August 9, 2013
I have found myself particularly missing 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom on MTV these days.
“What is wrong with you, Jessie?” you ask. Well, firstly, I love reality television in most of its forms. Secondly, I love the stories of women, particularly those whose narratives are often not shown to mainstream audiences. Thirdly, those animated bits before commercial breaks that immortalize a moment in the show are horrific – nobody looks like those illustrated faces. And finally, don’t judge me. Because glass houses, stones, etc. YOU KNOW YOU’VE SEEN AT LEAST ONE EPISODE ANYWAYS.
I watch these shows for lots of reasons that are common to all reality tv watchers: entertainment, thrills, a complicated story simplified into a 45 minute show and interspersed with ads for things I’m too post-adolescent to even know I needed. But I watch these programs for another reason, to celebrate resiliency.
All of those girls and women live to tell the tale. They go through an incredibly difficult and private experience during some of the toughest years of their lives, and they do it on national television. They often do it alone, or with unsupportive partners and family members. They do it through considerable financial hardship. They do it through terrible isolation. They do it through horrific abuse. They do it through all of the judgment and hate that they have thrown at them from viewers and community members and “caring” professionals. And then they bravely face “Dr.” Drew at the end of it all on the annual follow-up episode, while he berates them and gives them terrible advice (why are you so mad Macy? If Ryan wants to be a deadbeat dad and a verbally abusive partner who doesn’t do any housework go with that! Not as bad as being a… duh duh duh… *single mom*). Don’t even get me started on his enabling behaviour with Farrah’s mom, WHO ATTACKED HER CHILD WITH A KNIFE.
I watch these shows and I feel such enormous pride and admiration as a woman who hasn’t done anything even remotely comparable to what these teens do on these shows, and what they will go on to accomplish in their lives. I watch them make it, even if they are struggling, even if things get derailed, even if they fuck up. They are facing barriers I can’t even begin to imagine, with resources limited by state-by-state legislation, by the failures of those who should be providing care, and by the realities of unequal access that disproportionately impacts those experiencing specific intersections of oppression.
Sometimes resiliency is really obvious (hello Farrah! Moving out, making a porno, taking over the world!), sometimes the media tries to frame it as a failure (I think Amber’s story is one that focuses almost solely on her struggles, somehow failing to address the domestic violence piece adequately, while ignoring her very real efforts at recovery and resource utilization in prison, and her unlimited love for that baby).
I hope to be able to write at length one day about some of these specific women and girls, and their incredible resiliency. As an alternative to all of the virulent judgment and cruelty that seemingly faces them at every turn.