the narrative of middle-class white girls over low-income girls of color.
C: AGAIN. And perpetually.
M: As Gretchen Sisson says more eloquently than I have stated here: “Teen Mom will depict an argument with a romantic partner in great detail, but consistently overlook the real sources of struggle that lots of young mothers face: constant stigma and ridicule, lack of social support, and the challenge of accessing public benefits.”
On that note, let’s get into it.
C: The Other Baby, Maddy’s half sister Alyssa, has ears that stick out and is therefore a full on distraction for me.
M: Oh poor thing! One night stand. That is rough. Wait…haven’t we already had a baby named Aubrey?
C: SO MANY Aubreys. I think this is 3?
M: I hope this guy shows up to the doctor’s appointment. It’s such a positive thing to have the boyfriend at the ultrasound appointment. Can you even imagine being 16 and then getting pregnant with someone you just met and then having to figure out what you’re going to do? Like, I couldn’t even deal with just figuring out how to dress appropriately and what to decorate my locker with, let alone plan my entire future family. I don’t think I could have handled it.
C: Cody-“I should have paid more attention in health class. I should have used a condom.” Now would not be a terrible time to mention that it’s also important that the girl be able to say, “Hey, maybe put on a condom?”
M: Wow, Mom is laying on the shame here.
C: Oh my gd, Maddy’s mother. SHE CAN STILL BE A LAWYER.
M: Here’s the thing, it’s not going to “be a long time” before she’s going to get to do what she wants to do. Because right now she wants to be a mom. Maddy is more “responsible”-sounding than Mom at this point. She’s able to hold both that she did something she would consider a mistake and also own up to that she can’t change the past and now sees a new vision for herself. That’s a pretty adult thing to realize. But Mom is stuck in this “either/or” thinking.
C: There was an episode a few seasons ago where the girl’s dad was also like, “Hi, just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to live with the dude.” Also, here we are again with the “He ruined your life.”
M: Yeah. I just want to yell at them, “YOUR LIFE IS NOT RUINED”. And then give them hugs. I know I’m going to just keep saying this over and over but how responsible are these kids being? They are not romantically involved but their relationship has evolved to be this mutually-beneficial partnership where they are trying to figure this out together.
C: The word “responsible” in these situations always scares me. There are a lot of ways to be responsible, right? Abortion and adoption are also examples of being responsible.
M: So true. We throw around that word like there’s a morally right and wrong way of being and no gray area. When I was 16 I couldn’t even function in my own home let alone move to an unfamiliar environment with a baby. That is scary shit.
C: Other Baby is the real star here. Sorry, Maddy.
M: What is the plot I’m supposed to be paying attention to? Adorable Baby? Staring at camera?
C: “The only time we ever left his house was to buy a pregnancy test.” Real talk.
M: High school dates: Still as awkward even if you having a baby together.
C: HERE COMES (MORE OF) THE SEXISM. “What kid do you know who has his mom’s last name?” CODY. PLEASE GET IN THE TIME MACHINE AND COME BACK FROM THE SIXTIES.
M: After Maddy raises her baby and takes her first gender studies class she is going to be so impressed by the way she handled this situation and refused to submit to the patriarchy.
C: There’s always stuff on this show about girls going from size zero to size 14 or whatever while pregnant. No one is ever a size 14 originally.
M: Yeah, and the size difference is always talked about like it’s the worst possible thing.
C: Here I will apply my creepily encyclopedic knowledge of this show and point out that Jamie in season 3 asked her doctor if her stretch marks would go away when asked what she was most worried about. It’s normal, I know, but the emphasis is still bothering me.
M: Is this the appropriate time to mention that my cats really are into this right now? Or they want dinner. It’s one of those.
C: Cats love MTV.
M: You’re really missing out on this nail polish commercial where models rub their hands all over men’s faces.
C: Is it disembodied hands? Or can you see the models’ faces?
M: Disembodied, obviously.
C: Of course. Faces are superfluous. Especially on women.
M: As soon as you see faces, you think “people” with “minds”.
C: Just cut to the chase! This is about nail polish! AND MEN..
M: Not just any men, “alluring men”, says Youtube. I don’t know about you, but I’m sold.
C: I will be buying a lot of this nail polish. You are working, capitalism.
M: You just get me, MTV.
C: Oh, here comes Cody’s patriarchy induced temper tantrum.(re: Maddy wanting Aubrey to have her last name.)
M: The way that the men/boys act and fight about the last name stuff just reminds me about how the patriarchy hurts everyone. It makes people feel like they have to hold to these systemic ideals, and when those ideals are not met it makes people feel bad, like something is being taken away from them and like they’re not in control.
C: Yes! And not being able to show that something (a lady, a child, etc) is YOURS is threatening. It undercuts your masculinity.
M: Now is the only part where I feel old and yell, “Are you seriously telling them you’re not moving in via text?” Is that what the kids are doing these days?
C: Ughh. This makes me want to get a lawn so I can tell kids to get off of it.
M: I support Maddy in her decision to do what’s best for her and move into the environment where she feels most comfortable and supported, but if I were Cody and his mom, I would have preferred receiving that information in person. But I am not 16 so what do I know!
C: What do we know about on line classes in high school and if they keep ple from dropping out?
M: It seems like a great model to me, but I’d be interested to hear more about it. There must be data on it somewhere.
C: I really like M’s dad pushing her to do what’s best for her. And I’m reminded of how much of a role class plays in all this. I mean, her dad has an extra room in a house.
M: Yeah, an extra room and enough income to be able to feed two additional people!
C: Do we think Maddy’s jeans came with those holes?
M: I like how we’re not judgemental about teen moms but we are judgmental about teen fashion. And methods of virtual communication. And baby names.
C: I mean, I’m not made of stone. So, do we have closing thoughts?
M: I guess mine are that the show is trying to paint Maddy as an irresponsible teenager who got herself into a serious and terrible situation that she can’t get out of, but I think there’s another more powerful narrative that she faced getting pregnant as a challenge instead of an obstacle, was able to stay true to herself, and has a solid vision of what she wants her future to look like and what she can accomplish.
I think we should end by sending some love and well wishes to Maddy and baby.
C: Agreed. (Maddy, I’m sorry about what I said about your jeans.)
We’ll be back with another recap next Sunday! 16 and Pregnant airs Mondays at 10/9 c.