What We Can Learn About Society’s Judgements of Single Mothers Through Its Humor

Humour. We all have our own tastes in comedy. We like different comedians, different shows, funny movies, et al. You can learn a lot about a person by getting to know what they think is funny. Take for instance, American society. Lol

The Hyperbolic Single Mother Trope

The Onion (an American satire rag) recently posted an article called: Single Woman With 3 Young Children Unaware She Subject of 984 Judgements Today. It uses a lot of hyperbole in its subtext that exaggerates many of the ways in which single mothers are judged, as well as several of the reasons behind why society judges them so. Its point of departure is with a fictitious single mother and her brood of 3 misbehaved children in a shopping centre.

It just came across my newsfeed and I obviously have to write something on this. I would be wrong not to. So for the readers who are unaware of the Onion, all you need to know is that this article referenced above is intended to be a joke, however, as always with any humour, the truth is implied through the subtext. Ok. So the subject of the article is a fictional woman with 3 kids, all relatively close in age, because, you know, single mothers are (in people’s minds) extremely promiscuous sex addicts who can’t seem to hold on to a man. As a result of not being able to land a ‘good’ man (which itself implies the filth and unworthiness of the woman), the 3 kids referenced in the article are assumed to also have different fathers. This is in-line with all the assumptions around the promiscuity of single mothers. This is, in society’s opinion, just the way these women are. Because class (assumed poverty and lack of education). And kids (so many, by a variety of different men). And… emotions (yeah. stress. and, you know, their penchant for being angry, controlling, socially uncouth women who simply have no chance in hell. for anything.).

None of this is surprising. It’s clarifying, actually. Feel those eyes on you when you’re out shopping? Yeah. Those judgements are there. They are real, and real (ignorant) people have them. What’s worse is that people in power have them too, and make extremely important decisions with this misaligned frame of reference in mind.

The Single Mother-as-Piece-of-Shit Trope

But then there’s this: Single, Unemployed Mother Leeching Off the Government. Another Onion article which humorously draws attention to the single mother trope as a target of social critique, albeit in a different way. The ‘single mother’ referenced in the title is said throughout the article to be a lazy piece of shit, basically, and is not a human woman but a giant Panda bear (shown in a photo. this is why the piece is supposed to be hilariously funny). What is not funny, however, is the truth in the subtext (or in this case, the text). The article is only one paragraph long and consists of several very negative assumptions made about single mothers who often struggle under the weight of the patriarchal capitalist system – alone – with no one to help them. This trope powerfully paints the experience of single motherhood as something to be shunned, to be critiqued, to be controlled (politically – did you catch the Arlington, VA reference?), to be hated. Read this and ask yourself if this is funny at all:

“Taking advantage of the system and giving nothing back in return, local unemployed, single mother Mei Xiang reportedly gave birth to two more children out of wedlock this week and continued to pathetically leech off the government. “This lazy freeloader was already depending on the government to take care of her other kids, and then she has the nerve to pop out a couple more? Unbelievable,” said Arlington, VA resident Evan Hunt, echoing the sentiments of millions of hardworking Americans who were appalled to learn that the moocher has never worked a single day in her life and has received federal housing assistance and cost-free child care since 2000. “She just sits on her fat ass eating all day while taxpayers fork over their hard-earned cash to pay for the handouts she gets. And you know her kids are going to grow up to be just like her, too. She’s a disgusting parasite.” At press time, the outraged nation was reportedly speculating that Mei Xiang probably didn’t even know who the father was this time either.” – The Onion

Nothing about the paragraph above is funny, actually. All the Onion did was put a photo of a giant panda bear above it, and that is what made it palatable for its audience and printable for its investors. This kind of trope masks a hardcore assumption in the minds of many: that single mothers who are struggling to make ends meet are pieces of shit who are also lazy, fat, sex addicts who want all the welfare.

The Sad Single Mother Trope

The trope that unleashes a load of emotions in us, that demands that we consider how hard it is for these women who are so alone, who work so hard, who have it so rough, whose situations of struggle are so misunderstood on such a massive scale. A mix of hyperbole and affect, this trope makes light of what is a very common occurrence among women who are abandoned by men: that they struggle alone to provide for their children, that they work their asses off to pay bills and buy food, that they are ridden with guilt because all they want to do is care for their children but they can’t because they don’t have the privilege, the money, the support network. Because compared to most people, they have fucking nothing. The Onion again paints a good picture of this for us in its articles Single Mother Hogging 2 Jobs and Disturbing Fast Food Truth Not Exactly a Game-Changer for Impoverished Single Mom of 3. As if anyone is ever ‘hogging’ 2 jobs, right? Right. So, this one is pretty easy. But ah, the feels. Tis a sad situation, no? I mean, look at their photos: exhausted, disheveled hair, worn-down face, etc. These women are in the wilderness. This trope tells us that at least part of our society is sympathetic to our plight as women. Some. Part. Likely a very small part. Probably other single mothers. Or their immediate family members who know how hard it is for them.

Funny, right?


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