Thursday, December 21, 2017

Jenna Vinson's "Embodying the Problem"

Jenna Vinson is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell where she teaches courses in the Journalism and Professional Writing concentration and also serves as a Research Associate at the Center for Women & Work.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Embodying the Problem: The Persuasive Power of the Teen Mother, and reported the following:
I had not heard of Ford Madox Ford’s theory prior to the invitation to do the “page ninety-nine” test. While I was, admittedly, skeptical of the premise, I am pleasantly surprised by the results! I do think page 99 is representative of the focus of my new book Embodying the Problem.

Page 99 is the first page of the conclusion to Chapter 3, “Challenging Experts, Commonplaces, and Statistics: Teen Mothers’ Counter-Narratives.” Here is an excerpt from that page:
The dominant narrative of teenage pregnancy encourages many to see pregnancy as the climactic moment of downfall in a young woman’s life. Commonplaces about teenage pregnancy, including the statistics that render it an urgent social issue, invite people to see young mothers as embodied exigencies—problems to address or prevent—not people who deserve respect and rights. In Talking Back, hooks writes of a need for marginalized people to reclaim and recover themselves by contesting, with authority, the structures and ways of speaking which objectify them. Drawing on poststructuralist theory of language and subjectivity, I have shown that some young mothers use their subject position as “teenage mothers” to craft and publish new stories, assertively reauthoring their lives to counter popular ways of thinking about teenage pregnancy and motherhood. By providing analysis of young women’s first-person narratives about pregnancy and motherhood, I provide a new way of thinking about statements from young mothers—as statements constructed for a rhetorical purpose.

Focusing on edited collections and a website that resist the imperative to sensationalize young mothers’ stories to prevent future teen pregnancies, I examined how young mothers tell counter-stories in order to intervene in popular constructions of who they are as women, students, and mothers. Describing specific strategies employed in counter-stories helps to identify the narrative elements and discursive tactics available to those who want to resist dominant discourses. In order to contest the commonplaces of teenage pregnancy discourses, many young mothers render uncommon the commonplace by re-iterating well-known statements about teenage pregnancy in ironic or satiric ways, questioning the fact that their motherhood is somehow “teenaged” or that their pregnancies determine their economic or educational success. Using narrative characterization, many young mothers also situate people who would construct or repeat such commonplaces as shortsighted or mean. These scenes invite readers to see those statements as barbaric and, as some mothers illustrate, as potentially pressuring teens to make choices they would not otherwise make (such as placing their child for adoption or not applying for college). Considering the current cultural context in which authorized experts—such as scholars, politicians, and medical officials—actively construct teenage pregnancy as a social problem, I highlight that many of the antagonizing characters in young mothers’ narratives are “experts.” This tactic may persuade readers to see the expert as fallible...
Chapter 3 is an important turning point in the book. In the first two chapters I provide a feminist critique of what I call “the dominant narrative of teenage pregnancy” and I ask readers to consider the serious consequences of the way we talk about young mothers (consequences such as everyday harassment of women, pressure on young mothers to leave school, acceptance of sexist assumptions, and more). Beginning with chapter 3, I shift the focus to examine how young mothers resist this narrative.

As I explain in the excerpt, I studied “edited collections and a website that resist the imperative to sensationalize young mother’s stories”—in other words, this is not analysis of MTV’s Teen Mom. These are published collections of personal stories shaped by women who have either experienced young motherhood or who aim to support young parents. An exciting contribution of my book is that it brings attention to the writing of young pregnant and mothering women who have, of their own accord, decided to narrate aspects of their lived experience in order to creatively challenge the idea that they are problems.

I will leave it at that so that readers can determine if page 99 tempts them to read more of the book!
Visit Jenna Vinson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue