Bristol Palin — Sarah Palin’s 19-year-old-daughter and unwed mother of 4-month-old Tripp — has been blog-blistered this week for her debut as an Abstinence Ambassador for the Candies Foundation. She made the rounds of the morning shows, appeared at a town hall meeting for National Teen Pregnancy Awareness Day and declared herself committed to discouraging behavior that would leave other girls in the same predicament she finds herself in. “Regardless of what I did personally,” she told Chris Cuomo on Good Morning America, “abstinence is the only … 100% foolproof way you can prevent pregnancy.”
(Note: Time needs to do better fact-checking. Bristol won’t be 19 until October.)
Original DVD cover.
(And, yeah, the Candies Foundation really does have shirts like that! I think they go very well with their family values advertising.)
Charges of hypocrisy ignited immediately: it was all just “a clear bid to help Mama rise higher in the Republican Party,” said Fox News contributor Ellen Ratner. “It doesn’t look good for a future presidential hopeful to have a daughter who had a child and did not marry the dad. They had to re-brand Bristol Palin so that she fits into the conservative base.” It was a mixed message, others charged: “Don’t have sex as a teenager, but if you do, you might end up a happy celebrity with this beautiful baby.” Still others disqualified her from preaching abstinence having clearly not practiced it herself, even though this is entirely in keeping with America’s standard Redemption Narrative.
But you could argue that the true hypocrisy is what came before, at that very political pageant, the Republican National Convention, in which the Palin family, including alleged fiancé Levi Johnston, was presented as a somewhat sprawling Norman Rockwell portrait.
Except that life is much messier and all the odds were against them, and in a real sense it diminishes Bristol’s challenge, and her clear determination to meet it, to pretend otherwise. Only 4 in 10 teenage mothers finish high school; less than 2% of girls who have babies under 18 will finish college by the time they are 30; just waiting until 20 or 21 increases the odds fourfold. Two thirds of families of young unwed mothers are poor. When pregnant teens do marry, they are 50% more likely to get divorced than those who marry without being pregnant.
As for abstinence, Bristol has been right all along. She was right back in February when she said it was “not realistic,” she is right now when she says practicing it is hard, and she’s right that it is much better and safer for kids to postpone having sex. She also advocates that kids who have sex should use contraception. This has always been the embedded irony of the fight over sex education. The increased emphasis on abstinence in the past 15 years has been one factor in pushing back the age at which kids have their first sexual encounters, reducing the number of partners they have and lowering both the teen abortion rates and pregnancy rates (though this year has seen a small uptick). The problem with Abstinence Only education was not the Abstinence, it was the Only. The most effective message, as evidenced in every other industrial country with teen pregnancy rates far lower than ours, is to advocate postponement of sexual activity while providing full and complete information on contraception, decision-making and disease prevention. Which is why the President’s just released budget ends funding for programs that restrict the discussion to abstinence alone.
Not everyone is impressed…
From The Hollywood Gossip:
Their parents were paired together on the Republican ticket in the 2008 election. Now Meghan McCain and Bristol Palin are both speaking up on premarital sex.
Bristol, a teen mom and the daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is now a “teen ambassador” for the Candie’s Foundation, and an advocate for abstinence.
You cannot make this stuff up.
Meghan McCain doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her counterpart, though.
Senator John McCain’s daughter, 24, says that Bristol Palin has a right to her opinion and she respects it, but there’s a lot more to consider on the topic of sex.
“Daughters of Republican politicians aren’t expected to have sex, let alone enjoy it – as if there were some chastity belt automatically attached to us female offspring,” she writes in her column for The Daily Beast.
“God forbid that anyone talk realistically about life experiences and natural, sexual instincts. Nope, the answer is always abstinence.”
And she’s not taking it easy on her dad’s party either.
“Unfortunately, Republicans typically don’t like to discuss or deal with things they think are wrong or immoral. And that’s a huge mistake,” she writes in her column, appropriately called “The GOP Doesn’t Understand Sex.”
“If we can’t discuss birth control in addition to abstinence, in a non-judgmental way, kids will make bad choices for lack of access to informed, safe options.”
From Gail Collins at The New York Times (Op-Ed):
“Just because you’re wearing high-heeled sexy shoes doesn’t mean you should have a baby,” said Neil Cole.
Cole is the head of Iconix, a company that makes the Candie’s line of teen fashions. A couple of years ago, under fire from critics who accused him of dressing high schoolers like tarts, he established the Candie’s Foundation, which fights teen pregnancy. And there he was on Wednesday introducing the foundation’s new teen ambassador, Bristol Palin.
Palin is not in any way to be confused with the new Candie’s brand spokesperson, Britney Spears. Bristol is the one endorsing abstinence; Britney is the one promoting “hot bottoms.”
[W]hen it comes to combating teen pregnancy, the Palin family has done enough damage already. What worse message could you send to teenage girls than the one they delivered at the Republican convention: If your handsome but somewhat thuglike boyfriend gets you with child, he will clean up nicely, propose marriage, and show up at an important family event wearing a suit and holding your hand. At which point you will get a standing ovation.
Now a single mom on the outs with the father of her baby, Bristol wants a new kind of happy ending.
“I just want to go out there and promote abstinence and say this is the safest choice,” she said on “Good Morning America.”
“It’s not going to work,” said her ex-boyfriend, Levi Johnston, in a dueling early-morning interview.
If you have ever watched Levi Johnston on TV for two minutes you will appreciate how terrifying it is when he has the most reasonable analysis of a social issue.
[Bristol's] mom has said in the past that she opposes “explicit” sex education, which kind of sounds like … sex education. And while encouraging kids to wait is obviously fine, the evidence is pretty clear that abstinence education is worse than useless. Texas, where virtually all the schools teach abstinence and abstinence alone, is a teen pregnancy disaster zone. “It’s had one of the highest rates for as long as I can remember,” said David Wiley, a professor of health education at Texas State University.