Getting it From All Sides

I recently wrote a piece about Bristol Palin and single parenthood for Ms. Blog last week that Bitch Magazine boiled down to: “The Ms. blog thinks we should be voting for Bristol Palin because she’s a single teen mom. We think that’s ridiculous. You?”  I contributed more than I could afford to Bitch Magazine a few years ago when it was potentially going under, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  But the simplistic baiting in the question posed above is disappointing, and the sneering tone several Bitch readers took towards the Ms. Blog and “second wave feminists” was disheartening.  Can’t we get beyond the ritual matricide that comes with “waving” and then defaming the feminists who came before us? 

Then yesterday I was on Fox News with host Stuart Varney.  The conversation moved from the Republican pledge to austerity measures to deficits to debts to Obama’s stimulus to taxes to morality to socialism.  I rather enjoyed the twists and turns of the conversation, especially Varney’s direct question of whether I am a socialist.  The segment was analyzed by Talking Points Memo and Fox Newshounds, and some conservative radio shows provided a different sort of analysis.  John Gibson described me as a “leftwing moonbat” on his program.  The term “moonbat” was first used by Robert Heinlein in a short story in 1947, so you know it’s a good thing, and probably very cute and cuddly like other bats (see below).  All of this extra attention brought lots of emails from folks who disagree with me, mostly about my comment that the hardest working people I know are poor people working 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. 

Cute Bat (Not a Moonbat)

So the moral of this short tale is that you know you’re doing something right or very, very wrong if you’re getting it from all sides on the same day!

Where are the Feminists for Bristol Palin?

Nineteen-year-old Bristol Palin is back in the media spotlight now that she has joined the cast of this season’s Dancing With The Stars, and once again she’s being ridiculed for being a teen mother. Witness her recent interview with Jay Leno:

Bristol: “Well, I expected [Dancing With the Stars] to be hard work, but I’m so uncoordinated, don’t have any rhythm, so we’re starting from scratch.”

Jay: “I was going to say, that’s also how you get pregnant, but I’m not going to go there.”

I feel for Bristol. Like her, I was raised in a Pentecostal Evangelical household where abstinence is the only acceptable path. This leaves girls wholly unprepared for practicing safe sex, and my four sisters all became single mothers who worked grueling hours to complete their education and pay the bills.

Oddly enough, I ran into Bristol at a television studio a few days ago. She seemed genuinely concerned that, as a liberal and a feminist, I would pen something nasty about her. It’s clear that she’s personally hurt by the ridicule.

Why aren’t more feminists pushing back against the sexism and degradation of single, teen mothers evident here? Sarah Palin’s anti-woman policy positions are not grounds for feminists to turn a blind eye when Bristol is being dragged through the sexist media mud.

Her lack of defenders was all-too-apparent in the responses to the Huffington Post poll last week, “Is Bristol’s [Dancing with the Stars] dress modest?”

Readers responded with more than forty pages of overtly sexist comments about “fat thighs,” “cankles,” and claims of being a “fame ho.” Others took pop shots at her parenting, “She should be home taking care of her kid.”  One thoughtful liberal pointed out that the comments reflected a “lack of respect for women in general,” but she was ignored.

David Letterman’s tasteless 2009 joke about Bristol’s pregnancy — “one awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game; during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez” — did receive some criticism. But those offended were outraged only because 14-year-old Willow was the daughter who attended the Yankees game he mentioned, even though the joke was clearly meant as a reference to Bristol.

Bristol Palin has publicly experienced many of the hardships that pregnant young women privately face. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be 17, pregnant, and find out your “mistake” will be front-page news. Your fiancé is a high school dropout who announces “I don’t want kids” on his Facebook page. Then the wedding is called off, then on, then off–amidst rumors that he fathered another child and appeared in a music video mocking your family.

Bristol had plans to go to college and become a nurse, but, like many of the other 13.7 million single parents in the U.S., her life shifted when Tripp was born. Instead, she got a job at a medical office and started classes at a community college in Anchorage. Bristol’s celebrity and money cushion her experience relative to that of other single parents, but she, too, is struggling to manage work and parenting.

Our feminist silence in the face of widespread vitriol against a celebrity teen and single parent demeans all such women, including my sisters and other single mothers.

Dancing with the Stars isn’t exactly the best avenue for making a feminist statement, but a vote for Bristol Palin is an easy way to protest pervasive degradation of single, teen mothers.

Dancing With The Stars promotional photo.

This article is cross-posted with Ms. Blog.

The Fight for Charity in New Orleans

Charity Hospital

Health care in New Orleans was in a state of crisis after the city flooded in 2005, and government officials responded by permanently closing Charity Hospital, the largest pre-Katrina medical provider. Prior to the storm, it served 2/3rds of the uninsured in the Crescent City (Taylor, 2007).    

Despite massive public expenditures that have lined corporate pockets in the Katrina rebuilding process, adequate resources have not been furnished to rebuild the health care system in New Orleans, and the region still faces a major shortage of facilities and mental health professionals (Lamberg, 2008). Prior to Katrina, 400 beds were available for those suffering a mental health condition (Cornisi, 2009). Now there are 100.      

According to the United Health Foundation’s 2008 rankings, Louisiana ranks dead last in health services in the U.S., and most of the problems are concentrated in New Orleans (Mock, 2009). “The cancer rate is an astronomical 256.7 per 100,000 residents (in the state, 202 per 100,000); the HIV/AIDS infection rate is 40 per 100,000 (in the state, 16 per 100,000) and the suicide rate 12.3 per 100,000 (in the state, 7.4 per 100,000).”     

Rates of suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression usually disappear within two years following a disaster, but this has not happened with Katrina survivors (Hirshon, 2010). Rates of serious mental health disorders have significantly increased since the storm, and suicidal thoughts have quadrupled.      

So why not reopen Charity Hospital immediately?  The complex did sustain damage from the Federal Flood in 2005, but hospital personnel — including nurses and doctors — rallied to restore it, and the facility was ready to reopen in 2006 (Corsini, 2019).  In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation put Charity Hospital on its list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.      

A small group of concerned citizens have protested outside of Charity since its closure, and in 2008, a group of uninsured patients sued to reopen Charity Hospital, claiming that “thousands of residents lack basic health care, the chronically ill go untreated, and critical specialty care is either delayed or unavailable” as a result of the closure (Moran, 2008). Sixty percent of New Orleanians support reopening Charity Hospital according to a recent Small Growth Louisiana poll.     

In short, the need for services is great, the hospital is structurally sound, it’s an historic site worth preserving, concerned citizens have protested and sued for its reopening, and public opinion is in favor of it.  So why won’t Governor Jindal reopen Charity Hospital?  The answer is simple: disaster profiteering.        

As with the mass closure of public housing in New Orleans to eliminate housing for the poor and to benefit private developers, plans are in the works to build a new $1.2 billion hospital complex on 67 acres in Mid-City.  This new complex would displace hundreds of residents and destroy dozens of houses with historical designations (National Historical Trust, 2010). An international architectural firm studied Charity Hospital in 2008 and concluded that it could be completely refurbished for 38% less than building a new complex, and two years sooner.  This would save taxpayers $283 million and open the doors to thousands of residents in dire need of medical services.     

Protest Graffiti

 Given the golden opportunity here to provide enormous sums of money to private contractors, Governor Jindal has had an unusually heavy hand in the new task force that was established to build this new hospital, even though it is supposed to be independent of the Governor’s office (Grace, 2010).    

So the fight for just treatment of poor people in New Orleans continues on yet another front. An organization called Save Charity Hospital maintains a comprehensive website with current information, links, and a petition.  The Committee to Reopen Charity Hospital, another organization working on the issue, hosts regular meetings and plans political actions. If the rest of the country turns a blind eye as we do with most of the injustices in New Orleans, this battle will soon be lost.