Tuesday, January 26, 2010
When I was a kid, I had the utmost respect for Oprah Winfrey. I admired her generosity, her sense of humor, the faith she seemed to hold dear. I was inspired by her story and how she overcame incredible odds as a child. I was so excited when I got accepted to Tennessee State University, for I soon learned that Oprah went there. I eventually chose another school, but for a while I loved the idea of attending Oprah's alma mater, especially since at that time I had some of the same dreams in my life as those that had become realities in hers. Yes, as a kid, I really admired Oprah.
But I'm not a kid anymore.
Oprah still gives as generously as she always has, and her personal story is still just as inspirational. However, now that I've matured, I guess it takes more to impress me.
I had my issues with her refusal to allow Governor Palin to sit on her couch during the 2008 campaign, but I won't rehash that. We all know how it turned out: Oprah now is quite glad to get the governor to appear on her show, and when she does, Oprah's ratings fly through the roof. So, as they say, moving on. Besides that, Oprah's worldview simply doesn't line up with mine in some very key areas, so I don't spend my time listening to her talk anymore--haven't done so for many years now--unless the governor is on.
However, my dwindling appreciation for the former Queen of Talk took a nosedive last Friday when she interviewed Governor Palin and her daughter, Bristol. Bristol has made the admirable, and correct, decision to remain abstinent until marriage. Rather than encourage Bristol to do just that, Oprah seemed to want to talk her out of her commitment. To me, Oprah's unique position as a role model to so many is incongruous with her belittling of Bristol's decision--and yes, I did sense some belittling going on.
At the start, I didn't realize the interview was headed that way. Oprah offered some good advice at first, which is advice that I have shared with single Christian women committed to waiting until marriage, probably saying something close to what Oprah advises.
Oprah tells the girls in her school in South Africa:
Make the decision before the moment arrives because when the guy is licking on your ear, it's hard to make the decision! So make the decision before the moment arrives.
I was thinking, Great advice, Oprah. I have always believed that we make decisions about how we want to act in particular situations before those situations arise. We'd be surprised how many things we could avoid altogether if that strategy were faithfully employed.
So I was with Oprah right up until a few seconds later when she said she "bristled" when she read in In Touch that Bristol stated, "I'm not going to have sex until I'm married. I can guarantee it."
Apparently Bristol's guarantee of abstinence is what alarmed Oprah, and she asked, "You don't think you're setting yourself up?"
At this point I'm thinking, "setting yourself up" for what? My confusion rested, in part, in having just heard Oprah say that she tells the African girls to do exactly what Bristol had just stated she did: make up her mind ahead of time.
Oprah's rationale was media pressure, that every guy she dates will be harassed with questions about whether Bristol had or had not remained true to that commitment. My thought here was, Hey, let the media blow it up. Better the dudes find out where I stand now than later. Better any interested guy should know where I stand before they even step to me. That way they can keep on stepping if they can't handle my plan. Truth be told, you can weed out a lot of guys from the jump that way and spare yourself the agony of dropping the "no" bomb on them later. They can't say they didn't know, can they?
Oprah, whose young adult life was not without its share of drama, trials, and tribulations, should have sincerely said to her guest, "Good for you, Bristol." Instead, she asked Bristol if she was setting herself up?! With a steely glint in her eyes, Bristol, who to me looked a bit annoyed, said, "No, I don't."
Oprah didn't say it, so I will: good for Bristol for standing by her commitment, for not backing down, for not allowing the pressure to cause her to cave in to Oprah, who appeared put off by Bristol's bold declaration of abstinence.
Had I been Bristol, however, I would have answered that question in the affirmative. When asked if I was setting myself up, I would have said, "Yes, Oprah. I am setting myself up...to achieve my goal. I'm setting myself up by doing exactly what you tell the girls in Africa: 'make the decision before the moment arrives.'"
Hey, if it's good enough for Africa, it's good enough for America.
So which one is it? Is Oprah encouraging the girls in her school to strategically choose abstinence, or when they say they have, does she pause five seconds for them to retract or ease their choice? It sounds like double talk to me. Either Bristol is supposed to stick to her guns, or she's supposed to back out. Again, which one is it, Oprah--a little of both?
When Bristol chose the former, Oprah--chuckling--said, "All right, good luck to you on that!" Belittling, demeaning, and frankly, disempowering.
I get sick and tired of people who purport to be all about the power of women and their ability to accomplish anything, except when it comes to both abstinence and giving birth to a child in less than ideal circumstances. I do not respect trying to talk a teenager, who is already raising a child, out of taking a stand on the issue. If women can do anything, they can do anything--including practicing abstinence.
Months ago, when Bristol once used the term "unrealistic" in reference to teenagers remaining abstinent, people jumped all over her. Friday, Oprah said about abstinence, "Obviously she's already had sex. So I'm just wondering if that is a realistic goal." When Bristol indicated that it is realistic for her, Oprah "bristled." This is Exhibit A of "you can't win for losing." This is why one must simply live by the courage of her own convictions as Bristol has purposed in her heart to do--and bump everybody else who doesn't believe you can. When Oprah shared the statistic that 1 out of 3 teenagers is sexually active, Bristol was unmoved. Her face seemed to say, "Well, I'll be one of the two." It may not be easy, but nothing valuable is--and she's worth it.
Abstinence is a touchy, uncomfortable subject for those who feel safer teaching birth control over abstinence. "It doesn't work," the statisticians say. News flash: abstinence, when employed, always works! It's when it's abandoned that it's rendered powerless. Besides, it seems Bristol realizes something that we could all stand to discover: though birth control protects from pregnancy sometimes, there is no birth control potent enough to protect your heart, soul, and mind from the effects of giving yourself to someone who has not given himself to you--through the commitment of marriage.
I say to Bristol in all sincerity, rather than the snarky way Oprah said it, "More power to you."