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Feminspire | April 19, 2014

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Violence, Teen Mom, and Celebrity Treatment: Why is Amber Different?

Violence, Teen Mom, and Celebrity Treatment: Why is Amber Different?

Whether you enjoy watching “Trashy TV” or you sit on your couch and grumble about how there is nothing good on TV anymore, we can all probably name at least five reality TV shows off at the top of our heads. How annoying is it that MTV “doesn’t play music anymore” when we have YouTube that plays it for us, right? Regardless, I can bet most of America (and a good portion of other countries) is aware of a little show called Teen Mom. You love it, you hate it, you love to hate it – it doesn’t matter because you can’t turn around in the supermarket without seeing a headline about some form of Teen Mom drama.

So what does everyone think about Teen Mom? I can bet most everyone I know either hates the show or secretly watches the show and pretends not to. Why? I mean, sure, some may just not be interested in the show, but why is it so violently hated? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what causes this hugely negative feedback towards four young women with children. They are not very different from us minus two large factors: one being most of people at this age do not have children, and two being most of us do not broadcast our lives for all of America to see. I can bet we would like to write off our severe distaste of these teen mothers as just discomfort towards willing media attention, though I have to ask: why it is simply the mothers who receive the brunt of criticisms?

Before I begin to dissect negative media attention, introducing the women I am talking about is important for readers who haven’t turned the TV on or read a magazine for the past four years.

Of the original four Teen Mom characters, there is Maci, the sweet country girl. She and her son Bently have become a favorite among Teen Mom fans, being praised for her maturity and intelligence. The second favorite with fans is Catelynn Lowell. Lowell is different from the other teen moms for two reasons. For one, she and the father, Tyler, are still together and set to get married this summer, and secondly, during her pregnancy Tyler and Catelynn decided to give their daughter, Carly, up for adoption. Teen Mom continues to follow the couple, giving an insight on what it is like to make the difficult choice of adoption and to also document their extreme family drama. Catelynn has been described as kind and level-headed, and though struggling with the depression of giving up her daughter, continuously admits it was the right choice for her and Tyler.

The other two teen moms are not so well received by audiences. The first is Farrah, who is famous for being able to go from laughing to crying in about .0001 second flat. I will admit I am not the biggest fan of Farrah Abram, mainly for her treatment of her parents and how she handles her daughter, Sophia, treating her more as an accessory than a child. I’ve never been one to play into the whole “spoiled, girly girl princess” trope, but I will say this: Farrah definitely has some depth to her. The main criticism I hear toward Farrah is not her mistreatment of her family or her impatience towards Sophie, but her attributes that make her “feminine”.

The final character, and most hated of all, is Amber. Amber is tricky, and anyone who watches the show will know at times she is very difficult to like, though I must keep in mind I am watching her through a TV screen, and no way is anyone likable every second of every day while the whole world is watching. Amber is the most drama-ridden of all the teen moms. For one, her baby daddy/boyfriend/fiancé/ex-fiancé/ex-boyfriend tends to terrorize and emotionally manipulate her at least once an episode. If anyone watched the series finale like I did, you will remember the incident where Gary held their daughter Leah a birthday party without telling Amber, and she is unable to attend – all this simply because she fell into a new relationship. Gary, on several occasions, almost holds Leah hostage and over Amber’s head to devastate Amber and get what he needs from her. The end result is never pretty. Through the show Gary has triggered Amber on the anniversary of her baby sister’s death, taken Leah away from Amber and not allowed her to talk to her own daughter for days at a time, and even weirdly called Amber a “slut puppy.” And who could forget the episode of 16 & Pregnant where Gary buys an Xbox for $500 instead of paying for medical bills or spending it on preparing for the baby?

The main issue with Amber, though, is her abusive past, which I do not condone. On an episode with Amber and her then boyfriend/baby daddy Gary, Amber pushes Gary against a wall and slaps him. Watching that scene makes me physically ill and there is no excuse for her behavior.

The media attention surrounding Amber is not focused solely on the abuse. It is focused on her anger problems, her (now) drug/legal issues, and her image. Though mostly valid criticisms, Amber’s media attention is strictly negative. In a poll of Teen Mom cast members, Amber is favored in 1.07%. Though Amber is flawed, and some acts have absolutely no excuse and can be seen as unforgivable, I often am reminded of many celebrities who have been charged with domestic abuse.

Family favorite actor, Bill Murray, was accused of domestic abuse with one ex-wife, who stated that he beat her on at least one occasion, later saying, “you’re lucky I didn’t kill you.” Some celebrity who I have no idea is but apparently everyone else does, Michael Fassbender, was accused of twisting his ex’s ankle, blowing out her kneecap, breaking her nose and dragged her alongside a car. Even musician Miles Davis, who is considered to be the musician of the century by some, admits in his autobiography to hitting his partners. I could go on all day about beloved, white male celebrities who were accused of domestic abuse, including such famous faces as Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Sean Penn and Roman Polanski. And all have been welcomed back into society… for the most part. 

Amber’s behavior, as I have said, is inexcusable, but I cannot stand by and watch this young woman get ripped apart while abusers continue to walk free and are given excuses for their behavior. One might say Amber’s trauma of losing her little sister as a child to SIDS could have stemmed severe mental instability. One theory I have for her explosive behavior is a patriarchal society that causes abuse towards men to be overlooked, and thus Amber assuming hitting Gary to be less of an issue than if Gary hit Amber. Whatever the reason, I still maintain that whatever may have happened to you in life, you are never given a free pass to hit another person.

So where is Amber now? Amber is currently in prison for a parole violation and it is speculated drug abuse as well. Her sentence is five years, while Gary has sole custody of their daughter; it is hard to say what will happen when she is released. Currently, Gary is dating Leah’s nanny and it is rumored that Leah is calling this new girlfriend “mom”, confusing Leah and allowing her to forget her own mother. Where is Bill Murray? He has become something of a beloved Internet icon as well as favorite actor. I can only wonder how much of this hatred toward Amber is based on her gender, how much is based on the severe distaste for the young mother’s choice (damned if you have an abortion, damned if you don’t), and how much has to do with the severe hatred of reality television. If I were to bet, my best guess would be on gender.

Written by Emma Beasley