Saturday, April 25, 2009

Family and State

Who would have thought that three years ago when I wrote about, the federal government's website devoted to teen abstinence that it would still be online post-Obama? Yet, despite the Bristol Palin unwed teen fiasco for the Republicans and a mountain of data that shows that abstinence education doesn't work, official rhetoric still emphasizes this unlikely conjunction of family and state.

Here's the home page of the site during the Bush administration, shortly after it was launched in 2005.

And here it is in 2009 with an almost identical abstinence message.

Many of the hokey "coversation starters" designed for parents to discourage teens from becoming sexual active are almost identical to the regrettable ones from the previous administration.

2005: "I was at the store yesterday and ran into Kendrick, Mrs. Jakes' son. He is joining the military after high school. What do you think you want to do when you graduate from high school?"

2009: "I was at the store yesterday and ran into Richard, Mrs. Jackson’s son. He joined AmeriCorps right after high school. What do you think you want to do when you graduate from high school?"

Note the subsitution of "military" with "AmeriCorps."

Fortunately, at least praise to the right-wing National Physicians Center has been omitted and particularly sexist sections of the Bush era FAQ have been deleted, such as this gem of oversimplified generalization that assumes that biology is destiny:

Why do males and females seem to respond differently to parental direction?

Males sometimes respond well to concrete, direct language, while girls often respond well to feeling, relational language. Direction with only a few words may work for males, while females may prefer more details and explanation.

But the site's continuing existence raises a legitimate question: is the most pressing message that the government has to get to parents the one about controlling their children's sexuality outside of marriage?

I would think that there are other ways that state authority is either more directly helped or hindered by parental authority, which merit a more appropriate apportionment of digital rhetoric. For example, what are you doing as a parent to encourage your children to vote, serve on juries, and take part in other forms of civic participation? Or what are you doing as a parent to ensure that your children obey the rule of law and respect the state? Or are there any ways that you as a parent may be using your parental authority to flout the law or violate principles of justice, such as beating your children, which far too many parents do?

Obviously, the updated site, like many webpages produced by the Obama administration also incorporates links to official content posted on commercial social media platforms like Twitter, but since receiving scoldings about privacy from digital rights activists like Chris Soghoian, they at least include a lengthy disclaimer.

You are about to leave the website. provides links to other Internet sites as a service to its users, and is not responsible for the availability or content of these external sites., its employees, and contractors do not endorse, warrant, or guarantee the products, services, or information described or offered at these other Internet sites. Any reference to a commercial product, process, or service is not an endorsement or recommendation by the, its employees, or contractors. For documents available from this server, the U.S. Government does not warrant or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed.

On the site, you can also check out how the new "Gadget" public service announcement is being customized for non-white audiences.

I also thought I might look at other sites on .gov domains about policing female sexuality to see how they have changed under a Democratic president. See this home page for in 2007 and ask yourself why there is no

Notice how the same emphasis on pastel colors and consumerism still persists in 2009.

Although there isn't any to complement, it's interesting to observe that this site was surprisingly progressive under the Bush administration and even included information about emergency contraception and lesbian health.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If one is policing female sexuality, isn't one also policing male sexuality as well... At least with regard to hetero relations?

6:07 PM  

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