Finally: Statistical evidence that "glamorized," knocked-up girls in pop culture didn't boost teen pregnancy
Earlier this week, we got some good news about teen pregnancy: According to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnancy rates for all teenagers dropped 2 percent between 2007 and 2008, meaning that the slight uptick in teen pregnancy rates between 2005 and 2006 were probably just an anomaly and not some heinous trend brought about by pop culture. Give a cheer to the end (finally!) of “the ‘Juno’ Effect”!
Do you remember that media darling, “the ‘Juno’ Effect”? The theory goes something like this: When impressionable teenagers see any representation of a young, unmarried pregnant woman on the big screen (“Juno,” “Knocked Up”), or the small screen (“The O.C.,” “16 and Pregnant”), or in a magazine, or on a talk show (Bristol Palin, Jamie Lynn Spears), they somehow lose all ability to evaluate any nuance or context in that woman’s particular situation, and instead make some sort of primitive cause-and-effect connection: That woman is in the movies (or on TV, or in a magazine)! That makes her glamorous! Maybe if I get knocked up, I’ll be glamorous, too!
“The ‘Juno’ Effect” became so popular that it has its own section in the film’s Wikipedia entry. In February 2008, it was the headline of Mona Ackerman’s column in the Huffington Post and the subject of a thoroughly mean-spirited article by Emily Yoffe in Slate subtitled “Forget Juno. Out-of-Wedlock Births Are a National Catastrophe.” By summer, Time used “The ‘Juno’ Effect” in an article on the then scandalous, now mostly debunked, story of the so-called Gloucester pregnancy pact, and a professor of journalism assured NPR that “the idea that movies about unexpected pregnancy may encourage young women to become mothers” is “quite real.” When Sarah Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy that fall, Fox News declared, “The ‘Juno’ Effect Strikes Again!” Some conservatives declared “the ‘Juno’ Effect” to be the fault of “liberals who can’t allow an alternative view to emerge on abortion,” a view that may have been inadvertently confirmed by some liberals, including Linda Hirshman, who wrote in Slate that she had rarely heard of any “17-year-old middle-class girl” who “chose” to keep her child since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. (Which leads me to conclude that Linda Hirshman has never read much of anything by Beverly Donofrio, Ariel Gore or, ah, me).
By the end of 2008, you could be forgiven for believing there was absolutely no way to portray a young unmarried woman who happened to be pregnant in a responsible manner: Juno was too smart, funny and likable; Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up” was too pretty and too happy; the Gloucester girls were too poor and too dumb; Jamie Lynn Spears was too rich and too dumb; Bristol Palin was too privileged and too Republican. When MTV came out with “16 and Pregnant” in the summer of 2009, it was more of the same: The girls were too trashy or too popular; bad mothers for dropping out of school, or unrealistic role models for other, less privileged girls, should they continue with school. But aside from all of that, there was “the Juno Effect”: By talking about pregnant girls, and most of all, by daring to portray some of them as ordinary, even likable, we’d get way more babies having babies.
But that’s not what happened. “Juno” was released in December 2007, the same month that Jamie Lynn Spears announced her pregnancy. The news of the Gloucester “pregnancy pact” came out in June 2008. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was announced in September 2008. All the while, those who tried to make examples out of these girls and to blame them, in part, for rising pregnancy rates, were basing their arguments on statistics that showed a (fairly slight) increase in teen pregnancies during the years of 2005 and 2006, the most recent years for which figures were then available. Look at the numbers in the opening paragraph again. Those are from the years 2007 and 2008. There may have been no such thing as “the ‘Juno’ Effect.” But if there had been? It would have caused teen pregnancy rates to go down.
Personally, I find it more interesting to look at trends over a longer period of time, and just as I found it a little silly to declare a national catastrophe over an increase of a few percentage points a few years back, neither am I going to claim that a few percentage points in the other direction represents some sort of sea change in teen sexuality (though the most recent statistics are much more in line with the ever-decreasing rates of teen pregnancy over the past two decades). I’m generally a forgiving person. But to those people out there who believed that introducing a few fresh images of young parents to challenge the mostly unrelenting stereotypes represented some sort of apocalypse: Yeah, I’m a little bit pissed. And there is a bit of vindication here.
Turns out, depicting teen parents may not glamorize them, so much as humanize them. You know, that thing that happens when one person recognizes that someone else is a person too? So, now that we can firmly state that realistically depicting the lives of the tiny percentage of girls who do become pregnant won’t necessarily contaminate the rest of them, it’s time to stop worrying and ask what we can do to help.
Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. More Amy Benfer.
More Related Stories
- My text blew up in my face
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Pope Francis: Atheists are all right!
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- Is recreational pot use safe?
- How I ended up in a pyramid scheme
- My bipolar partner beat me
- Teenagers care more about online privacy than you think
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
- Kicked out of the mall -- for an anti-cancer hat
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11