Celebrating Teen Pregnancy?

Posted September 5, 2008

For years, I’ve taught sociology at a community college in New York City. I’m always looking for current examples to illustrate how class, race and gender work in contemporary capitalist socities. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy (itself a tribute to the effectiveness of the right’s “abstinence education”) provides such a good example of the intersection of race, gender and class, I am offering the following extra credit essay question on my final exam:

In a well written, well argued and well reasoned essay– drawing on sociological concepts and theories we have discussed in class, please answer the following question:

Why is teenage pregnancy and motherhood considered a social pathology when it occurs among poor women and women of color; while it is considered an act of responsibility if you are white and upper middle class and your mother is running for Vice-President of the United States?

All answers must be typewritten, no less than one double-spaced typewritten page, no more than two double-spaced typewritten pages.

Readers of Solidarity’s webzine are encouraged to reply with their own thoughts about this paradox!


2 responses to “Celebrating Teen Pregnancy?”

  1. JohnM Avatar

    Kate’s right on. I heard it spun from a Wasilla, AK friend of Palin’s on TV this way – “Well, just because her daughter messed up real bad, doesn’t mean Sarah should abandon her.” In other words, the situation demonstrates Palin’s fortitude, her couragious forgiveness of her daughter and the strength to stand by her. Sins can be pardoned.

    “Family values” still triumph. So, you can “mess up” so long as you have been blessed to find yourself in a “proper family” – white, middle-class, guided by ‘Christian values’ etc. Racist and classist values will always preserve a veneer of “responsibility” and righteousness, finding some rational or other for their justified superiority, condemning “others” for some more grievous offense.

  2. Kate G Avatar
    Kate G

    I think this apparent paradox makes perfect sense to Palin’s base; working class people are having their family units come under increasing ecnomic pressures that pull them apart, bringing the values of the market inside the home.

    This can be experienced as the depredations of women in the workforce or gay marriage or divorce or premarital sex/serial monogamy; an ideology that says you can choose not to experience this set of dislocations is attractive. Thus a small, but important group have turned to conservative family values.

    I imagine though, that the experience of choosing to avoid the dangers of new social life, siding with cultural and religious fundamentalism, and having it *happen anyway* is pretty common to Palin’s conservative base. That Bristol and Sarah can triumph over such a setback seems like an appealing narrative to the group she is meant to most appeal to.

    For many conservatives, its everybody else’s pregnant teen daughter or abortion or divorce that is the problem; theirs is a simply a necessary evil. That makes it easy to identify with Palin.