Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Some rambling thoughts...

No, I don't think it's anyone's business that Bristol Palin is pregnant. As a formerly pregnant teenager who made a different choice, I don't think she should be shamed.

Still, I can't help noticing how markedly diferent the rhetoric/coverage surrounding her pregnancy is when compared to young women of color--particularly the reactions from conservatives and evangelicals. To sum it up:
"When the subject is a pregnancy to an unwed, minority teenage mother growing up in some (presumably Democratic) urban area, that pregnancy becomes fodder for lectures from conservatives about bad parenting, the perils of welfare spending and so on. But when the subject is a pregnancy to an unwed, white teenager from some small town in a Republican state, that pregnancy is...a celebration of the wonders of God's magnificence--and choosing life!" ― Thomas Schaller
Via Prof Tracey. (I'm assuming that works in the same way that it's "endearing" that Palin is a mother of five but a poor woman would be treated scornfully for the same?)

At the back of my mind, since I read about this, I've been thinking what if Malia or Sasha Obama was older and pregnant? Can you imagine the tropes that would be trotted out? The "See, I told you sos?" The condemnation--not only of the Obamas, but of African Americans in general--from the very people who are closing ranks around Bristol Palin? I do not think it is an invasion of the Palin privacy to say, yes, those people are hypocrites.

What it comes down to, again, is reproductive freeedom. You see, not only does Bristol Palin have the right, in a legal sense, to choose to continue this pregnancy, she also has a "cultural right" to be a mother. What do I mean? She's a white woman, part of a group whose role as mother is encouraged and rewarded. Not so for women of color who are questioned as mothers, as I noted a year-and-a-half ago when talking about children who were ripped away from their mothers because of ICE raids:
A discourse has developed in this country to support stealing our children away from us that attacks us as immoral, "illegal," or uneducated. I see this raid on a historical continuum with black children sold away from their mothers and Native children forced into "Indian schools" so they could be "properly" Christianized and Americanized. In fact, Americanizers of the late 19th/early 20th century spent inordinate amounts of time threatening to take immigrant children from their parents, telling immigrant mothers how their methods of child-rearing were substandard to those of more WASP-y Americans, probably as much time as 20th century welfare critics spent convincing themselves that poor black women did not really love or want their children--they only had them to get more out of the system--and as much time as 21st century anti-immigration proponents spend convincing themselves that Latinas don't really love or want their children--they just want anchor babies.

At the same time all these theories hurt our children, they hurt us, too. They justify the exploitation of our labor--it's okay if we work long hours in dangerous jobs; our children don't really need us. They justify the exploitation of our bodies--after all we're manipulative women not above using them for material gain. They justify the continual denial of the most basic rights to us.
Bristol Palin's future mothering is not as worrisome to us as that of the girls whom we are taught to think of as typical teen mothers.

To be fair, some conservatives have at least admitted the problem, in their eyes, isn't wholly teenage pregnancy, but unwed motherhood. I guess marriage to (typically) another teenager magically eradicates all the potential problems associated with the pregnancy itself not to mention the poverty that often comes afterward. So perhaps the Palin's carefully tacked on "and will marry the baby's father" changes how news of Bristol's pregnancy is being received, as well. (I swear, I want to tell some people, we can add and subtract; we're still going to know if people had sex/got pregnant before marriage).

Btw, I'm sorry, Sarah Palin can't have it both ways. Her daughter's pregnancy can't simultaneously be "no reflection on her" and proof that she (Sarah Palin) "walks the talk." It is Bristol Palin who's "walking the talk."


MichelleCH said...

thank you for addressing this issue..I have been thinking the same thoughts since it was announced that Bristol Palin is pregnant.All teenagers (humans) make mistakes and I don't believe that Bristol should be a target.

Just one other thought that I will throw in there: Sarah Palin has and continues to advocate for abstinence only education. I think that this just continues to promote the blaming the victim mentality that is rampant among conservatives. To me, it also serves to show her lack of judgment and a poor sense of what is needed in this country.

Kimberly said...

For me, Palin's daughter's pregnancy should have NO bearing on whether or not she's qualified to be VP. But there IS a double standard out there just as Elle discussed, which is frustrating to say the least.

My other issue with this is that Palin is AGAINST sex education in schools and staunchly FOR abstinence education only. How's that working for ya Ms. Palin?

k8 said...

Aside from the issues you brought up, I think that what bothers me most is that it looks like this young woman was taken out of school once they found out she was pregnant. I mean, how 1950s is that! I suspect that they can afford plenty of private tutoring, whatever, but this really bothers me for some reason.

Sublimefemme said...

I completely agree. Of course Palin is stunningly unqualified to be VP & that's the key issue here, but this story does--at least for me--highlight the hypocrisy of the Republican Party about "family values" issues, among other things.

Unknown said...

first, can i say that I betcha sarah palin gave whatever boy impregnated her daughter total hell? That I betcha she took one of her guns and told him, oh, you will be marrying my daughter and if you lay one finger on her, I'll remember how to shoot this thing. haha.

I would not want to have been her daughter or the boy telling sarah palin about a pregnancy.

secondly--I couldn't agree w/ you more regarding the differences in how this pregnancy is being interpreted compared to the pregnancies of teens of color.

The pregnancies of latinas in general and immigrant latinas specifically are used as justification to continue violent militaristic enforcement of anti-immigration laws. They're used as reasons to take away or severally curtail medicaid/medicare, and even imprison women.

add to all those basic facts the inherent sexism in our own communities that mocks, humiliates and looks down on teen pregnancies because they're "proof" to white people that Latinos are 'X'(and yes, I've even heard old school chicana feminists pulling out this line)--there's just no way you can compare the two reactions at all. the uterus of teen girls of color almost literally belong to her community and are used to *represent* her community to the world. You asked exactly the right question, who has the cultural right to be a mother? Whose *choices* are respected and whose aren't?

That's what's wrong with the "choice" rhetoric surrounding abortion/pregnancy is that it doesn't acknowledge--some women's choices are valued much more than others. and so a latina 15 year old may have the choice to carry a pregnancy to term--but her choice is not a respected/honored one, and she is actively denied resources and help because of the choices she makes. Many times, she's even criminalized.

(and on a side note, consider bill cosbey and how he treats poor black women who have babies--what would his reaction be to an obama pregnancy compared to, say, a teen, homeless bfp pregnancy? you know?)

Anonymous said...

right on, elle! what i would like to know, first off, is what kind of sex education did this girl have. was it abstinence only? ie what is the policy in NY? i bring it up b/c it reflects the policies that Palin might/does support.

also, this whole, well it's ok she's having the kid b/c she's getting married. yah, aside from the entire race thing, i'm sure that starting a teenage marriage where neither party is done with school/has a job/own place, etc, is so much more laudable than a girl who chooses to keep the baby and not marry the father. omg, unwed mothers, yikes! it will be ok, just like it was with the spears sister, b/c they're white and "at least they're marrying the guy"


Anonymous said...

Delurking to say thanks for this! It is an awesome post.

What is your policy on linking? There's a discussion of Bristol's pregnancy going on at Feministe, and if it is okay with you I would like to point readers to your analysis.

Anyway, just wanted to reiterate again what a great post this is!

elle said...

Thanks for the comments--today is a work day, so I've been in and out. I'm glad teh post sparked so many thoughts (like, I was glad to see, "and here's a factor, too, elle")

Ico, feel free.

and bfp, thanks for the insights and for letting me dump all this on you yesterday.

Sublimefemme said...

bfp: fantastic comments--particularly around the implicit privilege of "choice" rhetoric.

justme: I'm confused. NY? Doesn't she live in Alaska? And from what I've heard she is a product of "abstinence only" sex ed. Which clearly doesn't work well, as many commentators have already pointed out!

mrs. o said...

As usual elle, wonderful post! How WOC are treated so uneaqually when it comes to issues such as pregnancy makes me think of how Erykah Badu was treated when it was revealed she was pregnant again. She was ripped up one side and down the other(because she has never married her children's father and has no intention of marrying this one's father) yet it is okay for Bristol to be pregnant because she is getting married?????? Marriage is not the miracle cure to society's ills and I will be so overjoyed when more people realize this!

hesperia said...

Well, I guess the white liberal doodz can't be accused of hypocrisy, since they're whacking the shit out of that "slut", Bristol Palin. Shameful.

The blog I use now is at:


k8 said...

Just saw this article about Palin using her first line-item veto to cut funding for an organization that gives teen mom's a place to live.


k8 said...

Oops! the end of that url is:


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