Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The travails of rural female teens

A couple of newspaper stories and a documentary about rural teenage women have crossed my line of vision in recent weeks, so I decided to bring them together in a blog post, though they hit on a range of issues--from the election to healthcare to the justice system.  

The first was this pre-election story about teenage girls in Oregon, a feature that made an explicit rural-urban (or, perhaps more precise, metro-nonmetro) comparison regarding views of Trump, particularly in the wake of the video in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia.  The piece, by Claire Cain Miller, appeared on the NYTimes Upshot the Friday before the election, and it reports on a poll of 332 girls, with data analysis by David Rothschild and Tobias Konitzer of PredictWise.  Miller describes these girls as being of the generation "raised to believe that women can do anything men can do yet aware that they have not yet."  Among them, 44% said they would definitely or most likely vote for Hillary Clinton--were they old enough to vote--while 15% said they would vote for Trump. 

Here's the part with the explicit rural-urban comparison:  
At Grant High School in Portland, Ore., girls tended to be reluctant Clinton supporters, having originally been fans of Senator Bernie Sanders. At Sherman County High School, in rural Moro, Ore., east of the Cascade Range where blue Oregon turns red, the girls were divided between the candidates.
When questioned about who has power, the teens differed rather sharply, with the nonmetropolitan teens more likely to reference people they actually knew, the urban teens more likely to list celebrities.
The girls pay close attention to women in power. Asked who had power, Grant High girls offered mostly celebrities, including Beyoncé, the Kardashian sisters, Miley Cyrus, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson and J. K. Rowling. In Moro, they talked about their mothers and grandmothers, and a principal they had had when they were in first grade.
The story showed photos of seven teenage girls and featured quotes from each, in addition to quotes in the text of the article from other teens.  Of those quoted and pictured, just two of the seven were from rural teens.  What one says tends to reinforce what social science tells us about rural families very urban ones--that the former remain more traditional:
I never thought there would be a woman president because the way I grew up, men were always in charge and the women provided for the families.
That quote is from 14-year-old Alyssa Hill.  Another young woman, Jordan Barrett, is more optimistic.
There’s a lot of misogynist people who think she’s a woman so she can’t do this, she’s not smart enough, she’s not powerful enough. I think if you want to do it, you can still try, but it’s harder.
The story also features this from a Moro, Oregon adolescent, Morgan Lesh, age 15.
That hits me hard when people like Trump say people who are skinnier than I am are too big.  It makes me feel extremely insecure about myself.
Jordan agrees with her friend Morgan:
Especially for girls in high school, rating girls on a scale of 1 to 10 does not help because it really does get into your head that they think I’m ugly or I don’t look good. 
The two disagree, however, on which candidate to support, though Miller doesn't reveal which is the Trump supporter and which the Clinton supporter.  

The second story is this more recent piece in the Los Angeles Times about the difference in teen pregnancy rates between metro and non metro young women.  Caren Kaplan reports under the headline, "There's Another Type of Rural-Urban Divide in America:  Teens Having Babies."  The lede follows:
The teen birth rate in America’s small towns is 63% higher than in its biggest cities, a new government report reveals. 
In 2015, there were 18.9 births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 living in counties with large urban areas, according to a report published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares with 30.9 births per 1,000 women in the same age group who lived in rural counties, the report said.
In between were counties with small- and medium-sized cities and suburbs. There, the birth rate was 24.3 babies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. 
The new data “underscore that community can be one of the strongest predictors of pregnancy risk for teens,” said Nikki Mayes, a spokeswoman for the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health in Atlanta.
Whatever the size of population cluster, all places experienced a decline in teen birth rates between 2007 and 2015.

I wonder if this difference in the incidence of teenage mothers is related to lesser availability of abortion in rural places, a matter I've written about here and here.  I suspect it is also is a function of the lesser availability of health care, generally, and contraception in particular.  Indeed, the story also quotes Mayes in this regard:
Rural women experience poorer health outcomes and have less access to health care than urban women, in part due to limited numbers of health care providers, especially women’s health providers.   As a result, women in rural areas are less likely than urban women to receive contraceptive services.
Mayes notes that Arkansas is among the states exploring using telemedicine to deliver such reproductive health services.

Finally, I want to mention the documentary, "Audrie and Daisy," which I viewed last week.  The film is about two teenage girls in small town Maryville, Missouri, who are raped by older boys from the town.   Here's the description on the film's website:

"Audrie and Daisy" is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. From acclaimed filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President, The Rape of Europa), "Audrie and Daisy"— which made its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival — takes a hard look at American’s teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control.
Having just viewed the documentary, I would say that the film is less about the video (which apparently is never recovered by law enforcement, but only rumored) and the power of social media and more about the sexual assaults themselves.  It is also, critically, about how local, nonmetropolitan law enforcement and prosecutors (mis) handle the case.  Among the apparent reasons for that mishandling:  Not just patriarchy in a raw rural form, but the different social status of the victims' families compared to that of the accused young men, who are also athletes.  The film also depicts the intervention of Anonymous, which seeks to compel local prosecutors to pursue the case more vigorously.

I'm not sure what conclusions we can fairly draw from these three stories except that rural places seem to be less hospitable than urban ones--at least by some measures--for teenage girls.

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