Thursday, December 20, 2007
Jamie Lynn Spears, the law, and missplaced shame
--Lisa Bloom, 360 Contributor


Jamie Lynn Spears, who hails from Louisiana, is pregnant at 16. Louisiana is an abstinence-only education state, teaching teens only chastity, not birth control. We know that abstinence-only jurisdictions have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Girls with older boyfriends are also statistically significantly more likely to be sexually active, to not use birth control, and to experience unintended pregnancies.

Can she be fired from her job as star of a Nickelodeon program? In my opinion that would be unlawful pregnancy discrimination. Actress Hunter Tylo successfully sued the producers of "Melrose Place" when they fired her for being pregnant. She was represented by my mother, feminist attorney Gloria Allred, who argued that no woman should have to choose between her baby and her job.

The jury agreed, awarding Tylo over $5 million. The same argument and the same law applies to Jamie Spears.

Could Spears' 18 year-old boyfriend be prosecuted for statutory rape? If the sex occurred in California, the answer is yes. Sex between a person over 18 and a person under 18 is a misdemeanor there, increasing to a felony when the age gap widens. If the sex occurred elsewhere, it would depend on state law. In any event, it would be Spears' boyfriend, not Spears herself, who may have committed a crime.

Nevertheless, the shaming and outcry against Spears has begun, ("THE SPEARS FAMILY SHAME," screams the New York Post headline this morning) as if she became pregnant all by herself, and notwithstanding the fact that nearly 50% of 16 year olds have had sexual intercourse.

Many of the sanctimonious pundits criticizing her probably were sexually active at her age, male athletes who father children out of wedlock, male celebs who don't even visit their own children, are not shamed.

In 2007, sexual shame is still reserved for girls. The same pundits who oppose educating teens about birth control and who oppose abortion rights shame this teenaged girl, who has made the choice to keep her baby. That, my friends, is a crying shame.
Posted By CNN: 11:03 AM ET
  4 Comments
Lisa,
I think that it is a shame that in this day and age that there is an obvious discrimination between boys and girls or men and women when it comes to their sexual actions. It seems that the girl is always branded with the "W" word and the boy is just looked upon as doing what boys will do. That to me has always been stupid! It takes two to tango!!

On the Spears thing it seems to me that her mom was too much of a friend and not enough of a parent! That is a big problem these days. Teenagers need the parent to fulfill that role and stop trying to be their buddies and lay down some rules!

Cynthia, Covington, Ga.
Posted By Blogger Cindy : 11:18 AM ET
Well, we can see that abstinence didn't work in the Spears family. Are these kids taught anything about HIV and other diseases spread by unprotected sex? These programs need to be re-evaluated and revised.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 4:40 PM ET
Given the target audience for Jamie Lynn's show, I really can't perceive her firing as "sexual discrimination."

Being a minor, the morals clause of her contract may even have explicitly mentioned that pregnancy was grounds for termination. Due to the show's demographics, I could honestly buy the argument that she is unable to perform the job while pregnant. It has nothing to do with her and everything to do with the susceptibility of the show's viewers, which distinguishes the show from the Tylo case.

I am sure the show would lose ratings and sponsorship revenue if Jamie Lynn were allowed to remain part of the cast. One thing that bothered me about the Imus firing was that I thought the market should dictate. His audience actually EXPECTED him to talk like that. Depriving people who wanted to hear such things of the opportunity to do so smacked of censorship.

In this case, the actress is not meeting audience (or their parents') expectations. She cannot fulfill the duties for which she was hired, which entail entertaining children. Letting her go would be a reasonable business decision.

I recall the same thing happening to Dana Plato when she became pregnant while starring in "Different Strokes". I see nothing illegal about a termination or at least a modification of her contract, under the unique circumstances.
Posted By Anonymous Michele Jackson, Northridge, CA : 4:45 PM ET
Jamie

I guess it is hard to break a centuries old habit of placing the shame of sex and its results on women. I don't agree with it either but having been brought up in the South I was raised to have low expectations especially where men and sex are concerned so the continuation of sexual shame being placed on women doesn't surprise me.

As the parent of a 14 year old daughter I hope that Miss Spears is taken off the show. There are so many bad examples that our children see anyway - I just don't see deliberately showing them another. A pregnant teen getting national news for her pregnancy plus continuing to star on a tv show and be paid an untold amount of money - on the surface it looks like she's being awarded for her mishap.

I'm glad she is keeping her baby - that is a hard decision but I daresay it was easier for her than for a normal 16 year old girl who doesn't have the money or resources Jamie has.

Merrill
Montgomery AL
Posted By Anonymous Anonymous : 11:28 PM ET
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