There are many cynical takes on Bristol Palin's stepping onto the morning chat show circuit as teen ambassador for Candie's Foundation, an organization funded by the company that markets sexy shoes to teens focused upon teen pregnancy prevention through abstinence. Personally, my most cynical response? It's hard to find work when you're eighteen, on your own, not through high school, and have a four-month old baby. Talking about anything on national television? Nice work if you can get it.
She appeared in interviews with her father by her side and her four month-old baby, Tripp, in her arms. Her core message is that teens should avoid getting pregnant. Despite seeing her child not as a "mistake. He's a blessing," she wants to clarify: "I'm trying to tell them that this is a 24-hour-a-day job. It's not like an accessory on your hip, it's hard work."
Okay, I also say–not entirely in jest–to our babysitters that our house makes for great birth control. True, you can love your children and remain clear about parenthood's relentless workload. Those first three months of a newborn's life could be deemed one very long day, because you never get a full night's sleep to delineate one day to the next. I, too, believe a woman–young or old–should consider what having a child means (not a cute baby, not a fairy tale dream, the real responsibility). So, is there a reason to be cynical or skeptical about Bristol Palin sharing her version of a similar realization? I think the answer is yes for these reasons: 1) Bristol Palin's putting herself out as a cautionary tale, while kind of insisting she's not a cautionary tale at the same time. Her assertion of how hard this is seems to outweigh her insistence that having a baby–for her–feels like a blessing (now, I am not saying she's not in love with her baby, but perhaps that she's not so in love with how motherhood has changed her life thus far). She's not talking about what this would be like without the support of her Governor mother and "first dude" father–and of course without them, no one would care to hear what she had to say on the subject, anyway. 2) She's now fully a bundle of contradictions, in that she's saying not to have a baby and not to have sex (do what I say, not what I do?). Making choices is very different than being told there's one right route and one wrong one (especially when the person telling you this is saying she took the wrong one but it turned out all right, kind of, after all she's on national television smiling and her baby's not crying). Palin now touts "abstinence as the only “100 percent foolproof way you can prevent pregnancy” reversing her earlier position that abstinence is “not realistic at all.” If she'd say, "I wish I'd chosen abstinence," that'd be one thing. Instead, her "proud" father, Todd Palin observed, "You can never turn back the clock."
The contradictions are larger than Bristol Palin, of course. That a company selling sexy then vigorously funds abstinence and what's more warns that teen fathers rarely marry the mothers of their children and that the sons of teen couples are twice as likely to end up in prison. Flirt but don't touch. Any touching will cause 1) blindness or 2) your sons to go to prison.
The spotlight probably isn't a healing place for Bristol Palin. Whether she's desperate for work, her parents' approval, attention or not desperate at all, she's a very young person without autonomy and with the responsiblity for another human being. For this reason, the right should question how it's using her. Because one question she raises–by sitting beside her father (no husband on the horizon, he was on another chat show promoting himself) discussing the merits of abstinence–is what will this pro-abstinence movement do for the other high school teens who have babies and then take up a pro-abstinence line? Do they all get families to support them until they can support their children? Cynics and realists alike know the answer.