To Be Feminist And Fair: The Nuances Of Bristol Palin's PSA


You may have seen the new PSA the Candie’s Foundation put out a few weeks ago. I think it deserves another look.

It features a glammed up Bristol Palin bouncing baby Tripp on her hip, saying that if she didn’t come from such a famous family, with lots of privileges, raising a baby as a single teen parent would be a drastically different experience.

I kind of like the ad because it drew attention to the anomaly that Brisol Palin (and Jamie Lynn Spears) is as a teen mom -– whenever we see her she’s perfectly coiffed, calm, baby is calm, fed, dressed, she looks together. She’s on air, or on camera, or headed somewhere expensive. This is night and day compared to what the vast majority of teen moms in the US — and worldwide –- have to deal with.

I thought it was actually edgy and nuanced of the Candies Foundation to push this message. So often the “role models” that teen moms have in the media are ones that are mostly wealthy, have lots of support, and we’re only seeing the happy side of teen motherhood. So I was annoyed (though not surprised) when the ad was immediately harshed on by the femi-blogosphere. Take this post, for instance, on Feministing. It sums up the ad as suggesting, “don’t get pregnant unless you’re privileged.” It calls the Candie’s Foundation “abstinence pushing” and suggests that Bristol is telling girls that if they’re poor they shouldn’t get pregnant…almost suggesting some kind of terrible class-driven population control.

Other blogs like Bitch followed suit, criticizing Bristol’s “anti-poor” attitude, and calling her a hypocrite. This post on Feminist Looking Glass was more judicious, but still criticized the Candie’s Foundation for its abstinence-only messaging. Overall, coverage from the feminist blogosphere was a bit harsh, a bit alarmist, a bit misinformed overall, if I may say so myself.

If you watch the ad with an open mind (about the Palins in general and in the context of Bristol’s statements on ab-only/teen parenthood specifically) then what do you see? More nuance, more complexity, more important messages. Teen motherhood isn’t as glamorous as Bristol might make it seem on TV; really think and consider the consequences before you have sex.

The Candie’s Foundation has clarified that it is not abstinence-only and neither is Bristol, despite the fact that her messaging becomes murky, especially when her mother is around.

Give the home girl a break. She’s a teen mom who happens to have an incredibly outspoken, famous, and famously conservative mom, who has drawn more wrath from the feminist community since those bozos who tried to vote down suffrage. Bristol is a teenager with a mom who obviously supports abstinence-only and influences but doesn’t speak for her daughter – someone who is a living and breathing example of the perils of this mistaken policy.

I think often times “abstinence” becomes a buzzword of alarm for many of us, who instantly think this means bad, bad things… no to sex, no to information, no to choice. But as one astute commenter on Feministing mentions, abstinence along with other methods, does mean comprehensive.

I certainly don’t condone abstinence-only as a sex ed policy (in case anyone is going to misread me), but it is still true that abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and STIs. As a reproductive health counselor at Planned Parenthood, I told this to my clients in addition to telling them about all of their other options. See? I’m not trying to force anyone to have an abortion, but I’m not pretending that people don’t have sex either. Comprehensive.

Feministing’s own mea culpa (although they never actually admitted that their first post was sensationalist and flat out wrong about some important details) came a few days after they posted their holier-than-thou take on the vid (sorry to harsh on Feministing, I do love them, but that post could not have been more unfair and snide). Feministing founder and abstinence-only watchdog extraordinaire Jessica declares, “Bristol Palin does not support abstinence-only.”

Not to nitpick, but even this second post puts words in Bristol’s mouth, wrongly attributing to her a quote about the rising rates of teen pregnancy to her, instead of to the Candie’s Foundation director Christine who very clearly says it in this Fox interview. My point is simply, let’s be accurate and get to the meat of the real discussion.

Teen pregnancy in this country is a serious, serious problem –- and I salute anyone who is going to use her own life experience to help educate others, and also admit her privilege on national TV.

I think this should be a delicate lesson to all of us, but especially those of us in the feminist blogosphere: 1) let’s keep a critical feminist eye and an open mind; 2) if we want our issues to be treated fairly by opponents, we should always do the same, whenever possible and when rabble rousing isn’t necessary (many times it is); 3) abstinence works, but so do condoms, pills, patches, injections, and rings, etc. and 4) let’s continue to focus on preventing teen pregnancy, with prevention methods proven to be effective.

May 9th is Mother’s Day and unfortunately in this country, far too many teens will be celebrating this year.

This post originally appeared on Gender Across Borders. Republished with permission. Want to see your post here? Email us!

The author of this post can be contacted at [email protected].

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