Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Condemnation of Single Motherhood

It's a double bind for moms, because fathers seem to carry much less responsibility for the problems their sons may have, but in the political and popular culture of today, they are considered absolutely essential to raising good sons.

- Peggy Drexler

In a society that upholds Eurocentric values [patriarchal ideology], the single mother is met with regular hostility. The main reason is that single parent households headed by females do not fit in with societal norms (Dickerson, 1995). The singleness of single mothers is what is truly irksome. The traditional family consists of a father, mother, and children [don’t forget the family dog]. The mother is the caretaker of the household, cooking, cleaning, [birthing] and raising the babies, while the husband is the breadwinner bringing home the turkey bacon. This is the quintessential prototype of the American family. Single motherhood disrupts this capitalist dynamic causing it to be viewed as a threatening social problem which needs to be eradicated (Dickerson, 1995). You know, kind of like the plague—or a virus.

Ann Coulter [a white conservative, pictured on right] makes no qualms about her feelings for single mothers. Coulter says that almost all of society’s problems are the result of single motherhood (2008). And why is that you ask? Well, single mothers choose to have children out of wedlock every year without making that long trek down the aisle with their baby’s daddies or giving up those babies up for adoption to a deserving [traditional and middle-class] family (Coulter, 2008). These women have made the conscious decision to ruin their children’s lives (Coulter, 2008). Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution [fancy!] says almost all of the increase in child poverty since the ‘70s can be linked to single parent families...headed by women (Coulter, 2008).

Not once does Coulter make mention of the males and how they should take the initiative to be part of their children’s lives or their inability to be part of their children’s lives because they are incarcerated. She does not discuss all of the various complexities that may pertain to single mothers depending on socio-economic status, race, age, etc. She does not make any mentions about race either, but it is obvious that she is condemning women of lower class. And had the chapter not been aptly titled Victim of a Crime? Blame a Single Mother I may have reconsidered my initial impressions that she was talking about minority single mothers, specifically black mothers.
Black single mothers receive double the onslaught from society. They are portrayed as lazy, welfare queens on one end and as emasculating matriarchs on the other who are raising a generation of criminals and non-achievers (Collins, 2000; Perry, 2011). Young black men make up a large percentage of the prison population, but rather than criticize a social policy which targets men of color at a higher rate [contributing to the singleness of black women] single black mothers have become the scapegoats. Even the black community chimes in tune with the rest of society and lays blame on single motherhood as the cause of young men’s tendencies to engage in criminal activity due to the lack of strict proper guidance from a male [which is a slap in the face to black motherhood and black women in general].

There is a noticeable tendency to cite boys as experiencing difficulties entering manhood without a father, but vague mention of the hardships girls experience without a father. The argument is that it is much harder to raise boys than girls, especially for a single mother because they cannot possibly understand what boys go through and cannot set a proper example for a male as a woman. Girls, on the other hand, are considered as the easier gender to rear. At least, that is what can be assumed by the way people are touting for the boys. Whatever problem may arise during the maturation from girlhood to womanhood can be handled by a single mother [menstruation, budding breasts...daddies ain’t got time for that female shit].

“It is more challenging raising boys,” says Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, a noted educational consultant (“Is It More Difficult,” 1999, p. 51). It is easy to discern why anyone would believe this to be so for black boys in particular. I mean, All you have to do is look at who accounts for most of the prison population. According to James Cox, vice president of urban services for the Boys & Girls Club of America, “In today’s age, there is a challenge rearing both male and female children, but with young boys, the challenges seem more immediate because the consequences are often more immediate,” (“Is It More Difficult,” 1999, p. 52). People consider jail, drugs, and violence as “hard” risks that young boys may face as the result of bad parenting or a lack of proper parenting [by single mothers].

Media outlets make it even harder to get away from these pressures because it is continuously perpetuated through stereotypical portrayals (“Is It More Difficult,” 1999; Covington, 2010). Movies that are set in the hood present black boys as being prone to get involved in violence and the characters are often being raised by single mothers, thereby reiterating the idea that they do not have the ability to control their sons (Covington, 2010). Since people tend to accept the portrayals of themselves and others in the media, young black boys, as well as the rest of society, will inherently take these images as fact.

Another example of stereotypical portrayals in the media would be Hip-Hop culture, which is entrenched with Universal Masculinity Laws for black boys: Thou shall be hard [show no emotion]; Thou shall be fresh to death at all times [$2,000 for the jeans, $300 for the shoes, and don’t forget that $1,000 wad of cash for the pockets]; and, of course, Thou shall regard dem dividends higher than the bitches [money over bitches...and the ho’s, too] among others. As young boys hear these messages and see them being reflected in their communities they are likely to imitate.

Then is it easier for single mothers to raise their daughters on their own? Associate psychology professor at Morehouse College, Dr. Darlene Charles, thinks that girls are equally as difficult as boys to raise into healthy adults (“Is It More Difficult,” 1999). Yes, girls are less likely to experience imprisonment [but the rate of incarcerated black women has been steadily rising while everyone’s been focused on the men]. Sure, girls are less likely to sell drugs. And, yes, perhaps it is true that girls are less likely to be violent [but they sure are angry as black men like to point out]. As girls enter womanhood, they will face the same kind of decisions as young men face (“Is It More Difficult,” 1999). The difficulty in raising girls is overlooked because the risks they encounter are “soft,” such as low self-esteem, teen pregnancy, and their sexuality and how it will be perceived by the world.

Girls are just as negatively affected by their stereotypical images in the media. Not only are black women portrayed as pathetic excuses for mothers continuously raising the next generation of hoodlums, but in both movies and music they are presented as promiscuous gold-diggers (Collins, 2000). They are portrayed as prostitutes in the cinema [especially dark-skinned women] and as easily replaceable sex objects in Hip-Hop and R&B music videos (Collins, 2000; Jameson & Romer, 2008). Black women’s identities have been relegated to “bitches” and “ho’s” as rappers never fail to remind us. Even female rappers refer to themselves and other women with these degrading labels.

Nothing is more detrimental than the perpetuation of the highly sought after fair-skinned black woman with “curly features.” Fair-skinned black women are the prized trophies on the arms of black men and darker-skinned black women are shunned or overlooked because they are not considered as beautiful/desirable. As these images are projected onto girls, they internalize them and base their self-worth on their ability to live up to these images or are criticized if they attempt to challenge the images (West, 2002). They often develop issues of low self-esteem or a false sense of self-worth merited from superficial qualities. The evidence proves that it is no easier raising a girl than a boy whether they grow up in a single-parent household or even a two-parent household.

What may be valid is that single mothers have the tendency raise their sons and daughters differently. In an article featured on Yahoo! Voices, Guyhto (2009) concludes that single women tend to dote on their sons because they believe their sons are the only males who will not leave them. Moore (1990) goes even deeper and claims that the son of a single mother will often assume the role of the missing father as the “man of the house” and that the mother will not discipline the child for fear of pushing him away. Meanwhile daughters are taught to cook, clean, and conditioned to be more caring. Essentially, women raise their sons to wield power and raise their daughters to become main caretakers (Moore, 1990). The mothers themselves were probably raised in a household that followed the same dynamics.

Catering to males applies to the world over. How many girls can remember their mother calling them into the kitchen to teach them how to cook or assist that they help with household chores? Where were their brothers? Better yet, what was the father doing? I know there is someone who can relate to me when I say that during my childhood I noticed my mother performed all of the cooking cleaning duties and any other form of caretaking even when she came home from working an eight hour shift and my father had been home the entire day. That is how his mother raised him and he expects to receive the same treatment from my mother. For fear that they will turn into “sissies,” mothers may decline teaching their sons domestic responsibilities and disciplining them (Moore, 1990). If a single mother's son turns out to be gay when he gets older, then everyone will blame it on the fact that there was not a male in existence in the boy's life to deflect the large amount of estrogen flying around.

It is believed that young boys who are raised in two-parent households will benefit more because they have male figures to set [manly] examples. But no one specifies in what way fathers should interact with their sons. A father can be in a child’s life and yet not really be a full participant. Dr. Pearlman Hicks, a plastic surgeon, admitted to not spending enough time with his two sons, Timothy and Stephen, until the passing of his wife, Cheryl, from breast cancer (Jeffers, 2001). It could be said that Dr. Hicks was the breadwinner of the family while his late wife was the main caretaker. His busy schedule as a surgeon may not have permitted him time to spend with his children. Yet, from the outside this was the ideal family set up: father, mother, and children. Had Dr. Hicks not began fully participating in his sons’ lives [communicating with them, caring for them...womanly things] one or both of them may have ended up on the wrong path. Timothy, the oldest son, developed anger problems and began failing his classes and hanging around with the wrong crowd after his mother passed (Jeffers, 2001).

When it comes to girls, is it to be assumed that they do need their father around just because they have their mothers? No. It is equally important for girls to have positive male role models around (“Is It More Difficult,” 1999). The absence of a positive male role model or the presence of a negative male role model, whether it is a biological father or not, can result in a girl’s involvement with abusive and exploitive men in adulthood.

Single mothers are judged unfairly because they challenge typical gender roles. Not only do single women have the audacity to raise children by themselves, but they also have the balls to go find work outside of the home. They are emasculating men of their roles at every turn. So, when the children of single mothers get into trouble, society is quick to lay the blame on the women. Rather, a community of positive role models should be advocated. Dr. Hicks did not manage to raise two healthy boys on his own. He had the help of his church where his sons were surrounded by positive role models of both genders. Many people have duped into thinking that the traditional, nuclear, and individualistic family is where children are raised, but it should be in a community (hooks, 2000). When an adolescent experiences an obstacle, such as jail, the entire community should bear the responsibility instead of shifting the burden on the shoulders of single mothers. Does not everyone want to crowd around and celebrate if that youth were to get accepted into a college like they had something to do with it?

I find it funny how people do not calling into question the parenting skills of the mothers of white men who commit blue collar crimes. Neither do I hear anyone laying blame on the parenting capabilities of the mothers of the perpetrators of high school and university shoot outs [Columbine and Virginia Tech]. Those young men were not black. No one has anything to say about the angry little white boys who are seen berating their mothers in the supermarket aisles [why are they so angry? Do they not tend to be from two-parent households...in the suburbs? And is not Barack Obama, the president of the United States, the product of a single mother?


References

Collins, P. H. (2000). Mammies, matriarchs, and other controlling images. In Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (pp. 97-122). New York, NY: Routledge.

Coulter, A. H. (2008). Victime of a crime? Thank a single mother. In Guilty: Liberal “victims” and their assault on America (Vol. 2, pp. 33-71). New York, NY: Crown Forum.

Covington, J. (2010). Crime and racial constructions: Cultural misinformation about African-Americans in media and academia. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Dickerson, B. (Ed.). (1995). African-American single mothers: Understanding their lives and families. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Guyhto, A. (2009, August 26). Are single black women failing to raise suitable black men? Yahoo! Voices. Retrieved from http://voices.yahoo.com/are-single-black-women-failing-to-raise-suitable-black-4140805.html?cat=25

hooks, b. (2000). Community: Loving communion. In All about love: New visions (pp. 127-144). New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Is it more difficult to raise girls or boys? (1999, December). Jet, 97(1), pp. 51-52.

Jameson, P., & Romer, D. (Eds.). (2008). The changing portrayals of adolescents in the media since 1950. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Jeffers, G. (2001). How to raise black boys. Ebony, 56(10), pp. 58-61.

Moore, T. S. (1990, February). Why women raise their daughters and spoil their sons. Jet, 77(19), pp. 56-58.

Perry, T. L. (2011). Family law, feminist legal theory, and the problem of racial hierarchy. In M. Fineman (Ed.), Transcending the boundaries of law: Generations of feminism and legal theory. Oxon, OX: Routledge.

West, C. M. (Ed.). (2002). Violence in the lives of black women: Battered, black, and blue. New York, NY: Hawthorne Press.

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