author – activist – faculty – mom
Today, I saw the Huffington Post ran a story that, in the past, presidential candidate Jeb Bush had publicly advocating shaming unwed mothers. However, when I initially read the headline, I thought it said that he did it in 1955. I thought to myself, well…it was the 50s. He must’ve been very young. Too bad this won’t be enough to kill his chances with women voters. His campaign will spin it as a youthful indiscretion. Youthful, indeed. Bush was born in 1953, so this would have been a very conservative position to hold as a toddler. Which leads to the real shocker: Bush advocated public shaming in 1995. That’s ninety-five, for those too-fast readers like me. Are you kidding me? Public shaming in the mid-nineties?
According to the article:
“Bush points to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, in which the main character is forced to wear a large red ‘A’ for ‘adulterer’ on her clothes to punish her for having an extramarital affair that produced a child, as an early model for his worldview. ‘Infamous shotgun weddings and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter are reminders that public condemnation of irresponsible sexual behavior has strong historical roots.’”
Here’s what Bush wrote:
One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.
No, Jeb. The reason more young women are having unplanned and unwanted pregnancies is that there is lack of access to accurate, non-judgmental birth control education, as well as stigma and lack of access to abortion services. Shame is already in the picture. Young women feel shame about their bodies, are too ashamed to buy condoms at the store, were too ashamed to say no to sex after they said yes to making out, feel ashamed after we are targeted with sexual violence, are given shaming messages in what is supposed to be sex ed. And when programs do work to prevent unwanted pregnancy, conservatives bring them down.
The best reason to have a child is because you want to have a child. Where are the family-friendly work and childcare policies to make motherhood less of a sentencing to poverty? Who wants to grow up with parents who felt like they didn’t want kids, but were shamed into it?
Recently, I’ve been reading the wonderful work of Brene Brown, a shame researcher. She shows how shame is vicious, toxic, and corrosive. The advocacy of shame as a political tool to belittle and control people who are already vulnerable and facing significant challenges is reprehensible.
Shame on you, Jeb Bush. Or better yet, you’re not a bad person, but this was very bad behavior.