Is this Guy Serious? Steve Waldman Debates What Bristol Should Have Been Forced to Do

Jodi Jacobson

BeliefNet's Steve Waldman provides the latest example of the constant assessment, reassessment and judgment ladeled out by male pontificators on women's choices in regard to pregnancy, abortion, adoption, marriage and childbearing.

Can all the male pontificators on women’s reproductive choices just stand back a bit, please?

The latest example of male pontificators sitting in judgment on women’s choices in regard to
marriage and childbearing is Steve Waldman on BeliefNet.  Waldman makes
a rash of judgments about Bristol Palin’s decisions to keep rather than give her baby up for adoption, and her decision to break off her engagement.  While I realize men are part of the equation here at the "social conversation level," it feels more than a little frustrating and also very patronizing to have a constant stream of upper-class (mostly-but-not-all white) guys pontificating–and tripping over themselves with contradictions in the process–on what women should do about a pregnancy.

First, he asks if Sarah Palin and her husband should have "required" Bristol and former fiance Levi Johnston to seek marriage counseling before breaking up.

1) What is the obligation of a couple to try to make a marriage or a
relationship work? I’m dying to know: did Sarah Palin require that they
get marriage counseling before breaking up?

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2) If a mother chooses to carry a baby to term, under what circumstances should she consider putting him up for adoption?

On the first point: If they realized jointly or she or he realized separately that they did not want to be married, why would they go to marriage counseling?  Marriage counseling is for people who want to be married to each other, or are married to each other and want to work out problems.   Not for people who have decided, "hey, I don’t want to be with you," or "I don’t love you," or "this is not right for me" or whatever the reason.  Is Waldman suggesting–inherently–that shotgun marriages are the way to
go?  It was clear from the beginning that this was not necessarily a
"match made in heaven."  So it is no shocker to the rest of us that this did not last.  In any case, it’s Bristol’s choice.

But Steve Waldman is "dying to know."  Why is this his business?  Could this be any more intrusive?  I may not like Sarah Palin’s politics (I don’t) but I respect, honor and defend her–and Bristol’s–rights to privacy.   Why do we need the neighborhood busybody involved?

And what is with all the assumptions about what did or did not happen?  What does Waldman know about what has transpired in the interim?  What does he know about Bristol and Levi’s relationship?  He assumes, presumably without evidence given his own question, that Bristol does not know what is good for her in breaking off the engagement (she obviously does not want to marry this guy), and also assumes that no discussion on this issue has taken place within the Palin family.  Where does he get that from?  He further assumes that any marriage is better than no marriage for "the child."  This is not for him to decide and is not borne out by evidence.  Children that grow up in homes with conflict and unhappiness are no better off and can be much worse off than children who grow up in single parent households, especially those run by functional mothers with extended family support. 

And part of being a functional adult means taking care of yourself and your emotional health first and foremost and having the maturity and personal strength needed to care for a child.  Bristol appears to have her head on straight.  From what little I have seen of her, she seems to be saying "I am in charge of my life, these are my decisions, I know what I am doing, and let’s move on." Why this constant vigilance about her decisions?  Is it so hard to treat her as the functional young woman she appears to be?

Waldman then goes on to make the same mistake most male pontificators do when they talk about women, pregnancy, abortion, or adoption.  He "assumes" the woman or her family just have not considered all the options, and very helpfully suggests what Bristol should be thinking.

He states:

"Seriously, I don’t know when adoption is the right approach and I’m not
trying to cast aspersions at Bristol’s suitability. But it seems that a
decent argument can be made that when you have someone who is a)
unmarried and b) a teenager, that those would be the circumstances in
which putting a child up for adoption ought to be considered. So yes, I
would ask the same question about African American unwed teen mothers,
too."

Does he know, perhaps through a special Google Earth listening device aimed at the Palin home, that adoption was not "considered?"  Even if it was, does he then have the right to question Bristol’s own right not to give her child up for adoption?  Why is it that people feel so free to "assume" women just haven’t really thought through all their options, the ethics, their own moral position, the consequences, what is good for them and their own families?  If someone chooses abortion, the "judgmentalists" assume they simply did not consider all their choices (you could bring the baby to term and keep it!  you could give it up for adoption!……gee, really?).  Now, if someone does bring a pregnancy to term and decides to keep their own baby, the judgmentalists are going to question that decision?

If Bristol had gotten pregnant and had an abortion, and had that leaked to the press during the campaign, the election would have been over long before the Katie Couric interview hit YouTube.   Bristol made the choice–her choice I presume from what she says–to continue the pregnancy and have a baby.  Why does Waldman think he has a right to publicly to sit in judgment on whether, when, and whom she marries?

Can the men not involved in Bristol’s life step back and let her make her own way?  Respect and recognize her moral agency as a woman and a mother? Letting Bristol exercise her own judgment about her life and her baby would be a whole heckuva lot better for Bristol and her child than having play-by-play judgement calls and analysis on BeliefNet from a referee not anywhere near the field of play.

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