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The demonisation of single mothers.

(327 Posts)
SantaIsAnAnagramOfSatan Thu 02-Dec-10 06:52:58


I've ended up talking about this in various threads but have never dedicated a thread to it.

So, i'm looking for your thoughts. How do we see this in action? What are the views of single mothers? How are they propagated? Why are they propagated and why do they attract such demonisation?

I'd also like to hear about where you think the feminist vision saw single mothers, did it predict their would be more given the increased freedom women would have in their lives and their ability to leave male partners or choose to not have one without being financially or socially (though that hasn't held true entirely compared to 1960's it's at least possible to live this way) ruined?

Is women being able to have children alone a part of the feminist outcome - if women have more control over their bodies and reproduction surely it was an inevitable outcome? And is it in your mind a positive or negative thing in terms of feminism?

I'm actually going away for a few days now but hope this will attract lots of thoughts for me to read when i get back.

As for me, to put this in context, i am a single mother of a pre school boy. When i found out i was pregnant (unplanned) at 30 i decided that i was happy to be and wanted to keep the baby but that i didn't want to stay in the problematic relationship with the father. Therefore i've been a single parent from the outset.

I have framed this as about single mothers rather than single parents as it is my experience that single fathers are seen very differently, imo as heroes and glorified whereas single mothers get the demonisation treatment in popular culture.

Look forward to reading your thoughts.

Hopelesslydisorganised Thu 02-Dec-10 07:04:06

You are totally right about the difference in the way single fathers are seen as opposed to single mothers. The single fathers I know (two) are practically deified because they are heroes - one stepped in when he son was six weeks and about to be take into care. He has cared for his son alone ever since - he does a fantastic job of it too.

I am also a single parent - a single Mum since my husband left three years ago. My main experience has been that people locally expect me to be a single parent as I live on the local sink estate. They also expect that I will not be working (I am) and that I will need the mythical "loads of benefits" (I don't).

Intersting topic - should be a good discussion.

HerBeatitude Thu 02-Dec-10 09:04:35

I think there are loads of reasons why single mothers are so demonised and off the top of my head the ones I can think of first are:

1. Every mother knows deep down that at any time, she could become a member of this despised club. If for any reason her relationship goes west, she'd be in the club whether she likes it or not. So the hostility to the club from some women, is partly born of fear. If they can distance themselves from it, they can hold it at bay.

2. Someone else said this on another thread - if a woman won't even knuckle under when she's got children and put up with her man, then when will she? Man, she's out of control. That's upsetting what is considered to be "the natural order".

3. They're threatening the family, the relationship, the whole premise of how our society is built, so the meejah tells us. They are choosing to do it differently (though of course in many cases, it isn't a choice - death or desertion has been the thing that has decided their single mother status, not choice. They're showing that it is possible to have another model of child-rearing and the nuclear family is such a fragile instituttion, that it can't take too much challenge.

4. The figures for the outcomes of single parents are BAD. They are more likely to be in ill health (one of the reasons the marriage split in the first place in many cases) more likely to truant, get worse school results, be involved in criminality, drugs, early sex etc. This is because of poverty - if you take out the income variable in the data, the figures level out and it becomes very obvious that the reason the results are bad, is because of poverty. Lots of people do not know this, because the media don't tell them. So a lot of the hostility, is an honestly held perception that single parenthood in itself is bad for children, as opposed to the poverty being bad. And of course, no-one wants to address the reasons for that poverty - workplace structures and non-pyament of maintenance or maintenance set at poverty levels.

That's my lot for now, must go and do some work...

MistressMaker Thu 02-Dec-10 11:18:48

Is this for an article?

I think, first and foremost, some men feel threatened by single mothers because (in their opinion) it reduces men to nothing more than sperm donors and makes them feel redundant.

walkinginaWUKTERwonderland Thu 02-Dec-10 11:26:22

Why MistressMaker? FGS in loads of cases it's within the man's power to become a sperm donor or a dad.

BooBooGlass Thu 02-Dec-10 11:28:33

I dislike the term 'despised club' there, HerBeautitude.
I am a single parent of 2 children by 2 different men. The first I had when at university, very much unexpectedly and I chose to go it alone when the father told me he wanted to get rid. We had been childhood sweethearts, together forever and tbh it hurt. We are now both good, though seperate, parents.
My second dc was a planned child in what I thought was a happy relationship. He couldn't 'handle responsibility', came to this conclusion when it was already too late, and buggered off without a backwards glance.
If anyone deserved to be stigmatised and punished by society, it is the people like my second dc's father. Feckless, leaving other people to pick up the responsibility. Am I pleased he's gone? You bet. But does society come down on him at all? Hell no. He is running from the CSA, and his own family are makign excuses for him.
In comparison, I'm a bloody saint. I'm bringing up my children well, I am on benefits, but that's only since I was made redundant from my full time job after maternity leave with dc2. It's a short term safety neyt and I'm bloody glad it's there. Maybe I'm lucky, but I don't really feel stigmatised. Maybe I should?
The problem here isn't single motherws as I see it. It's that we as a society have made it more than OK for men to just bugger off, very often leaving children in poverty behind them.

Grumpla Thu 02-Dec-10 11:44:42

Something that might also be worth considering is that The Meeja may demonise single mums but it's not necessarily representative of the way that everyone perceives them (or how they perceive themselves!) There's definitely a link between fear / despising single mums and class.

For example my neighbour is a working class single mum - amongst her friendship group this is fairly common. Her family, friends etc have all been very supportive. Single parenthood is perceived as fairly normal (in fact probably the norm) and although she is sad that her relationship with the dad didn't work out long term that doesn't seem to impact on her perception of herself as a mum - if anything she is more determined to do a good job on her own (which she is, puts me to shame on a regular basis) Nobody in her circle of family / friends has "told her off" for being a single mum or implied that she won't do a good job raising her kids.

My best friend is also a single mum (had her baby as a teenager) and she got a lot more disapproval / "disappointed" crap from her middle class educated extended family (her parents were great though) than my neighbour did from hers. Some of her friends' parents banned them from seeing her after she got pregnant (in case it rubbed off?!?) and she regularly got told off by teachers, vague acquaintances etc. Even by the time she was at uni lecturers etc used to literally recoil in horror if she told them she had a baby in the uni creche.

Is it more acceptable for working class women to be single mothers because they shouldn't aspire to do anything else? Or is it less acceptable (they might out-breed the ruling classes!)? I don't know. I suspect it's similar to the difference between my neighbour not working so she can raise her kids (LAZY! BENEFITS SCROUNGER!) and Yummies doing the same (CARING VISION OF BODEN-WEARING LOVELINESS!)

Sorry if this post is a bit incoherent, I've only had four hours sleep.

HerBeatitude Thu 02-Dec-10 12:16:16

Booboo sorry about the despised club term. But we are despised by a certain section of society and it is a club most women don't actively aspire to belong to, I think Harpo Marx was probably in my head when I wrote it.

To return to one of the OP's questions:

"Is women being able to have children alone a part of the feminist outcome - if women have more control over their bodies and reproduction surely it was an inevitable outcome?"

It is only inevitable if men make themselves intolerable to live with and don't step up to the parenting role, or if men give themselves permission to leave the family home. If men are nice, and function reasonably well as fathers, women will want to live with them, however much control they have over their own bodies and if men have a sense of responsibity towards their families, they won't just up and leave them without proper financial support.

The debate is nearly always framed in terms of women's choices and what women do - but women are only half the story here. People hardly ever ask what choices men are making. There's a thread on here atm (to which I have been a vociferous contributor grin) where a woman is plannign to go back to work FT, talking about needing "help" in the house as opposed to domestic work being a joint venture, and the guy wants to spend every saturday on his hobby leaving her alone with the baby, so no fmaily time except on sunday and where does she get the whole day off a week to spend on her hobby? That's a choice he is making and it's not an unusual choice - why do the media continually ignore the way men behave in the debate over the "breakdown of the family"?

HerBeatitude Thu 02-Dec-10 12:19:50

Oh and another thing - the debate is nearly always framed in terms of - women choosing not to have happy marriages and stable relationships, as if thousands of women are walking en masse away from happy, fulfilling marriages. People hardly ever point out that no-one walks away from a happy marriage; they walk away from an unhappy one. But nevertheless, if the argument is between happy marriage versus dangerous single motherhood, of course it looks as though single mothers are bieng unreasonable - why on earth are they all out there choosing this, instead of fulfilling relationships with the fathers of their children? As if that was the choice for most single mothers. hmm

MistressMaker Thu 02-Dec-10 15:02:19

Agree herbeatitude.

Janos Thu 02-Dec-10 15:36:03

What an interesting question.

I'm a single mother and very content to be so (five plus years now). I feel infinitely happier now than when I was in a supposedly stable, happy long term relation ship - which was in fact anything but (cf HB's comment that people do not just leave happy relationships. There is always a reason why).

I very much enjoy male company but am certainly in no hurry to be in a relationship again.

Certain sections of society do seem feel threatened by women managing quite happily on their own, and not needing a man.

One thing I have observed is that it's ok to be a single mum if you are unhappy about it and find it terribly difficult..perhaps because it affirms their view?

Janos Thu 02-Dec-10 15:38:12

Don't know why relationship has separated into two words there...!

HerBeatitude Thu 02-Dec-10 17:53:21

Oh yes Janos I am continually being asked if I wouldn't like a man in my life, pityingly, by women who appear to have no free time because they are too busy servicing their husbands. Or expressing surprise that I can work and drop both kids off at school and find time to run and seem so cheerful - because I ought to be wallowing in misery being a lone parent.

And if I answer that I'd like a man in my life if he has pecs and doesn't interfere with my mumsnetting, people give me a funny look... grin

poshsinglemum Thu 02-Dec-10 21:36:15

I think that single mums are vilified because it is a direct challenge to the patriarchy which is upheld by the traditional nuclear family.
Oh my god- man not needed! If men don't want to be regarded as just sperm donors then they should stop behaving like them.

I am cynical but I think that many men do need to sow their wild oats and that marriage is a lovely idea but is a cultural contruct.

I had a conversation with my(happily engaged) best mum mate about me being a single mum and I said that it was ''against natural order'' and she replied that it is probably just as natural for the man not to be around as nature dosn't require them to stay to nurture the child. Nature requires them to impregnante as many women as possible in order to continue the survival of the species. (Who says that romance is dead!)

I do sense that many women fear being left by their men and being in ''my situation.'' I enjoy my situation a lot of the time to be honest.

Also I think that the stereotype of a single mum lets patriarchy off the hook. We can behave exactly how we want, including buggering off and leaving the women and the women has to pick up the flak.

I actually feel empowered as a happy single mum. I don't think some men like the fact that we can be happy on our own; after all how can they bribe us?

Gosh; I'm so cynical!

I would liek to get married one day btw so I am a bit of a hypocrit! Culture is very powerful plus I am a big romantic.

Sakura Fri 03-Dec-10 07:57:57

Single mothers represent female power, everything the patriarchy is frightened of.

That's why they're kept poor by the system. An evolved society should create a system whereby every child is provided for adequately out of taxes. Fat chance of that with the new Tory gov. The new government wants to make women more dependant on men than ever before. IT is thinking of paying benefits to the father only shock . WOmen had to fight for their family allowance to be given to the mother because men used to pocket it and spend it down the pub!

So a system has been created whereby women who play by the patriarchal rules are rewarded economically, because they receive the patronage and cooperation of a male.

The entire system needs an overhaul. We cannot have mothers dependant on men. It causes too much misery all-round.

It's all part of trivialising what mothers do, all mothers, not just single mothers; pretending that raising children is something that happens on the sidelines of real life. WRONG! Raising children is real life.

And what the papers never mention is what someone on another thread said: "Doesn't anyone wonder that for every single mother, there's a man out there doing fuck all"

Truckulent Fri 03-Dec-10 08:12:00

With regard to the OP, I'm a single father and I don't think I've ever been treated as a hero.

A proportion of work colleagues think I'm a bit unreliable as I can't be flexible, and it has effected my salary. Fortunately my boss is a family man so I'm ok, if others were in charge I would have been replaced by now. I think it's the fathers who do the occasional family stuff that are considered acceptable, once you do it regularly you are flakey.

We must move in different circles, I know a lot of single mums and it is never commented on by anyone that I know of.

It isn't it the Daily Mail brigade that are really anti single mothers?

Sakura Fri 03-Dec-10 08:18:50

poshsinglemum, I x posts with you. I agree with most of your post, except what you say the differences between men and women.
I believe there are differences in male and female behaviour but not huge ones. I think women are socially conditioned to not sleep around (who wants to be labelled a slag or a slut?).
ANd many women have had the experience of the man being super-keen to settle down, but she wanted to take it slow. That's because marriage benefits men. The happiness and well-being rates are:

1) Married men (most happy)
2) Single women
3) Married women
4) Single men (most depressed)

The sneaky media makes out as though it's women who are desperate to settle down, but the opposite is true, I reckon.

I also read research showing it's biologically better for women to have children from more than one man because if gives her offspring an overal better chance of survival, because of the mix of genes (not putting all her eggs in one basket IYSWIM)

Sakura Fri 03-Dec-10 08:23:43

no, not daily mail Truckulent, society in general. Fathers who do the bare minimum are regarded as heroes.
I see what you mean that in masculine circles, SAHDs don't get as much kudos as a man out earning his millions. BUt we're not comparing men with other men here, we're comparing what dads do with what mums do. When mums do something it's not even noticed, and they are held to a much higher standard than fathers in all areas.

There is a woman on MN whose husband died recently. she had 3 kids to cope with as well as her bereavement. DO you know what Social services did? Do you think they helped her out with a free cleaning service? Meals on wheels perhaps? Nope, they threatened to take her children away because her house was untidy. I shit you not.

HerBeatitude Fri 03-Dec-10 10:04:18

Yes I very much doubt if they'd threaten to take a father's kids away in those circumstances.

You may not be treated like a hero Truck, but you can bet your life that you are looked upon with far more admiration than a woman in your circs. A man stepping up to the mark and raising his own children alone, is so singular, that it invites admiring comments and sympathy for how difficult it is, in a way that a woman doing exactly the same thing just doesn't. Also re your boss - have you considered that maybe he's sympathetic because you're a man? If you were a woman in the same circs, would he be so accomodating? It's one of those things that is impossible to know, I suppose.

HerBeatitude Fri 03-Dec-10 10:07:56

There's a bloke up the road from me who is a single father and he gets hsi DD's looked after by various other parents (including me) practically every day, because everyone knows how tough his job is.

FFS I'm doing exactly the same thing as he is, and no-one is offering to take my DC's off for playdates once a week to help me out and I'm actually falling into that trap of thinkign "Ah, he's having such a hard time, I'll get L to come over and make cookies with us tomorrow to give him a bit of break". grin

And I'm a fucking raging feminist FGS! grin

Janos Fri 03-Dec-10 10:57:14

Sakura, I think you are spot on.

I have never bought in to the 'myth' of women being more desperate than men to settle down. And yet we are constantly told this is what we want!

I agree that society 'conspires' to keep single mothers down (there are exceptions of course). I have a friend who left an abusive marriage and has had to deal with all sorts of cr4p. We just do not give single mums much support over here.

In a way I am one of the lucky ones - I have a sympathetic, family friendly employer, and a lot of family support (albeit at a distance).

HerBeatitude Fri 03-Dec-10 12:35:34

I'm not sure, I think when you're in your twenties it's a lot more important for women to "settle down" than men, because of the menopause deadline. Often women want to settle because they want children and they don't want to waste their fertility years on someone who doesn't want to have children with them.

But once you have your children, you don't need a man. And that is profoundly threatening to people who have a vested interest in women needing men. The idea that it is much, much healthier for a woman to actively want a man, rther than just need him, seems to really upset some people.

Janos Fri 03-Dec-10 13:15:00

Yes, good point HB.

Choosing to settle down with a man because you want to is very different to settling down because you have to.

Sakura Fri 03-Dec-10 13:56:04

I can imagine people helping out a single dad, HB, especially social services.
It's as though, when society sees a man doing anything, it suddenly becomes relevant and real, but when a woman is doing that very same task, the work is invisible and becomes part of the woodwork.
It falls in line with the concept that men really are regarded as being more "human" than women.

The other line of argument is that, perhaps, in truth, women are better copers (whether that's nature or nurture is another issue entirely)

poshsinglemum Fri 03-Dec-10 19:21:28

It really annoys me how women are labelled as sluts for sleeping around.

I have always wanted relationships with the men I have slept with. They are the ones who have bogged off to the next lady. I am the one left with the bad name. Oh well.

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