Reminder to Certain Feminists: Teenagers have rights to choice and bodily autonomy too

Posted on July 23, 2011. Filed under: childhood studies, reproductive rights, Women's history, women's health, Women's Studies |

via Historiann, who discusses Mary Elizabeth Williams’ Twitter battle with Katha Pollitt and Amanda Marcotte over her Salon article about her daughter getting the wrong vaccineat her annual checkup. Williams knew she would get flak for the article, but she “wrote it anyway, because I felt strongly about two key issues of the story. If you’re going in for any procedure, drug or vaccination, take a moment to double-check that the person administering it is giving you what you’re there for. Also, I believe my daughters should have final say in whether or not they receive the HPV vaccine. And flak, indeed, I got.”

As  an expert on the history of adolescent medicine and contributed to an edited collection on the politics of HPV vaccines, I have to say “right on.”

Certain feminists in the twiterverse disagreed, though:  “Amanda Marcotte took some mighty big umbrage on Twitter,”  calling Williams’ piece an “‘overreaction’ and then proceeded to engage in something that looks remarkably like overreacting.

“A single tear shed over this causes everyone else to wonder if you don’t have real problems,” she wrote. “I’m honestly not invested in freaking out on an innocent mistake that resulted in no real problems… I mean, I have real shit to deal with in my life… If that’s the most awful thing you’ve learned at 11, you live in a big time bubble…. I’m sure her mother’s reaction to it had nothing to do with the little girl thinking this was the worst thing ever.”

Author Katha Pollitt also jumped into the fray, calling the story “ridiculous.” Not the review I’d wish for, but all right. But I’d like to correct her assessment that “I just felt this woman was hyperfreakout helicopter parent, infecting her kids with anxiety.”

Unlike Historiann, I’m a twitterstorian who tweets regularly (see my feed to the right) although I must confess I find it impossible to keep up with all the people I follow and use an automatic aggregating program to compile all these posts into the Knitting Clio daily (paper.li does this automatically — I don’t stay up late at night putting the daily together!)  I went to Twitter to look at the exchange between Williams and her critics (and fans).  I especially liked Angus Johnston’s comment:  “I think it’s utterly reasonable for a parent to want to choose when and how she discusses the HPV vaccine with her daughter.”

I made the following comment at Historiann’s blog;  “Wow, this woman dares to treat her adolescent daughter as a developing adult (i.e. follows the recommendation of experts in adolescent medicine). Kudos to her. Interesting that feminists like Marcotte and Pollitt are all for choice and bodily autonomy, unless the body in question belongs to a teenager.”

Now looking forward to my own Twitter battle!

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3 Responses to “Reminder to Certain Feminists: Teenagers have rights to choice and bodily autonomy too”

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[...] Knitting Clio, a historian of medicine who has written about adolescent medicine in particular, has more to say about this–check her [...]

Wow, I just read the Mary Beth Williams essay (not the comments–it’s Salon, after all). I agree, kudos. She didn’t overreact; she talked to her kids about what happened and moved forward within the parenting style she’s followed all along. Sounds pretty healthy. (And the doctor’s office made a bad preventable mistake, but at least they addressed it ethically by calling the family immediately to explain.)

I have an eleven-year-old daughter. Our pediatrician brought up the HPV vaccine as a topic of discussion at a recent well-child visit, though she doesn’t actually do the shots until a kid is 13 or 14; it was brought up in the context of “issues we can start thinking about” as daughter heads into adolescence. She was talking to both me and daughter when it came up, and it so naturally flowed from the overall conversation we were having that there was no pressure, no alarm, no fear. Just one of the many things on the horizon worth talking over. I appreciated that tone.

Thanks for this post! Found it via Historiann and will definitely be adding your blog to Google Reader.

In my experience, Amanda Marcotte has a history of being extremely critical and dismissive of anyone who challenges medical authorities on the issue of vaccine safety, etc. She has a lot of good points about vaccine panics often having little credibility and the importance of herd immunity … but I find her attitude toward folks who express any skepticism about the safety of certain vaccines to be quite insulting. My parents were one example of people in the 1980s who read the available literature and decided to delay vaccines for their children until our immune systems were more robust. Eventually, we mostly got the routine vaccines … but it was something we as older children participated in decision-making about. Amanda seems to think that people who don’t automatically vaccinate are hysterical conspiracy theorists … which I feel is a gross mischaracterization of a broad spectrum of folks who are hesitant to just accept what Western medicine tells them. It’s frustrating.

And three cheers for a mother who is modeling for her child how to be an advocate for herself in the face of medical authorities. Patient advocacy is really important, and as her daughter grows into an adult with more decision-making power that sort of experience is really going to be useful in terms of medical decision-making.


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    Heather Munro Prescott

    Heather Munro Prescott

    Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT.

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