September 6, 2008

Why Bristol Should Not Be in the Spotlight for Being Pregnant


Bad enough being 17, unmarried and having to break the news to your mum that you're pregnant. But imagine having to break it to America. To the world. Young Bristol Palin (pictured below with boyfriend Levi Johnston) has taken a global media hammering this week out of all proportion to her perceived "crime". She is a teenage girl who's got herself in the family way. She isn't the first. She won't be the last. And she isn't a monster on account of it. But I bet that's not the way this young girl is feeling right now.

And who could blame her? Her pregnancy has featured on front pages across the globe and is cited as evidence that John McCain has made a massive mistake in choosing her mother Sarah as his running mate. Who vetted the candidate for vice President? That's what political commentators have been asking ever since.

What they seem to mean is who vetted the potential VP's family?

What they seem to imply is didn't someone think to send a Clearblue pregnancy test up to Anchorage? Why should the daughter's pregnancy even be an issue?

The argument is that the moose-hunting Sarah Palin is a moralising conservative candidate, anti-abortion, pro-marriage etc etc, so any indication that she doesn't practice what she preaches is open shoot for the media.

So far, so fair.

Any politician knows that their own private life - and to some extent their family's - will come under scrutiny on account of their public pronouncements. They know that things they say and high profile stances they take can - and usually do - come back to haunt them.

And their sons and daughters.

Those who set themselves up to deliver moral judgements need to be pretty sure there's nothing iffy lurking in their own back yard.

The media call it exposing double standards. And it's perfectly legitimate. And it's in the public interest. But the furore surrounding the pregnancy of Bristol Palin is fuelled by something other than just questions about her mother's "family values" stance. Interest in the girl and her condition was sparked initially by foul internet rumours. That is why her condition ever became an issue in the first place.

I don't agree with Sarah Palin's views on, well, practically everything, but I'm not sure she can be accused of double standards.

Her family appear to have closed ranks round her daughter at a time when her daughter needs help. Would we feel happier if, given her own views, Mrs Palin had told the girl to take a hike and sort herself out?

Then there's the boyfriend (the fact that the boyfriend is still around and showing support should also surely be seen as a plus). At 18 years of age he's being monstered in the media because on an internet website he describes himself as a "******* redneck."

This may make him a silly boy. But hardly Radovan Karadzic. If we are going to start assessing teenagers by their self-descriptions on MySpace, we might discover that "******* redneck" is comparatively tame stuff.

How to define the coverage of the Palin story then - the enormous international interest?

Is it sexism, small-townism or anti-Republicanism?

I don't think it's the last, although it may possibly be a small touch of the first and second. More concerning I think is the sense that in this story the mainstream media have allowed themselves to be led by the rumour mill that is the blogosphere.

And that it's not politics or the party or even the moose- hunting governor of Alaska that's been bearing the brunt of the ensuing onslaught.

But a teenage girl in early pregnancy who really does not need the added pressure of a global spotlight being fixed on her boyfriend and her bump.

Originally published by LINDY McDOWELL [email protected]

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