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Tweeting Your Miscarriage: Is Nothing Sacred?

6 years ago
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Short answer: R U kidding? No bodily function, emotional trauma or personal exchange is beyond bounds or beneath broadcasting these days. Thus did 43-year-old Penelope Trunk, CEO of the aptly named "Brazen Careerist'' blog, Twitter her recent miscarriage: "I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there's a f***-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin." (The asterisks are mine, not hers.)

Although my own first reaction was to look away and keep walking, such squeamishness was not widely shared. In fact, if the tweet was in part a PR stunt by Trunk, who makes her living by – wait for it -- offering career advice to the young, it worked to perfection, and set virtual jaws flapping across the blogosphere and the political spectrum.

On the feminist blog Jezebel, Trunk's disclosure was disparaged as both plain old gross and particularly unfortunate for supporters of abortion rights: "[D]o you want to hear about your male co-worker's hemorrhoids in the workplace? Or the details of his wife's miscarriage? And, unfortunately for everyone, now that this has gone national, the context and way in which Trunk framed this confirms the worst and most fantastical ideas of the anti-choice movement: that women (especially career women!) who have abortions all do so casually and callously on their lunch breaks, the way one might get a manicure.''

At Slate's DoubleX women's site, Amanda Marcotte cheered the simple elegance of Trunk's communique. And no, that is not a malign paraphrase. Marcotte, best known for the anti-Catholic rants that cost her her job as a blogger for John Edwards' '08 presidential campaign, wrote that she "wasn't even remotely bothered'' by Trunk's tweet. On the contrary, "I found it to be an elegant instance of the power of Twitter and the way people have learned to pack so much information into 140 characters. We as a culture applaud men who come up with choice quotes to describe death, courage, and war, but if a woman employs brevity to express relief at a miscarriage, suddenly there's an outcry against the dangers of getting to the point'' too abruptly.

I've written a lot about my conservative abortion views; nonetheless, I do not think Trunk's wahoo, drive-through view of abortion is typical. Most normal women take these and other serious decisions seriously. No, it's her 'tude toward disclosure that I see as a sign of the times.

Of course, to paraphrase Jesus, porn we will have with us always. And it's OK that we no longer feel like those ladies of a tenderer time, who as the wonderful Judith Martin winkingly reminds us in Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, used to have a precise lifetime limit on the number of times they could comfortably see their name in print: "Thrice. Marriage, as well as birth and death – but only one of each – are the traditional occasions on which a lady is supposed to undergo the pain of public scrutiny. Miss Manners, however, is in no position to criticize those who exceed their limits.''

More recently, in the year of our Lord 1991 -- before people fell in love or divorced on television -- Madonna was still able to give the nation a frisson or two by hauling a camera crew around with her on a concert tour, then packaging the footage as a documentary film called Truth or Dare. The one thing I remember about the movie now isn't its star's exhibitionism but the droll comment of her then-companion Warren Beatty, who didn't much like being filmed for the project and mocked her by asking something to the effect of "What's the point of doing anything if it happens off-camera, right?''

The thing is, we are all Madonna now, or would very much like to be; this is a narcissistic time, when technology gives us the ability to unburden ourselves, and the illusion that over-sharing is a career- or image-enhancing activity. Now, I'm pretty free with info my own self – to the point that my children have been known to follow some comment that made me laugh with, "That was off-the-record!'' But is discretion completely dead? Is any revelation so taboo we wouldn't tweet it? Is social media the new confessional? Yes, no, and yes, I'm afraid. But aren't those who go too far more apt to wind up feeling vulnerable than relieved?

Trunk says no: In a follow-up on her blog, she argues that miscarriage is a fact of life, that life happens at work, and that "you can't manage your work life if you can't talk about it.'' But can you ever stop talking about it -- or stop being talked about -- once you've lobbed a doozy like that into the water-cooler conversation?
Filed Under: Woman Up

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