Bristol Palin’s Abstinently Incoherent People Mag Cover
So here I am at the supermarket, stalled out behind an endearingly sincere old woman trying to figure out how her checkbook works, and I happen to glance over at a nearby People magazine cover. I’m hit with an image of a cooing baby, a gleaming smile, and this:
Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter talks about her life with baby Tripp. “If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex,” says Bristol. “Trust me. Nobody.”
It’s a more than a little awkward: that poor little “consequence” is, like, right there. If you think his ears are burning now, wait till he grows up and his friends in high school get a hold of this cover. And the literal reading of the quote’s meaning isn’t any less awkward: as far as I can tell, the fact that teenagers can get pregnant from sex is not a particularly compelling reason for the entire human race to give up sexual reproduction altogether, no?
But the larger problem is that Palin seems like a fairly bizarre choice for illustrating the negative consequences of teen pregnancy. Most teen mothers don’t have the option of getting paid handsome sums for People magazine cover shoots. And then there’s the problem that Palin’s family seems supportive, fairly well-to-do and as about as politically/financially connected as you can get. Most teen mothers are a terrible position, socially: if you really cared about illustrating the dangers of teen pregnancy, you’d pick a spokesmom living in poverty with few educational opportunities to begin with. Not an beaming proto-model with family ambitions of vacationing in the White House. Lacking any of that sort of hardship, Bristol’s plight as described in the article instead turns out to sound pretty much exactly what every mother, young or old, has to face when raising kids. She has to breast pump! The baby cries sometimes while she’s doing things! While no one should ever underestimate the difficulty of raising a baby, especially as a single mother, the main thing about doing it as a celebrity teen seems to be that you get to be especially dramatic about it. Meanwhile, underprivileged mothers all over the planet soldier on entirely unsung.
Worse, a lot of the drama doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense. Bristol talks about having to give up her dream to be a nurse, heading off to school for a prospective career in real estate instead. But in her case money seems like no object (her mother was gifted hundreds of thousands of dollars from friendly donors for clothes alone) and full-time childcare would be a breeze to arrange in her case. Plenty of people who’ve had kids later go on to become nurses, sometimes even doing so much later in life after changing out of a first career. Plenty of people get pregnant and have babies while in nursing school, and they seem to do just fine too. Again, there’s no downplaying the hardship involved, but it’s an attainable goal and many women do attain it, to their credit. Palin seems to have far more resources at her disposal than most. Plenty of young mothers have to give up on their dreams, and it’s a tragedy. But nothing in Palin’s case seems to actually require it.
I’m not particularly against promoting teen abstinence in general. I’m a proponent of comprehensive sex education, and “don’t sleep with high school jocks” is definitely part of “how not to get knocked up 101.” But this story can’t seem to decide if it’s glamorizing teen pregnancy or making fun of it. And it ultimately underscores the basic incoherence of the abstinence-only folks: they seem to care far more about celebrating one of their own (conservative, Christian, rich, white) than actually warning people away from having babies when they’re not ready for them (perhaps because the teen abstinence-only crowd overlaps “pregnant and barefoot” and “endless streams of babies are a blessing” crowds). What comes across pretty clearly is that using and teaching kids about birth control is a MUCH worse sin to some people than being fruitful and multiplying: if s%*t happens then, well then at least the Bible said it would happen, so that’s all ok then.