Chicago’s ‘Pregnant Men’ Ads: Flipping the Dialogue on Men and Teen Pregnancy Prevention
The Office of Adolescent and School Health in the Chicago Department of Public Health (Chicago DPH) recently released a set of teen pregnancy prevention ads that feature images of half-naked young men who, thanks to technology, appear pregnant. When I first saw the ads, I thought, “Wow, how progressive! Chicago is actually creating ads that are trying to be more inclusive of transgender men.” Well, hope springs eternal—and in this situation, mine was completely misplaced. The ads are actually an attempt to get cisgender boys’ and men’s attention in order to charge them with stepping up when they are part of an unplanned pregnancy.
These ads are not the first of their kind. Just a few months ago, the New York City Human Resource Administration put out subway and bus ads, which received well-deserved criticismbecause of their negative messaging to girls and about boys and young men. With photos of young children accompanied by messages like, “Honestly, Mom—chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” the New York ads promote stigma, fear, and shame, which, as a strategy, is as unethical as it is ineffective for inspiring behavior change.
Yes, Abortion Is a Women’s Issue, and Yes, More Male Allies Are Welcome
Further, sexist assumptions about women’s role in reproduction are at the core of other oppressions women face. Rape culture is intertwined with ideas that men are irresistibly driven to sex, that women are submissive sexual objects to be conquered, that women are either sluts or prudes. Lack of family supports in the workplace, from paid sick days to paid family leave, are tied with exclusionary and outdated middle-class white assumptions that there will be a woman in the home to take care of the family, and discrimination in pay, promotion, and leadership is underpinned by assumptions that men are primary breadwinners. Pretending that social discrimination against women is not linked with sexual discrimination against women, which can therefore be ignored, may feel “less controversial” but it’s not going to get us anywhere.
When men are quoted in the media five times more often than women on the topics of abortion and birth control, we are simply not ready to move abortion into a post-gender framework that declares abortion is “not a women’s issue.” In particular, it seems that society has a great deal of resistance to putting younger women and women of color, not mutually exclusive categories, at the center of reproductive rights conversations.
While we need more men, more LGBTQ people, and more of everyone taking leadership in the reproductive rights movement, those most directly affected by abortion restrictions—younger women and women of color—need more focus, not less. Turn on the television, and it’s not uncommon to see a white man opposing abortion rights and, if a pro-choice woman is included at all, she is often white and past reproductive age.
Within the abortion rights movement, there is some resistance to having the most directly affected lead the message in a way that doesn’t seem to be paralleled in other human rights movements, including LGBTQ movements and civil rights movements. Some take offense when it is suggested that more younger women and women of color should help lead. This is something that I hope men will keep in mind when taking on leadership roles in the movement. It is possible to be a loud ally and also be an ally who works to ensure more young women and women of color are included, and your sisters need the help.
Do we need more men to fight for reproductive and sexual rights on their own terms? Do we welcome more men to fight for abortion as human rights issues, public health issues, and women’s issues? Is it cool if those men want to call themselves “bro-choice”? The answer is an enthusiastic yes.