Look. I never thought Sarah Palin should get a free pass on 1) using motherhood as one of her chief qualifications for public office and then 2) telling America we had no right to know anything about her family. I sharply criticized Palin for getting on an airplane while leaking amniotic fluid. I thought it was reasonable for people to criticize her for marketing herself as a perfect mother when, clearly, she’s not.
But back in September, when Bristol Palin turned up pregnant, I also wrote that criticizing her was out of bounds:
There’s no room for schadenfreude. She shouldn’t be made the poster child for the failure of abstinence-only approaches to teenage sexuality; we have too many such poster children already. She’s going to face the difficulties of early motherhood with the added burden of publicity. She’ll also find deep joy in her baby, I’m sure – a point too rarely mentioned for all the moralizing about “teenage mothers.” She’s embarking on an amazing adventure in one of the hardest ways possible. I wish her well.
Now that Bristol has given an interview and basically said, yes, it’s hard but I love my baby, I don’t really have anything more to say about her – except that I really feel for her when she lets slip that she mourns a chance to just be herself, for herself.
But darn it, too many people that I otherwise like and respect are amplifying the Bristol interview and making her into, well, the poster girl for the bankruptcy of abstinence-only education. Sure, Bristol herself said it doesn’t work. That’s worth reporting. But Rebecca Traister at Salon goes on to comment:
Bristol went on to make more (perhaps unwitting) feminist points about what, exactly, the responsibilities and consequences are for young women who choose (or are forced down) the path she took.
For the rest of us [non-prolifers], of course, the whole thing is a horror show.
Both Rebecca and Amanda then go on to give Sarah Palin the drubbing she deserves. I’m all for that. I just wonder: Can’t we call out Palin on her hypocrisy and failed policies without dragging Bristol any deeper into it? I mean, Amanda sees the problem when it’s coming from the opposite direction:
Abstinence-only had been sold to the country as a teenage pregnancy prevention program, but the right wing reaction to Bristol made it clear that it was a teenage pregnancy inducement program, and Bristol was the poster child for its intended effects. [my emphasis]
Analytically, I agree with Amanda 100 percent on what the ‘wingers were up to. Yet I think we can make this argument without making Bristol the poster child for a feminist critique of wingnutty views on sexuality. Otherwise, we’re reversing the terms, not redefining them.
And we can certainly condemn the failures of abstinence-only without endorsing statements that hold Bristol up as a “perfect example ” and assume we know just what went down between Bristol and her mother. In fact, we don’t know whether Sarah Palin forbade Bristol to have an abortion.
Let’s not make Bristol pay for the sins of her mother.