Bristol Palin’s Speaking Fee is Beside the Point

Yesterday, news broke that Bristol Palin will be receiving $14,000 to speak at a fundraiser for LifeHouse, a Christian home for unwed mothers in Louisville, Kentucky.

I can’t say I didn’t roll my eyes at that dollar amount. As someone who has for seven years been speaking on the opposite end of the spectrum, advocating comprehensive sex education and the right and ability for women of all ages to choose motherhood, adoption, or abortion, I can’t imagine raking in a sum that large, especially for a fundraiser. Most of the fundraisers I’ve keynoted across the country have been on a volunteer basis and I’ve never been paid more than $5000 dollars for a speech. Of course, my family and I are not as famous as Bristol and her family. And, of course, activists on all sides of all issues deserve to be paid for their work. Both Jessica Valenti and Monica of TransGRiot wrote eloquently earlier this month about the monetary value of activism and how the expectation that speakers be unpaid not only devalues that work but propagates an environment in which only the voices of those who are privileged enough to do it for free are heard. In any movement, this is a huge problem.

Today, Jezebel responded to the news with a post titled ‘Should Bristol Palin Be Paid This Much?’ in which Sadie Stein wonders how fiscally responsible it is for a non-profit organization to shell out such a sum when it’s desperately trying to raise money. Good point, perhaps, but questions about the dollar amount are sidestepping what I see as the real issue: the immeasurable amount of shame, misinformation, and propaganda this young woman is set to disseminate to other young people across the country.

Bristol Palin stepped into the spotlight as the pregnant, unwed, 17 year-old daughter of then relatively unknown vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.  The elder Palin used her daughter’s pregnancy, and the eventual birth of her grandson, to highlight her extreme anti-abortion policies and to advocate for more funding for the same abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that failed her daughter. For a brief moment, it looked as if Bristol might speak truth to power and her mother to expose the failure of the “just say no” approach when she told Fox’s Greta Van Susteran that abstinence is, “not realistic.”

Sadly, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Bristol has fashioned herself into an advocate for abstinence-only-until-marriage as a spokesperson for the Candies Foundation and has publicly advocated that all young women, without regard to their individual situations, choose young motherhood over adoption or abortion. This is undoubtedly the message she’ll carry to Lifehouse and similar groups willing to shell out the bucks to the famous teen mom.

As a reminder, despite a multi-million dollar federal tax dollar endorsement, abstinence-only programs were a resounding failure. The rates of unintended teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections rose during those dark years and teens who’d been exposed to the programs were found to be less likely to use contraception or protection upon engaging in sex. The programs deny young people medically accurate information about sexual health and often use gender stereotypes of the ‘men are raging hormonal beasts and women are prude’ variety to shame young people into abstaining, which, as Palin said herself, is often unrealistic. They deny not only information about safer sex to gay students but also deny their very existence, maintaining that the only “correct” sexual partnerships are those within a monogamous, heterosexual marriage. One more advocate for these programs, at the moment the federal government has finally decided to fund comprehensive sex education, is disheartening news for young people across the country.

Bristol Palin has also shown a startling ignorance of the reality of the lives of young women who become pregnant who do not have a famous, wealthy family.  Unlike Palin, many young women don’t have sibling and nannies that can help them care for a new addition. Some are pregnant by family members, or their families are absent, or would kick them out of the house if they were to carry the pregnancy to term. Others don’t have any financial means at all to care for a baby. Others simply do not want to be mothers, maybe just not now or maybe not ever. Bristol and the organizations that will ask her to speak revere the concept of fetal life far more than the rights and concerns of real, living young women. What message can she possibly send to them other than, “If you don’t make the choices I did, shame on you.” Unless, of course, she’s talking about abstinence until marriage, in which case it’s, “do as I say, not as I do.”

I’m not saying Bristol Palin doesn’t have the right to be an activist speaker. Of course she does, even though I’ll probably disagree with everything she has to say. I’m saying that instead of focusing on the money she’s making, those of us on the side of reproductive justice need to be focusing on highlighting how harmful and yes, unrealistic, her message is. We owe young women who are pregnant accurate information on all their options and financial, emotional, and legal support for every single one of them. We owe them real depictions of the struggles, joys, and hardships of young motherhood. We owe those who’ve made different choices as much respect and support as Bristol seems to have found.

I don’t care how much I get paid to do it but this is my work. And me and the army of other young women who do the same will be countering the young Ms. Palin every step of the way.

5 Comments

Filed under Feminism, Sex Education

5 responses to “Bristol Palin’s Speaking Fee is Beside the Point

  1. thoughts

    One thing to consider is that its HIGHLY likely an outsider donor is paying to have Miss Palin speak at the event and the money is not coming from Lifehouse’s bank account. Because it is a fundraising dinner, the organization is willing to do what it takes to bring as many people to the event as possible – which is why they would have a prominent speaker as their keynote – but that does NOT mean that Lifehouse is paying it – it is very likely that the funds are coming from an outside source as a donation and were earmarked for this particular use. Tickets for the even are $125 and $65/person and there is still an option for larger sponsorships – so they clearly are wanting to make money and shelling out $14,000 is not how its going to happen. Search your facts.

    In addition, of course a Christian center for unwed mothers is going to have someone speak on abstinence-based education. Why would they have someone speak on adoption or abortion when their main mission is to equip young mothers who have chosen (by exercising their right to choose) to keep their babies? So essentially – they are celebrating the very thing you campaign for – having the right to decide, and they are choosing to keep and raise their babies.

    Instead of being critical, perhaps the author of this article should comment Bristol for exercising her right to choose what she wanted for her baby – and by all intents and purposes, she chose a hard route. She entered into 18+ years of parenthood and hard financial decisions instead of paying a nominal fee to have everything erased during the course of one hour – or handing her baby over to another set of loving parents to again, be “off the hook” in terms of raising her own child.

    Why criticize that choice?

    • Joe

      I don’t think Shelby was criticising the choice, but rather the advocation of an education system which doesn’t actually provide a choice. I think the article was fairly balanced, and didn’t particularly criticise the payment itself, but merely noted that it had received criticism (hence the article’s title).

      As a UK citizen, I still find it alarming that abstinence-only education continues to be so prevalent in the US. Here, ‘sex ed’ of some form is taught to kids from about age ten (if not younger than that now). Obviously, abstinence should always be mentioned as a choice in such classes (as that’s far more successful in prevented pregnancy or disease than any form of contraception), but it does seem foolish to me not to provide some awareness of preventative tools to kids who could benefit so much from it.

  2. Austin N

    Good response, Shelby. I agree that the $$$ headlines are missing the point completely; hiring someone who promotes policies that cause unwanted pregnancies is hypocritical, Christian or not. Also, as an aside, commenters must remember that many Christians do not support abstinence-only education because of our beliefs, not in spite of them, if I may reveal my bias.

  3. Q Grrl

    “Why criticize that choice?”

    It’s not the choice that is being criticized. It is young Ms. Palin’s use of her choice as a political platform that is worthy of criticism for it’s rather unrealistic portrayal of pregnancy, women’s options surrounding pregnancy, and parenting. Of all things, Ms. Palin is speaking at a home for unwed mothers. How sad for those women, no? They are not wanted by their families, they are not supported by the men/boys that got them pregnant (let’s not forget that half the coin!), and they are not fortunate enough to be able support themselves in our currently harsh social and economic climate.

    Maybe on a soul level it is best for young women to see their pregnancies to the logical end and then enter into parenting. If that is the case though, the proselytizing should not be towards these young women, but to the rest of us that leave girls/women with few options and little support for unwanted pregnancies and the children born from them.

    Oh, and we should be passing out condoms to high school boys and the older men who get high school girls pregnant, rather than someone paying $14,000 to hear how one girl got lucky despite her “mistake”.

  4. allyr

    “Reproductive JUSTICE”? Seriously? Actual JUSTICE would be for the feds to stop funding Planned Parenthood (over 2 billion in just 5 years) with tax dollars demanded from taxpayers who disagree with this ridiculous term. It’s 2010 and you’re still promoting this cottage industry called abortion. What’s next? Reparations?

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