Wednesday, September 3, 2008

She's Only Seventeen

Let me try to get this straight: Some little 17 year old Hannah Montana doll-toting kid named Bristol is all good and knocked up. The father is a self-proclaimed “Alaskan redneck.” And now, not a single newspaper, newscast or political conversation can take place without their inclusion? Is that about the size of things?

Let’s put politics aside for a second, shall we? Let’s forget that little Bristol is the daughter of the presumptive Republican nominee for the office of Vice-President for just a brief moment. Just take a deep breath and put all of the political rancor and divisiveness on the backburner.

Now, try to remember back to when you were seventeen years old.

Really, take yourself back there and try to remember who and what you were as a seventeen year old kid. Now, through no doing of your own, imagine the biggest screw up you’d ever made to date (and please don’t debate with me whether or not getting knocked up at 17 is a screw up—it damn well wasn’t on purpose, okay?) became THE biggest news in the country.

I’ve read articles about how her mother is a hero for teaching her daughter a pro-life stance and about how having this baby is a testament to their family values. I’ve read articles saying that she is a bad mother for being so na├»ve as to think that only teaching and encouraging abstinence would outfit her daughter for the real world.

I’ve heard this seventeen year old girl’s pregnancy both glorified and vilified by those seeking to enhance their own agendas but what I haven’t heard is someone taking a quick moment to wonder what’s going through this poor girls head right now and how it might affect her entire life.

She isn’t running for office. She’s trying to get through high school. She’s having a baby—that she may or may not want, but certainly must feel she has no choice in the matter. She has a babydaddy who doesn’t want the baby. She has simultaneous celebrity with admiration and villainy with contempt from the public. She has people calling her a hero and a whore.

She has a mother, whom she undoubtedly wants to please. She has the shame that ANY seventeen year old girl would have at having to tell her parents—her deeply religious and conservative parents—that their little girl isn’t such a little girl anymore. She has raging hormones and emotions. She undoubtedly thinks she’s in love. She undoubtedly worries that her Alaskan redneck might leave her. She can’t turn on the television without seeing her own face. She can’t pick up a newspaper without reading about herself.

She has to listen to a bunch of grownups sit around and talk about the “pregnancy strategy.” How can we spin this for us? How can we turn this against them? How can we use you little girl? How can we use your unborn baby? How will they use her against us? How will they use the baby?

TMZ, the gossip site ran articles yesterday about Bristol. They ran articles about what a “hunk” her beau is and speculating about their future. The “respected” news outlets weren’t much better as the line between news and sensationalistic gossip becomes blurred to the point of eradication.

All the while, a seventeen year old girl, a scared girl, a girl who must feel completely alone in the world looks on. She is helpless. She is without choice or option. She must play the role that might help Mommy get elected. She must do as she’s told.

A seventeen year old girl is now the centerpiece of political talk, opinion and thought. A seventeen year old girl who is not running for any political office is under our microscope. A seventeen year old girl—a kid, is the subject of ridicule, debate, policy and principles. A seventeen year old girl feels the weight of her mother’s political career. A seventeen year old girl feels the weight of a life as a teenage mother. A seventeen year old girl feels ashamed and embarrassed and humiliated by attention she never wanted. A seventeen year old girl feels the eyes of the world on her.

She is an island. She is being formed as an adult, as we speak, as we write, as we discuss, we are shaping her—and not for the better. We are influencing her life forever. She did something that thousands of kids her age do every year—she got pregnant while still in high school. She has to face that, just like they did. She has that difficult road to face with her friends and family and parents—but she must face it all in front of the world. She must face it knowing that one little misstep could mean disaster for her mother.

She is a seventeen year old girl. She is a kid. She is a child.

To their credit, both sides of this campaign have gone on record to say that these family issues are not a part of this election—Obama going so far as to say that he will immediately fire any of his representatives who disparage Bristol or her situation.

The media is not so kind. The media wants the story. Sex sells. Sex and politics sell double. And there is no regard for the girl, for the seventeen year old girl, the hero, the whore, the sinner, the saint, the role model, the problem with kids today, the example, the antithesis, the expecting mother, the clueless child.

I’m not sure I could handle the weight of the world at 33 years of age. I remember back to who and what I was when I was only seventeen and I know I couldn’t have handled it then. The globe is too large to rest upon such slender shoulders. But there we place it. Stare. Gawk. Point. Talk. Use.

Feel better? Make your point? Help your side win? Good for you. Congratulations. You must feel good about yourself. You are a patriot. An American.

Behind closed doors, in a pink bedroom with posters of Justin Timberlake on the wall, a little girl is crying. She’s only seventeen.

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