I’m a feminist. This is a feminist site. I am not in the business of silencing other women for their views and opinions. That being said, I am in the business of correcting some seriously off-base information if/when it is put out into the mediasphere, particularly when it pertains to the (mis)perception and treatment of women and children. In this case, single mothers.
I just had the fortune (?) of watching a ridiculous video in which Father Albert (first time I’ve heard of him), a TV talk show host, sits down with Ann Coulter and listens as she spews conservative evangelical right wing garbage all over the airwaves about single mothers and their kids. Her main message? Single mothers should give their children up for adoption because statistics. Yes, that’s right. Statistics. Any criminologist worth their weight is likely giving a chuckle at this right now, and not because it’s funny.
In this video, Ann Coulter throws out a bunch of white supremacist patriarchal assumptions and extremely misguided suggestions about/for single mothers and their children. Relying on ‘facts’ (i.e. statistics) from ‘both the left and the right’ (her words) to back up her claims and opinions, she basically says in a round about way that single mothers are the reason for crime in society, because it is their children who create society’s ills, that it is exceptional when their children turn out ‘well’ (i.e. not criminals), and that instead of raising ‘illegitimate’ (i.e. out of wedlock) children who will eventually grow up and destroy society, that single mothers should give them up for adoption immediately instead. “100%”. Yes, this is for real. Yes, this is a real woman who has said this to the public and has effectively instilled SHAME in millions of women all over the world using decontextualised scientific data to support her ‘Christian’ argument. You may or may not be familiar with this kind of behaviour but it’s called victim-blaming. The picture she’s painting here is unsurprising because it utilises the same narrative about single mothers that policy makers and other people in power rely on to ‘inform’ their misogynist policies and half-assed decision-making. It amounts to victim-blaming because it makes a tool out of the millions of disenfranchised women who are often not only poor but victims of physical, sexual, economic, and emotional abuse. Never mind that their victimisers are MEN and the capitalist system. That factoid seems to conveniently slip past most commentators on the subject (most of whom are not single, nor are they mothers). And somehow, STILL in 2017, male pattern violence and men’s apparent predisposition to using women like disposable rags for sexual gratification and then abandoning them is never taken into account or called out as the root of the ‘problem of single motherhood’. For policy makers and bigots and the host of other disgustingly misinformed and often misogynistic people in power, our society’s ills and crime rates are all traceable to so-called ‘illegitimate children’ who were raised by a single mom. Therefore, for all intents and purposes (according to these people), the root of the problem of crime in society is a bad mother. Read that last sentence again. Not a bad father – a bad mother. The root of the problem of crime in society is a bad mother and a bad mother is a single mother who does not have a partner and therefore does not deserve our collective respect. If men don’t respect her enough to stick around, then why should anyone else respect her? Right? That’s the story that runs underneath all of these broken misogynist policies and bad decision making.
Fuck that narrative and fuck anyone who uses it for their own gain. Policy makers and others in the family courts and criminal justice system need to wake the fuck up to the harm they are doing to women and children. We need to start holding them to account for their complicit role in the spread of misinformation and part of that misinformation is their absolute refusal to name the perpetrators of many ‘broken’ homes: MEN.
So ok. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get a few things straight.
Ann Coulter likes to throw around statistics. Not surprising, as they are very utilitarian. Statistics, aka quantitative data, are frequently referenced by people in positions of power and policy-making because throwing out numbers of aggregated data is much easier than listening to a long-winded report full of nuanced explanations for individuals’ social behaviour and the phenomenological contexts surrounding their predicaments. People are swayed by numbers in the form of percentage points. For example, it’s more convincing to say: “85% of single mothers collect some kind of welfare benefit” than it is to say: “Most single mothers are working more than one job in order to pay for rent and childcare costs and often do not have enough money left over for food because the fathers of their children are delinquent and do not share in their responsibilities. Many of these mothers are forced to apply for government food assistance”. Right? You see the difference there. Divorcing statistical data from the rich contexts of the social lives of the humans who inform it is, well, very dangerous actually. Because it can be used in the formation of new – and not always good – public policy. But alas, it happens literally all the fucking time. And rich white evangelical so-called ‘Christian’ people like to use it as a tool to achieve their own ends (in Ann Coulter’s case, to sell more copies of the book she is promoting in the video).
Is it true that a lot of statistical data is used to report negatively on the children of single mothers and their households? Yep. Sure is. Is it also true that many social science projects that collect data on single mothers and their children are actually using out-dated and patriarchal theories, models, and methods to inform their projects? Yes. Is it also true that we are living in a time when the role of irresponsible men in this equation is STILL not being recognised for what it really is? Yes. Is it true that many children of single mothers end up engaging in crime of some sort? Yes – in some cases. Not all. How can this be so, you ask, considering all the statistical data she and others cite to back up their claims that single mothers are an evil scourge upon an otherwise well-oiled capitalist society?
Well, for starters, single motherhood is an umbrella term that encompasses, rightly or wrongly, all different types and manifestations of single motherhood. For example, some single mothers are wealthy women who have no need for a man but decide after much deliberation that they want to have a family, so they do via artificial insemination or having sex with a trusted friend. Or what about the woman who has children with the love of her life, and then suddenly he dies tragically, leaving her widowed, with a house, astronomical debt, and children? Or the lesbian radical feminist who decides to have a baby because she feels that motherhood is the ultimate expression of her womynhood and becoming a mother is her way of celebrating both her womynhood and her connection to the Great Goddess? Or what about the young 13 year old girl who is raped, and subsequently impregnated, left to fend for herself alone in a State that does not allow abortion? What about the 36 year old woman who meets the love of her life, has a baby, and is then emotionally and physically abused by her partner who decides he does not want to be a father and takes his anger out on her and her child in a vengeful way? If abused women leave abusive men and take their children with them for their own safety, that woman enters a society that has already stigmatised her without even hearing her story. That woman is now labelled a ‘single mother’, and that term carries the baggage of deeply ingrained social stigma. All of the above mentioned women are ‘single mothers’, you see. And society hates them. The hatred is thick, and pure, and unthinking, malevolent in its effects on their children. There are a host of reasons why women become single mothers and the experience is not always a bad one. But unfortunately, if you are a woman without a man in your life and you choose to raise your child on your own, independently, you are considered fundamentally flawed because to do such a thing is to offend patriarchy.
In society’s eyes, to be a single mother is to be an anti-social offender (of patriarchy). You are not playing by the rules of the patriarchal game, and all of the social institutions in place make sure that you are reminded of that. Think about it. All of our systems, all of our religions, all of our governments, are all basically patriarchal in nature. What does that mean? Well, it means that the unconscious script running underneath everything and in everyone’s mind values the primacy of the male over the female: MEN are assumed and expected to be heads of the household because we still haven’t gotten around to expanding our idea of what ‘household’ means. Under patriarchy, it means that a family unit consists of at least three people: a MAN (father/head of household), a woman (mother/subservient to male), and their child. Yes we do now have more unconventional family units that consist of father + father + child and mother + mother + child, but to do it completely independently as a unit of 2 (mother + child)? You can. But prepare for some serious indignation from the conservative patriarchal right.
So, to recap then, a healthy amount of discernment is needed when wading through the shit-filled swamps of ‘facts’ about single mothers and their children. Ann Coulter can say whatever she wants, but on the issue of single motherhood she is exceptionally uninformed and should not be taken seriously by anyone. If you are a single mother, you are not a failure, and you should not give your children up for adoption. Be proud as a unit of 2! You rule your roost. Your children are not destined for failure or criminality. Stay focused and strong and whatever you do, do NOT give in to some lame ass man just because you think your child needs a father around. Children don’t inherently need fathers. What children need are people in their life who love them and treat them as though they are the best thing since sliced bread, and if it’s just you and your sisters, or you and your family and friends, you are already all the family you need. And that is something that you can cherish because there are predatory men out there looking for women who feel and think they are in a position of weakness, and these men will take advantage of you and possibly hurt your children in the long run. DO NOT GO DOWN THAT ROAD. There is nothing wrong with being a single, unmarried, not-dating, parent.
The act of single motherhood is revolutionary. Own it.