by Bianca Laureano
If you are into popular culture in any way, or watch the news, you probably know who Justin Bieber is and that a young woman alleges 17 year old singer is the the progenitor* of her child. Reports claim that Bieber will take a paternity test, that 20 year old Mariah Yeater requests financial assistance for her child, and that young girls all over the world are pissed off at the young woman and are bullying her and making rationalizations to act out violently! Yeater claims she had sex with Bieber after a show he gave in Los Angeles, CA in a bathroom and that he stated specifically he did not want to use a condom because it was his first time and he wanted to “feel everything.”
I’m not on Team Bieber nor am I on Team Mariah Yeater. I’m not on any team besides Team Media Justice (yes that’s code for Team Bi). I created my team and I encourage readers to do the same. Figure out what all of the information is, and then think about how this information impacts our communities and work. That is what this post is about. What is going on regarding this child, the conversations around children of young parents, how are they supported, targeted, ignored, threatened, and what will we do to change that (if anything!?). An element of this hysteria among young people and Bieber is not that he’s no longer “available” (as he’s been openly dating Selena Gomez for the past several months). Rather, what do we lose if he is the progenitor of this child?
One of the things I do appreciate about Justin Bieber is that he not only demonstrates with his life how media can change one’s entire reality as he was “found” on YouTube (for the most part), but also that he’s been open about practicing abstinence and speaks on it freely and openly. I think it’s important for youth, especially young girls who identify right now as heterosexual, to have a image of a young person who is standing by the choice to be abstinent at this time. I think it’s useful to have this dialogue go on in popular culture that many pre-teens do consume especially at a time when comprehensive sexuality education is not offered for all youth in the U.S.
Something we do lose, I believe, is a huge pop culture icon that speaks and practices abstinence; a useful point of interest to begin discussions on the topic. Ignoring this is a huge problem for many of us working with and mentoring youth. Are we ready to discuss abstinence and how it may and may not work? I think it is safe to say he won’t lose too many fans or be shamed as Yeater and other young parents have been by our society, if the paternity test he takes demonstrates he did play a role in creating this child.
I’ve written about abstinence and talk about it often as I work because it is an option. This is one option many of us choose to practice at different times in our lives.
There are also some very clear messages going on about condoms here. Whether we want to admit it or not, youth hear things about condoms not feeling “good” or “real, even if they have never used them before. This is one reason why i’m in favor of youth having access to condoms, opening them, putting them on things (either themselves or even playfully/educationally on other things) to practice how to properly use condoms. I think it is important for youth to also see how easy it is to put a condom on incorrectly and how important lubrication is to their proper usage. These are all parts of being prepared. This is something not only young people can learn from, but all people. Let’s keep in mind that properly putting on a condom is not only for the person with the penis! Plus, there are also condoms that go into the vagina as well. Both of these require practice and a level of comfort to use them properly.
Yeater claims she asked Bieber to put a condom on for protection and he said no. This to me sounds like a sexual assault, yet folks are targeting her as the abuser for statutory rape as Bieber was 16 at the time and she 19. Don’t get it twisted, she asked to have a consensual sexual act occur with a barrier method to avoid pregnancy and potential STI and HIV transmission (not all STIs require one to have sex, see HPV, and not all people who are living positive with HIV had sex, there are many young people who are living positive and were born positive). Bieber’s alleged “no” in response to using a condom, his fame and power all may have played a role in the fear and discomfort Yeater may have experienced in telling him she no longer wanted to continue to have sex. Being afraid to say “no” during sex is a form of coercion. Please understand and recognize this. These allegations of Yeater being tried for statutory rape could result in up to one year in jail if chargers are pressed and Yeater found guilty. (And that’s just what we need, a young mother in jail away from her child).
The bullying, harassment, and namecalling Yeater is experiencing isn’t just from young fans. The media is also playing along and calling her “crazy”and diagnosing her mental health, judging her as a liar and shaming her as a young parent. This public harassment is ridiculous, and I hope those folks who are engaging in this behavior realize that there are responsibilities that come with using technology and the internet! Ya’ll know that any tweets you send are kept by the Library of Congress right?
“Experts” are even jumping onto this story and encouraging the isolation and harassment of Yeater. Family law specialist Debra Opri tells ABC News that she would not encourage her client to have a paternity test (she’s not Bieber’s attorney just a “expert” they looked to for comment) and states: “I wouldn’t make it easy for her whatsoever,” she said. “I would make her life miserable.” Riiiight. Because that’s EXACTLY what young mothers need: their life to be even more difficult. Good job Opri and all others who think the way she does. I hope that if you ever find yourself in a space similar to Yeater you are supported more than what is offered to her at this time.
Now, when it comes to supporting young mothers, I have to ask: do we really do what we can to support them? At the end of October I saw this image come across the internet with a ton of judgement, shaming, and name calling of young mothers of Color:
I don’t know who posted the image so foto credit is not given, but it is clear that these young pregnant people are proud of their experiences with their pregnancies. The person and people who have things to say about this image are in the thousands! I mean the title of the link alone and the commentary by the person who claims to have posted it states “dis a damnnnn shame.” Why is this shameful? Oh, because young women and pregnant people are taking pride in their experiences.
Perhaps I’m being extra sensitive to young pregnant people, many of which I work with and have supported in various ways. But also because my immediate family is expecting a child as well. Yes! I’m going to be a tia/auntie so there will be a post on children’s books for babies and kids of Color with same gender parents soon! I’m also aware that teen pregnancies and everything that goes with that from parenting, adoption, and termination are topics we must discuss equally. It’s also about being pro-choice. If we claim we are pro-choice then we must support decisions of parenting and pregnancy at all stages. This means supporting young mothers who choose to carry to term and parent.
What is wrong with young moms being proud and supporting one another? What is wrong with finding communities of practice based on our lived realities? What is wrong with sharing that pride? It’s too easy to prove the racism (internalized and otherwise) associated with racially Black women sharing such pride. It’s also too easy to show how our sexist society judges them as women. Would an image of several young fathers holding their infant children and posing in the mirror to take a foto of themselves in the bathroom have resulted in the same response?
As Loretta Ross of Sister Song has said “you can’t save Black babies by attacking Black women.” We also can’t save Justin Bieber (and I’m not interested in saving him or a lot of other people to be honest), but we can be mindful of how Yeater is treated and how post-paternity test she will be treated. What support are we able to offer Yeater, a young mom, and other young moms in our communities?
*I’m choosing to use this term because I don’t want to use the phrases “baby’s father,” “sperm donor,” or other phrases. This is because “father” is an identity not many may claim. I wish to avoid using it in the same way that anti-choicers claim and describe pregnant people are “moms” even if that term is not one they embrace. It is a tactic to shame and make the pregnant person assume an identity that they do not desire or embrace.