My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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election day: analysis of California Proposition 73

hold me down
i am floating away
into the overcast skies
over my home town
on election day — Ani

When the election results started pouring in tonight, i was in a state of horror. Initially, it looked like Proposition 73 was going to pass. Thankfully, with most of the returns in, it looks like it will die a well-deserved death.

Some folks have asked why i am so obsessed with Proposition 73 and i feel the need to articulate the problems that emerge because of it. First, take a look at the propaganda:

There are some amazing linguistic messages there: protect vs. safety, right vs. responsibility. The Yes folks give parents ultimate power while the No folks are invested in youth agency. The imagery from the Yes folks is directly targeted as parents and speaks past youth, never inviting them to participate in a dialogue about this proposition. The Yes folks are speaking a protectionist rhetoric while the No folks are speaking the language of respect. Protectionist rhetoric comes from a place of ageism, a belief that there is a clear division between adults and youth: adults know what they’re doing; youth do not.

Unfortunately, ageism is one of the least acknowledged forms of oppression in this society. As a society, we’re pretty shitty to our youngest and oldest members, thinking them too stupid to deserve agency. These groups often have no voice, no power. Adults will never go back to being youth and they can’t see life from a youth’s perspective. Instead, they project their own needs onto youth. They create hazing rituals following the “we did this, you should too” mentality. Why do we try to strip those we have power over of any agency?

As with most political propaganda, the problems are not addressed. The target market for the Yes folks is clearly middle-upper class parents. Yet, the effects of this proposition would place undue burden on poor or working class teens, abandoned and abused teens. I think back to the time that i spent hanging out with teens on Haight. Many of them came from abused families and found the street to be safer. Unfortunately, these are teens are quite susceptible to rape and unwanted pregnancies. Can you imagine them needing permission from parents?

There is no doubt that parents should know, but this does not mean the government should mandate it. Parents need to earn the respect of their children, not demand obedience. Parents are informed when parents engender a trusting relationship. But when parents don’t, teens should be able to turn to those that they do trust. This is not to say that there aren’t fucked up stories… the Yes folks certainly highlight them. But what they don’t highlight is what the consequences would be on abused youth. And sadly, there are far more abused youth getting pregnant in this state than sad stories like Holly Patterson (who wouldn’t be covered under Prop 73 anyhow since she was 18).

I’m actively pro-choice, but this doesn’t mean that i like abortions or want to see youth getting them. I want to structure a society where youth don’t have to face that choice, but if they do, they have one to make. I want to see parents be supportive and trying to build a meaningful relationship with their children based on trust and respect. I don’t want to see oppression and regulation, ageism and condescension – this destroys our society. And it pains me that people don’t realize this.

Of course, Lakoff has gotten far too deep inside my head. I know the response… good kids don’t get into those situations… good parents make their children behave… the world is evil and a good parent has to protect his kids… you can’t solve a sin with a bigger sin… God, it makes me angry. I wish Dobson a good long painful spanking.

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11 comments to election day: analysis of California Proposition 73

  • joe

    Early election returns will always be depressing to left-of-center voters… why? Because rural areas are easier to count quickly. I’d suggest you don’t look at any results until early the following morning (100% of precincts/polling places were counted by about 5am this morning).

    The maps that the Sec. of State’s office has produced (available here: http://vote2005.ss.ca.gov/ )are particularly interesting. Check out this one for Prop. 73:

    http://vote2005.ss.ca.gov/Returns/prop/mapR073.htm

    That is the new state of democracy and division… urban vs. rural.

  • Thanks, this is the most articulate, compassionate and well-reasoned piece on this topic that I’ve ever read.

  • Bush II; Day 369: Laying the foundation for taking back our country

    So how do I feel? When I was driing home last night they were still thinking that Prop 75 and Prop. 73 would pass, which really honestly brought me to tears in the car. Not big, gulpy, sobby tears, just…

  • One day, Lakoff will be in everyone’s head. You’re just an early adopter.

    What interests me is that “protection” and “safety” are essentially the same thing — conservatives are more likely to talk about things in terms of “defense” than “protection” or “safety”, so by using
    “protection” they were actually co-opting liberal language.

  • stephbot

    I’m with you. I remember voting against similar legislation back in Michigan. I was barely 18 and was so glad I could vote against it (though it ended up passing and is still law).

    New Hampshire is trying to pass legislation that states BOTH parents must give permission to minors to have abortions. I actually snorted when I heard that: Assuming two parents were ever around, assuming you know where both of them are, assuming you don’t have gay parents who may have used a sperm donor and/or may or may not have “real” parental authority as determined by The State, assuming both parents are loving, supportive, not abusive, sober, didn’t commit incest to create the pregnancy in the first place, and on and on.

    I agree – laws like this are so clearly aimed at upper middle-class parents. I grew up in Detroit, one of the poorest cities in the U.S. I was fortunate enough to attend an all-girls Catholic school. My parents both worked fulltime at multiple jobs to send me there, as did many friends’ parents.

    Anyway. My school once invited a guest speaker, a woman named Molly Kelly, to talk about celibacy (a mother of almost a dozen children talking about celibacy).

    I will never forget a metaphor she used, that likened going home and telling your parents that you were pregnant is “like getting lost in the store when you were little. First they’re angry, because you scared and worried them, but deep down they love you. They don’t stay angry forever, they come around and are just glad to have you with them, no matter what.” We were baffled. I saw jaws literally hanging open all around the auditorium. This woman really seemed to believe that this was true of all families! What a bubble.

    Her talk was followed by a Q-and-A period that ended up in utter mayhem. I was so proud of my fellow women that day. I, and many others, got up and let her have it. We opened up and told her exactly what our home lives were like, about abuse, rape, getting kicked out of the house at 16 and living with friends, etc. We told about teachers at our school that said women had to leave school if we carried pregnancies to term (real pro-life).

    The teachers (and nuns especially) were horrified. They tried to get everyone to return to class, and nobody moved. Almost 1,000 girls sat still and would not leave their seats until this speaker answered our questions. For once, these sanctimonious people got to hear, at least for a while, about what teenage pregnancy is really like, and issues related to it.

    Sorry for the long-winded post. I could write volumes on being a teenager in Detroit, on friends who had to go to court to get permission for abortions (and then almost couldn’t because the court dates took so long to get that they threatened to push them past their first trimesters). Sigh.

    Great post, Danah.

  • p@

    Congrats to cali on defeating prop 73… I sure wish we had some of ya’ll round these parts when the texas prop 2, anti-gay marriage amendment, hit the ballot … looks like hard times ahead for civil rights/liberties.

    *Joe: “That is the new state of democracy and division… urban vs. rural.”

    I think this is a very profound statement that really is shaping into a horrible truth… I wonder if there are ways to map Social Network taxonomy against regional concentrations of the users…

  • Riffing on your ageism and agency point… When I was a kid my parents spanked me. I disagreed with the practice and accused them of child abuse. Today, I still believe striking your children as if they were animals incapable of higher thought is wrong. But my parents just saw a kid who didn’t want to be punished. Sometimes it’s hard for adults to realize that children are capable of having principles.

  • littlem

    I read Prof. Lakoff regularly too. Posting before going through other comments, so sorry if redundant.

    First, deep breath. You have said that you’re pro-CHOICE, which means that the pregnant person gets the opportunity to CHOOSE whether to have an abortion. It does NOT mean that an abortion is mandatory for that person. (IMO, the fact that pro-choice folks don’t make that linguistic distinction, regularly and publicly is one of the reasons that their arguments continue to weaken in the press.) So my suggestion is to make that distinction to take yourself out of the line of fire of pro-life activists that would assert: “pro-choice people LIKE abortions!”

    You state later that the “response” you see in arguments like this is “good kids don’t get into those situations… good parents make their children behave… the world is evil and a good parent has to protect his kids… you can’t solve a sin with a bigger sin..”

    I’ve seen and heard that too. I’ve had success (again, using a tactic inspired by Professor Lakoff) framing that as a mere COUNTERARGUMENT, as opposed to a BELIEF. “Belief” is a weigted word that tends to reinforce in the believer’s mind that something is unshakeable, where casting whatever they’ve said as a counterargument tends to lend equal validity to whatever it is that you want to assert. (Of course, now I have to hope that whoever I’m actively arguing against at any given point doesn’t regularly read your blog, see my post, and adopt the tactic. :D)

    I don’t know Professor Lakoff personally; if you work with him please pass this on – I’d be interested to know what he thinks of that theory.

  • kendra

    i think that they shouldn’t pass that law cause i know alot of girls that there parents would abuse them if they got pregnant or kicked them out

  • Bruce

    If a school guidance counselor were to convince my recently pregnant 13 year old daughter that she should get an abortion, and then take her to get it, and I had no opportunity to convince my dauther otherwise, I would be ready to revolt against the school and government.