This ad by Sanilac County Health Department shows two women, one on the left, looking devastated and noticeably pregnant, and one on the right, looking very happy in her cap and gown. The woman on the left appears to be in distress, unsure of her future and not happy to welcome a new life and presence in her life, already growing within her. Meanwhile, the woman on the right appears to portray success, productivity, and also a sense of control. The recent college/university graduate looks to the expectant-mother in condescension, openly showing that she thinks that she is better than the expectant-mother. The ad reads, “You Can Choose …this or this… Take Control of Your Future.”
This ad seems to be an ad for birth control and contraceptive care or medications. However, it is egregious in many ways. Firstly, it defines what success is. What makes a woman better, more worthy or more successful; a woman with a degree is better, has a future more full of promise than a woman that is pregnant. This presumptuous ideology of what success looks like is wrong and misleading because success means different things to different people. The comparison of these two women side by side encourages a culture of comparing individuals, particularly women – their worth according to their societal status, what their future may look like in the foreseeable future, when in fact, it is never right to compare individuals, especially because their future is unknown. Secondly, the feeling of shame put on the pregnant woman because she may have been careless or promiscuous is also very wrong. Each woman has a different story, and to stereotype a young pregnant woman and put her on a billboard, looking distressed because perhaps she did not plan her pregnancy is immoral. To portray this shame, inferiority and lack of control is terrible. Thirdly, if a woman passing by this billboard was a victim of rape and as a result became pregnant, the amount of trauma that may be evoked in her is unfathomable. The what-ifs, the possibilities if this one incident of rape did not take place, maybe she would have gotten a college degree if the rape had not happened. The amount of regret, remorse and trauma that a rape victim may have upon coming across this ad is absolutely heartbreaking.
Jammed Version of Ad
My alteration to the ad revealed that there is actually no blame or shame that should be put onto pregnant women. On the contrary, people who are so quick to judge and assume that a young expectant mother is going to have a worse future than a college graduate are the ones that should feel shame. The fact that women have to think on a regular basis about the social implications and consequences they may face if they look a certain way is something that needs to be changed. Being pregnant is not a shameful thing. In fact, it is a very noble act. To carry a life within one’s own body and to nurture a child’s growth from the child’s embryonic development to the moment the child is born and beyond, how can this be viewed as shameful? Furthermore, every single person is an infant at one point. To portray any pregnant woman in this way is a huge disrespect to all mothers.
Through my alteration to this ad, I hoped to get to the root of the problem of societal expectations and norms. Women should not feel that their worth or success are determined by their societal statuses. There is no need to comply to societal norms and fit into cookie-cutter ideals or norms. My hope was to make viewers aware of how much we really do judge women based on societal expectations. We make subconscious assumptions everyday based on a norm or standard that cannot be fulfilled by anyone, because everyone is different. This idea and portrayal of a “norm” or “successful according to societal standards” itself is toxic because different does not equal bad or wrong. If we cling onto habits of discriminating, assuming and judging, this is when our future is at stake because amidst the many global issues we are facing, people need to put their differences aside and be more open and accepting of others.