Come on, let Bristol Palin have some fun

As the country's most famous teen mom gets caught clubbing, I wonder: How long does she have to say her life sucks?

Published May 7, 2010 9:14PM (EDT)

**FILE**  This Wednesday, May 6, 2009 file photo shows Bristol Palin, daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as she poses for photographers on the red carpet during an event to promote National Teen Pregnancy Awareness Day in New York.    (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)    (AP)
**FILE** This Wednesday, May 6, 2009 file photo shows Bristol Palin, daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as she poses for photographers on the red carpet during an event to promote National Teen Pregnancy Awareness Day in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File) (AP)

Poor Bristol Palin. Earlier this week, it seemed that the nation's most famous teenage mother, now serving her second year as our nation's most prominent spokesperson for the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, had finally got the hang of the script she's been handed, however contradictory it may seem: Yes, she admitted while making the rounds of daytime talk shows this past Wednesday, motherhood is a blessing (she cried at Tripp's first smile!), but that doesn't mean it was OK for her to have a kid in the first place. Those who were afraid she would rely on her famous family to support her will be relieved to know that she, according to an interview with People magazine, is actually living on her own and working a "regular" job to provide for her son without any financial help from her parents (her ex, too, finally kicked in with his child support payments). And though she may have screwed up in the past by declaring abstinence to be "unrealistic," she now claims that she herself plans to go the born-again-virgin route and be abstinent until marriage. So far, so good.

So good that, according to the New York Daily News' Gatecrasher, Bristol celebrated a job well done by wrapping up the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy by going clubbing at the hotspot 1Oak. "She was trying to have fun, but she looked like she was terrified people would recognize her," says the unnamed source who did just that, then reported back to writers of the Gatecrasher blog. "It seemed like she couldn't even relax."

Though the club is 21-and-over, the same eyewitnesses said she didn't seem to be drinking, though I, personally, would sure as hell consider myself entitled to a glass of champagne after dissecting my sex and family life on national television. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that if anyone deserves a night out dancing with friends, it might be a young woman who has spent the past year working, caring for an infant, going to school and, oh yes, serving as a national symbol of fallen young womanhood, who happens to find herself in New York City and presumably with a decent baby sitter. Surely, she was sharing the space with many 19-year-olds whose day jobs might be more easily described as "NYU student" than "frazzled mother of a 1-year-old frequently asked to declare her sexual ineligibility via press release."

(No one, I trust, needs to be reminded that Bristol's ex has done the exact opposite, at least as far as the public narrative is concerned: Clubbing might be among the most innocent activities Levi Johnston has engaged in while visiting New York City, and it's hard to think of any action that screams "sexually available" quite like posing for Playgirl.)

Last year, I pointed out that one of the things that bothers me most about the press on Bristol Palin and other teen mothers is that, thus far, they are expected to stay within a box: Their stories are narrowly focused as cautionary tales aimed at discouraging younger teens from ending up like them (i.e., pregnant) with little or no thought as to what examples they might hold for the small number of girls who do. And one has to wonder: How many more years does Bristol have to publicly declare that her life sucks? No one expects her to be allowed to talk about the pleasures of sex any time soon, obvious as those pleasures may be. But how many more years is she required to follow up any glowing anecdote about motherhood with some sort of dire reminder about sleepless nights and the cost of diapers?

And while I assume that her mother's political base would be glad to hear that Bristol is pulling herself up by her bootstraps, rather than relying on money from her famous family, I was more curious to know why she is working full-time, but finding it difficult to attend school. According to Bristol, she is working from 8 to 5 doing "just very repetitive work"; she tried to attend night classes as well, but found it "nearly impossible" to work and attend school. "I'm trying to chip away as much as I can at college," she says. "I want to beat that statistic of teen moms not graduating from college."

Fair enough; she's in her first year as a single parent and has a few years yet to get it all together (even without a kid, it took her mother several tries to get through college, and her father never finished). It's also fair to assume that Bristol and Levi's public notoriety might come with a certain number of media appearances, some of which -- Candie's Foundation spokeswoman, Playgirl model -- have been known to include paid compensation. But if Bristol can work a 40-hour week as a mother, she can finish college (I did it with a part-time job, financial aid and a kid). I'd hazard a guess that college tuition is well within the reach of the Palin family budget, with or without Bristol holding down an additional full-time job. Assuming Bristol feels the same, it's time for us to stop worrying about her night life and for her to start chipping away at that degree. 

By Amy Benfer

Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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