MARRIAGE FOR 17-YR-OLD BRISTOL PALIN — HOW 1950′s!

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Sarah Palin’s 17 year old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant. So why no uproar from conservative Christians (as Sarah Palin describes herself), or from those abstinence-only sex-education Republicans?? Because she’s marrying her boyfriend, Levi Johnston, that’s why!

How 1950′s! That’s the decade that saw a peak number of teenage pregnancies (the national teen birth rate reached a peak in 1957, at 96 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19.) Half the pregnancies resulted in “shotgun weddings” to preserve the young woman’s honor. Those marriages didn’t fare too well, but Bristol’s is sure to last through the November election, which is all that really matters, right? (Of those young women who did not marry, over 25,000 a year were sent to more than 200 unwed-mother homes where they gave birth secretly and almost always relinquished their children for adoption. Women who gave birth and kept their children, including the black women who were excluded from most of the unwed-mother homes, faced harsh state policies, including eviction from public housing and denial of public assistance. More on this in Chapter 2 of my book.)

Of all the legal and social changes of the late 1960′s and 1970′s, none is more significant than the end of “illegitimacy” as a legal category and the reduction in social stigma associated with nonmarital birth. Women now have the choice to bear children without a husband, with the knowledge that the law won’t discriminate against those children. They also can choose an abortion…although I doubt Bristol Palin really had that choice, in spite of the fact that the Alaska legislature this year kept a bill requiring parental consent from passing. (You might want to donate to Planned Parenthood Alaska to help keep it that way.)

Still, it’s no surprise that the daughter of a prominent abstinence-only conservative is pregnant. Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. Meanwhile, we haven’t heard a date for the wedding, so I’m thinking this marriage plan is, well, somewhat last minute. You see, if Bristol wanted to raise this baby on her own –like the teenage girls in Gloucester, MA — this story would be playing completely differently.

-Nancy Polikoff (cross-posted from Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage)

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24 Responses to MARRIAGE FOR 17-YR-OLD BRISTOL PALIN — HOW 1950′s!

  1. Francine Lipman says:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-smiley/womens-issue_b_123120.html

    Jane Smiley (see link above) does a good job of describing “Women’s Issues,” with respect to Governor Palin and her daughter’s pregnancy. Specifically, she states Governor Palin has rejected for all women, including her 17 year old daughter, a woman’s right to make reproductive choices and for the right to privacy with respect to these choices. Ironically, Palin asks the public to respect her daughter’s privacy regarding her pregnancy. Even though Palin in her first public speech as the VP candidate, put her family onto the public stage and introduced them to us as her first order of business.

    As Nancy Polikoff describes above, when Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy she reported with pride and enthusiasm that her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend were going to get married. As if choosing life (although in Palin’s world there would be no legal alternative) and marriage are simply the perfect answer and the end of any issues regarding this apparently unplanned pregnancy. For some strange reason, I am always thinking “outside of the womb.” How will two teenagers without high school degrees and no apparent jobs be able to raise, afford and be responsible for the growth and development of a child in America today? What about critical issues like housing, food, health care, a living wage, child care, clean air, water and land, quality education (maybe even sex education and college), immigration, disaster relief, world peace, equal rights, dignity and privileges for all, etc., etc. These are the complex and challenging issues that must be addressed for life. And they are not answered with a pair of wedding rings and “I dos.”

  2. Rachelle says:

    Liberal commentators are as vulnerable to prejudice, dogma, and over-simplification of the human experience as the Right. Nowhere is this most apparent than in the patronizing and de-humanizing discussions of teenage pregnancies that have served to perpetuate a socially acceptable negative stereotype of young people who choose to begin their adult lives in committed relationships with children.

    “For some strange reason, I am always thinking”outside of the womb.”How will two teenagers without high school degrees and no apparent jobs be able to raise, afford and be responsible for the growth and development of a child in America today?” Francine asks.

    Allow me to answer that question with one possibility: they spend their youth working, studying, and parenting rather than drinking and sexually experimenting.

    My 18-year old daughter is preparing to attend college and major in Political Science. This wonderful child was born to married parents who were 17 and 19. Unlike Bristol, her parents (my husband and I) had no help and lots of student loans. I would guess life will be much easier for Bristol and her husband than it was for us. I went to graduate school while raising my children and my husband and I today have household earnings well above six figures 18 years later, and good children.

  3. hysperia says:

    In general I’m a fan of Nancy Polikoff, but not in this case. It’s just so inappropriate to use Bristol Palin to make the arguments she’s making in this case because we make so many assumptions about her, based on her mother’s politics. Who knows if Bristol was using contraceptives? A 17-year old is perfectly capable of acquiring them on her own. And, as I’m sure we all know, young women who use contraceptives very often get pregnant. Also, I assume that feminism means that this young woman’s choice to proceed with her pregnancy ought to be respected. Many young women (and women of all ages) who are pro-choice make the choice to give birth. So, not only are Polikoff’s comments inappropriate, her arguments don’t even work. SIGH.

  4. Francine Lipman says:

    Thank you Rachelle for your thoughtful comments and compelling and impressive life story. Your points are actually aligned with my comments and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to further explain. I strongly support women’s reproductive choices and privacy with respect to these choices including, of course, the choice “to begin their adult lives in committed relationships with children.” However, as your family can attest America needs better support systems for struggling families. We need affordable housing, child care, food, health care, and preschool through higher education. As a law prof, I have had the privilege of having hard-working dedicated and responsible parents like you in my classrooms. And it is obvious that their success is due to exactly what you have described countless hours of “working, studying, and parenting.” Your daughter is the future of this country and we all benefit from her success due to your family’s commitment and dedication. But parenting and marriage are enormous commitments and responsibilities that should be informed, thoughtful choices (BTW: for all members of our society). Congratulations on your hard-earned successes to you and every member of your family.

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