Linda Hirshman, whose Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World feminist analysis I have always had huge admiration for, is apparently over her infuriating brain-fart of condescending feminist-generational-conflict platitudes re: Hillary Clinton's candidacy (won't link to it, too annoying) and back to her smart self with this Slate article, in which she observes that Sarah Palin actually had the gall to say in a press release that her 17 year old daughter "decided to have the baby."
OMG this makes me so unbelievably angry. Yes, Bristol Palin did apparently "decide to have the baby" -- Alaska, I was very surprised to find out, does not actually have a parental consent law about abortions for women under 18.
I -- and many, many people I know -- have some history of being terrorized by parental consent laws. When I was 17 in Mississippi, which has a two-parent consent law (don't know where your dad is? guess you can't let him know he's gonna be a grandpa, cause no abortion for you!), and my mother was flipping out at me on a regular basis about whether I was having sex (I had before but I wasn't then), one of her trump cards, which she reiterated to me till she was good and sure I heard it, was, "And don't you think for one second that we would just take you to get an abortion!" Whether this was an empty threat or not, whether she would have consented to allow me to get an abortion if I had actually been a pregnant 17 year old, I fortunately never got to find out. What matters is that one of the emotional and psychological weapons at her disposal to hold over my head was the incontrovertible fact that I did not have the legal right to decide what to do if that ever happened -- that whether I became a mother or not would be her and my dad's decision to make, not mine.
Thanks to a quirk of juridical chance, Bristol Palin could "decide to have the baby," whereas I would not have been able to "decide" at all -- ONLY because the Alaska Supreme Court threw out their parental consent law in November. One justice's vote otherwise, and the decision would have been Governor Palin's and Mr. Todd Palin's to make, not Bristol's. Wow, I wonder which state supreme court justices Sarah Palin agrees with ideologically? Probably the ones that would have made extra-sure this baby wasn't her daughter's to "decide to have."
Sarah Palin herself, it's safe to say, also got to make a choice when she decided to have her youngest baby despite finding out that he would be born with Down syndrome. As the governor of a state, I'm sure she has very good health care, probably with a sympathetic and ethical private doctor who would have supported her in terminating the pregnancy and kept it confidential. In a world WITH abortion -- the world Gov. Palin lived in when she found out her fetus had Down's -- getting that news meant that she had a real, and difficult,choice to make. In fact, about 90 percent of people who get the news that they're carrying a Down syndrome baby choose to have an abortion. Palin made the choice that a 10 percent minority of people in her position make. As this points out, that's a pretty fucking huge majority to look at and say, 'I think the choice that you made upon being put in this unbelievably difficult position is WRONG and should be ILLEGAL, and I would support amending the U.S. Constitution to BAN it.' The decision she made, that 10 percent of people in her position make, is the one she would impose on 100 percent of the population of this country.
What Sarah Palin stands for, her political project which she pursues with expert stealth and dissembling, is the OPPOSITE of a world in which carrying any pregnancy, planned or unplanned, to term would be ANYTHING like "private," "personal," a "decision," a "choice," or even "how a family deals with issues" (in the over-the-top-classy words of Barack Obama, who you should give some money to RIGHT NOW if you even remotely agree with one word of this blog). What she stands for is the shameless politicization of abortion issues in the service of her own political career and her extreme, merciless hard-line anti-choice ideological agenda. She RAN ON this abortion stuff in order to win the mayoral election in a town of 6,000-something people where mayoral elections used to be about who could get stuff done locally (read that NYT article - she also tried to ban books in the library!). She wasn't afraid to say some unbelievably sick shit to get elected governor.
I really wish that more people would grasp the fundamental impossibility of what these people who want to ban abortion are saying -- you cannot "choose life" if legal abortion doesn't exist. The choice to have a baby in a world WITH abortion takes place in a completely different rational universe from ANY reaction or response to an unplanned pregnancy that anyone would have in a world without legal and accessible abortion. (Unfortunately, those two worlds co-exist right now, with a shitload of women living in the latter world, unable to get legal abortions due to age, job, distance, money, relationships, health care, living situation, etc. etc. etc. Their unwanted pregnancies and un-planned-for children are not 'choices.')
And furthermore, I am sick of women like Sarah Palin using anecdotes about the difficult choices they or their loved ones have made to continue unplanned pregnancies to argue against the right to abortion. Let me state it even more strongly - NO EXPERIENCE of finding yourself unexpectedly pregnant, having the option of abortion available and accessible to you, and deciding to go ahead and have the baby anyway is EVER admissible as evidence in any argument for the legal banning or restricting of abortion. It is NOT POSSIBLE to extrapolate from that experience to ANY experience one would have if abortion were illegal. The same exact situation -- being Sarah Palin, for example, a married mother of four who's just discovered her fetus has Down syndrome -- would transform from one of choice to one of compulsion. It would be a different reality and you would feel completely differently about it. Instead of feeling empowered to take on what you felt was the difficult, but ultimately more rewarding and more in line with your values, choice, you would feel trapped and resentful. Don't they get it?! The rewards and blessings they are so adamant that they've experienced from continuing unplanned pregnancies in these difficult situations substantively DEPEND on their having made a free choice to take on the obligation of parenthood!
Linda Hirshman asks: do we really want to go back to how it was before? "I'm so old I can remember when this was common. At least two of my classmates at Shaker Heights High School in 1962 also 'chose' to marry their teenage beaus and have babies instead of, you know, going to college." I totally agree with her here: "That moment of risk will now determine the course of much of the rest of Bristol Palin's life,and every statistical indicator is that it will not be for the better. For the millions of women each year who do not want to make that choice, and for the parents who do not want that fate for their daughters, the cruelty of the Republican position on abortion rights is now graphically laid bare."
These are the "choices" that we'll have to look forward to if John McCain or, god forbid, Sarah Palin becomes president and the Republicans are in control of the Supreme Court and the vetoing/signing of legislation -- choices that very few people would actually make for themselves or for their children will become the law of the land.
This other Slate article calls Palin out on this kind of hypocrisy in other gender and family-life issues too, making the smart observation that for Republicans, the only acceptable kind of 'career woman' (not to say 'f**inist') is one like Palin, who actively opposes and works to abolish any and all social safety net provisions (what feminists have been fighting for for several decades now: parental leave, subsidized child care, etc.) that might make family life a little more manageable for those of us who don't have a husband earning a high salary in a job that gives huge chunks of the year off (like commercial fishing) -- or hell, for anyone who isn't uniquely financially, familial-ly, and physically positioned to excel in her career while having a huge number of children and never needing more than 3 days off after giving birth -- because if she didn't need those things, why should any woman? In effect, of course, these uber-privileged 'successful career women' would be few and far between, tokenistic exceptions to an all-male public sphere -- which is, I have to suspect, exactly the effect the right wingers would really like to see. (And Palin's "aw shucks, if I can do it anyone can be Vice President!!" affect oh-so-cleverly covers up the truly retrograde implications of her anti-choice stance.)
When I first heard McCain's announcement and found out about Palin's positions on all this stuff, this piece by Heather Corinna at Scarleteen came immediately to mind:
"I'd posit that a lot of conservative women have the best of all possible worlds. They can malign or try and limit sexuality education, birth control and abortion all they like, even very publicly, even fight it actively, and yet, it's still there for them -- for now, and tenuously because of their efforts to make it so -- when they need it, without judgment, and most of them do use at least some of these things. They can benefit from the feminist movement when it comes to getting them out of the house, allowing them the ability to be public spokespeople, to be politically visible, and reap those benefits while denouncing their source. They can even beg off sex to prevent pregnancy by being able to say they are so, so tired from doing the things in a day that only movements they oppose have allowed them to do. They can also cheerlead marriage and abstinence even if their marriages are a mess and they didn't abstain from sex themselves. They don't have to be consistent or truthful in any of this, because they know they can rely on our consistency, and the truth of our commitments."
When I found out about Palin's daughter's pregnancy, I was doubly reminded of Heather's observation that women's ability to even BE involved in politics, or, hell, in the public sphere AT ALL depends on our being able to control when and how we bear children, by having access to real sex education, birth control, and abortion.
Now I hope and pray that Bristol Palin may defeat the odds and prove me and Linda Hirshman and everybody else as wrong as we can be by achieving every dream her heart desires, but the odds are what the odds are: after having a baby and getting married at the age of 17, Bristol Palin will never be a candidate for Vice President of the United States.
Wasn't that supposed to be the whole point of women -- of anyone! -- being in public life at all?! That our daughters (and sons) would be able to go further than we did?? That they would attain rights, not lose them; have obstacles removed, not have the previous generation's advances taken away?? I think Heather Corinna is chillingly right-on:
"If you just think, as a woman yourself, that it'd be best for women to be without options anymore, for women's lives to revert (and when I say that, I'm not even talking about all women: for the poorest women and women of color in many areas, marriage never even pretended to offer financial security, stability or safety) to being about nothing but preparation for marriage-and-mothering-as-career, then just freaking say it, and out of both sides of your face, please, with baby food in your hair and in your sweatpants, not a $500 hairdo and a Brooks Brothers suit. If you want to say that comprehensive, accurate sex education benefits no one, then you'd best start planning now for how you're going to cover it when your perfect teenage kid who has pledged abstinence gets knocked up, or winds up with PID due to an untreated STI from their new husband -- who wanted to marry them, so he must have been a good guy, and who said he loved God and was waiting until marriage, so he must have been -- an STI they didn't even know they had since marriage = safe sex and no one who waits for sex until marriage needs regular pap smears and STI screenings.
If you think, as a woman, women should have no choice as to when they have sex, when they become pregnant, if they remain pregnant, if they parent, then just say so and mean it.... which means you're going to be saying it to a house full of whining tots, not on the evening news, not in your new Random House book; not with your sign you can somehow afford to stand holding every day in front of clinics where women are working, plenty to support the freaking kids women have already, plenty to support women just like you on the day you show up there, talking about how against abortion you are while you're getting one"...
...And not from the podium at the Republican National Convention!
God, what a hypocrite.