5 Young women and social policy
When it comes to youth policy the rhetoric is firmly rooted in the concern surrounding young men rather than young women. Clare Choak (2021) has highlighted the lack of attention paid to young women in England, and in particular a lack of focus around the intersection of their lives in terms of class, gender and race. This also links to the longstanding issue about ‘invisible girls’ in youth studies, and also youth policy, as apart from a focus on teen pregnancy they tend to be ignored or side-lined.
However, young women do not escape stigmatisation, as young working class mothers are linked to negative discourses surrounding the ways in which they live their lives. For example, in the 1990s, there was pressure on the UK government to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies as rates were higher than in other European countries. This led to a concerted effort in terms of addressing this ‘problem’, and in 1999, the Labour government launched a 10-year Teenage Pregnancy Strategy for England to address this, with the goal being to reduce under-18s conceiving by half.
Around this time, young working class mothers became associated stigmatising labels such as ‘pramface’ which are difficult to escape (Nayak & Kehily, 2014, p. 1330). They suggest that such imagery is an example of demonising the working classes and creating sites of disgust based on ideas of what is respectable and what is not. One of the respondents in Nayak and Kehily’s study, Zoe, 17, says she gets ‘funny’ looks:
Some people look at you funny because you’re young and you’ve got a bump … two ladies were sitting on the bus the other day talking about how young people were getting pregnant and how it was a disgrace and all this lot! And I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t because I didn’t want to be rude … [At the parenting class] some girls cover their bump and some girls don’t. I usually do but sometimes my tops do rise and I think that’s what they were shocked about ‘cos some of my tummy was hanging out.
According to Klaudia Kublik, 19, ‘there is a lot of stereotyping’ around young mothers:
I am training to be a peer educator with a teenage pregnancy charity. I want to show young people what it is really like to be a teenage mum... People think you get a council flat and lots of benefits, but that is just not true. I still live with my family, but as it is a small house the baby’s crying wakes everyone up… I’d like to go on to university and be a teaching assistant. There are lots of young women who give up their whole lives when they have a baby…There is a lot of stereotyping that goes on. People who see a pregnant teenage girl think it is a one-night stand, but lots of girls are in relationships.
Therefore, when thinking about issues of youth policy from an intersectional perspective we can see the ways in which different discourses impact negatively on both young men and young women and how policymakers maintain these stereotypes through the non-neutral presentation of youth policy.