I tend to agree with Ampersand when he says that Bristol Palin and her pregnancy should not be part of the national discourse. In fact, I urged him to make the post yesterday in which he argued:
It’s appalling that Governor Palin had to publicly announce her daughter’s pregnancy, apparently to kill some rumors.
The speculation about this has been shallow, stupid, disgusting. It’s not something that political bloggers should be treating as a news story. And it’s completely unfair to Palin’s daughter, who is not a public figure and shouldn’t be subjected to public discussions of her body or her pregnancy.
But I think Amanda has some interesting points when she argues:
I find it interesting how the McCain/Palin campaign tried to shut down the P.R. disaster that is Bristol Palin’s pregnancy by calling for privacy, which was, just short of their invocation of “choice”, about hiding behind feminist values to assault feminism itself, since they wish you and your family have neither privacy nor choice when it comes to management of your life. But what I find especially interesting is that “privacy” was not actually a feminist value until it had to be in order to get reproductive rights established. Which isn’t to say that I’m against respecting people’s privacy (and really, this is the last mention of the Palin thing in this post*), but that rooting reproductive rights in the value of privacy instead of autonomy and self-determination has actually created some massive problems for us.
Privacy is a double-edged sword. Outside of its use by feminists to get what we want (reproductive rights) without scaring people by arguing for women’s equality, privacy is generally a patriarchal value. It shields rapists and wife-beaters. The sense that women are the private property of men is still more ingrained in our society than the idea that uteruses are the private property of women. To illustrate, here’s an interesting story from Jessica:
Another one (apologies, can’t find a link to the original article anywhere) was from a couple of years ago when a woman was grabbed on a crowded subway platform by a strange man who was attempting to drag her away. As she fought him, he pretended that they were having a “lover’s quarrel” – saying things like, “Oh honey, I’m sorry, come on now!” – so that the surrounding crowd wouldn’t help her. The victim ended up grabbing another woman passing by and saying to her, “I don’t know this man.” The woman beat him off of her and held him until police came. (It was a good story!) But I remember asking myself why people wouldn’t stop to intervene even if they did think it was a fight between a couple.
What percentage of people who wouldn’t interfere with a man beating “his” woman would still think a woman doesn’t have a right to control what’s done with her actual uterus?
Privacy is often a wonderful thing. Thank god we live in a society where we can shield ourselves away from the prying eyes of others to make love, pick our noses, or eat a can of beans straight from the can. But it was a compromise position to argue reproductive rights, a way to shoehorn a feminist belief into the pre-existing patriarchy. Instead of arguing that women should control our own bodies because we’re full citizens entitled to autonomy and because the value of self-determination laid out in the Declaration of Independence requires women to have this control, we instead shoehorned it into the pre-existing understanding that men have a right to conduct their marriage (and the sex within) as they see fit. Only after men got a right to sexual privacy spelled out in Griswold did the Supreme Court extend it to women in Eisenstadt and Roe. It’s very fashionable to say Roe was badly decided, but rarely do I see such critics (usually male critics) argue that it should have been rooted in the belief that women have an equal right to our bodily autonomy. Which is really the only argument that I think would have actually help lift the debate out of the muck it’s in. Men have a right to father an actual child who is a living, breathing person with a birth certificate and then refuse to give that child a kidney if it needs one to survive. Surely women have a right not to be forced to donate our bodies to people who aren’t even people yet. I’m not a lawyer, and don’t know how to work that argument into a constitutional framework. But it has much to recommend it from a philosophical point of view.
And finally, here’s another analysis from Pandagon commenter Mighty Ponygirl, which also made me stop and think:
This issue is so complicated, because we have a lot of different privacies to talk about.
There is the privacy of Sarah Palin as a public figure. Her own reproductive decisions are her own choice, and should be respected as a matter of privacy. If she had a clear-cut case of hipocrysy (e.g. having an abortion rather than having a baby with DS because her situation was “special”) while similarly agitating that other women should not have a choice, then her own reproductive decisions should be fair game. She did *have* a choice to have her youngest, but it’s a zero-sum equation to try to go after her for exercising that choice because the net result in both Palin’s world and our world would be the birth of the same baby.
There is the privacy of Bristol Palin, which is absolute. Not only is she not a public figure, but she is also a minor, and her decisions are absolutely her own business. If she was coerced or bullied and she wasn’t able to really call the decision her own (which we don’t know, she could be really excited to live up to the expectations that her family has drilled into her), it doesn’t change the fact that she is not a public figure and is a minor and we need to respect her privacy.
Then there is the privacy of Sarah Palin vis-a-vis her daughter. If there was coercion and bullying when Palin made the decision that Bristol would be marrying the father, and that there would not be an abortion, you could still make the case that this was a “private” family matter because Bristol is still a minor and while it’s unfortunate that her mom is willing to sacrifice her daughter at the altar of fetus-worship, it’s still a private family matter so long as there’s no clear abuse going on.
Finally, there is the privacy of Bristol Palin over the next two months, when she will be referenced again and again, possibly directly, possibly indirectly, by the McCain campaign and its supporters, as an example of how morally upstanding the Palin family is. In an attempt to whip up the fundie base into a foaming frenzy of fetus-worshipping, Bristol Palin will become a poster child-with-child of how awesome it will work out when we yank women’s reproductive rights away from them. And since this is already happening, we are allowed to pick this issue up and carry it. Bristol Palin isn’t responsible for her mom and her mom’s politics, but if her mom is going to drag her pregnant teenage daughter into the public sphere in order to score points with the godbags, then it is absolutely appropriate to dissect the “private choices.”
I’m going to leave this conversation open to anyone for now, but I may close it down to feminists only depending on where the discussion goes.