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Baby Mama

Feministing highlights this mother-blaming USA Today article on Fantasia “American Idol (I Broke My Shoe)” Barrino’s new single “Baby Mama.”

Vanessa says:

Barrino won the ridiculously popular karaoke contest last year, and felt it was appropriate to give single mothers — like herself — their own personal anthem in her new album, Free Yourself. Yet the song, while quickly climbing up the Billboard R&B chart, has (unsurprisingly) received more criticism than praise.

For example, this article in USA Today scrutinizes the song. The author gives numerous statistics on single-parent households as her proof, claiming that the media shouldn’t be portraying a woman’s “poor choice” as a “badge of honor.” (In the song, Fantasia says single mothers should have one.)

The song brings up a number of different issues that many single mothers have to deal with, including the shittiness of the welfare system and struggles with employment. I may just be a sucker, but I started tearing up when I heard the song for the first time. Single mothers are stigmatized enough as deviants, continuously shamed for their own “poor choices” and blamed for their economic struggle. The general theme of the song seems to totally subvert that idea. To me, this song is quite due.

Speaking as a single mother, I don’t need any badge of honor.

I get two primary responses when others speak to my single parenthood. The first is quite like the one portrayed by the author of the USA Today article. You made poor choices, they say. Is the daddy still around? My choice not to marry, though it was offered to me, was in the end a good one for everyone involved. Yet my single status is, for some, a reflection of poor morals and lack of character.

This is all projection. I don’t believe a whit of it, even if it is taxing at times to feel the initial compulsion to prove something or someone wrong. But shit, I’m busy. There’s laundry to do. Is it bath night? Damn paper due tomorrow. Not enough time to worry about someone else’s dearth of insight.

The other response I get, which is nearly as tiresome, is faux awe. I don’t know how you do it! It must be so hard!

Again, I’m busy. The litterbox needs emptying. I want to write about something. It’s time to read a book to the boy. I don’t think about how hard or not hard my job is as a single parent unless I slow down long enough to reflect on the lack of funds and manpower around the household. This is the way things are. If I don’t take care of these responsibilities, no one else will, so I’d best get on with it and find some time for myself along the way.

The song subverts the memes apparent in the first reaction listed above: Single mothers do pay the bills, do go to school, do hold jobs, and do raise thoughtful and responsible children. Some of us do it virtually by ourselves and the rest of us rely on a complicated network of friends, family, and structural resources to get by. But success stories aren’t controversial and sexy. You don’t hear about us very often.

Instead you’ll find a load of tripe about how chicks who get “knocked up” must “pay the consequences” for such “poor choices,” like our children are nothing but a negative consequence and couldn’t possibly bring joy or laughter to our lives despite the various hardships. In some cases, you’ll find that single motherhood is regarded as un-American (as is, apparently, the use of an American dialect known as AAVE).

As a single mother I don’t believe I need any badge of honor, but I can do without the proselytizing and admonishment, thank you very much. There is enough of that in the mainstream media, and criticism of single parenthood, especially teen parenthood, is often couched in satire or other brands of humor that, obviously, rarely brings the funny. In the meantime the rest of the media puts on the scare show and ignores that family structures apart from the heterosexual couplings, 2.5 children, white picket fence, and yappy dog, can be and are valuable. Laudable, even.

The article says,

Indeed, women should not selfishly allow the desire to procreate overshadow their ability to care for a child. We must be committed to giving our children fathers who are responsible, supportive and present.

Some of us didn’t get pregnant out of desire, but of circumstance. We have no guarantee that any father (or mother) we choose for our children will be responsible, supportive, or present. A wedding ring doesn’t do much to change that risk either.

Sometimes relationships don’t work. Sometimes people leave for good reasons. Single parenthood is not disastrous. Research “confirming” that single parenthood is disastrous seeks to validate assertions of immoral behavior instead of exploring the evidence, evidence showing that poverty is the primary reason that single parents experience more “failure” in their parenting, than the lack of a second adult figure in the home. Simply stated, two paychecks bring more opportunity to children than one paycheck, but marriage alone does not guarantee economic stability.

Of course my situation is not ideal. But chances are, your parents’ marriage wasn’t ideal, your marriage isn’t ideal, and your children’s marriage won’t be ideal either. Ideal is “a hypothetical construct made up of the salient features or elements of a social phenomenon, or generalized concept, in order to facilitate comparison and classification of what is found in operation.” In other words, ideal is hypothetical, sibling to perfect. If fresh two-parent families prove to follow the statistical model, about 50% of them will find themselves single parents as well. Whether or not this is a disaster depends on your worldview.

Instead of shaming single parents for the audacity to have children, remember that we all got here in myriad ways, none of which are so easily characterized in a list of statistics devoid of subjectivity or context printed in USA Today.

The song “Baby Mama” is downloadable via BearShare and is, in my opinion, mediocre R&B. Nonetheless, thanks to Fantasia for the thought.

Related Reading:
Drive-By Mothering and Parent As Outsider
I Was a Teen Mom
Defining Family
Third Wave Agenda’s “Single moms making ‘poor choices’


19 thoughts on Baby Mama

  1. Everyone must be out at the bars but us. Any other night, I would expect at least a dozen replies by now. Maybe someone will have replied by the time I hit the submit button, because this may take awhile.

    I live in a very well controlled media bubble. In that, I mean I search out what media I hear, see, and read. (I don’t have cable/sattelite, hardly ever listen to non-public run radio, and read blogs and news sites voraciously.) That said, I’ve only heard the song once: while searching through the DVD selection at Wal*Mart (I know) for a particular season of the X-Files at around 1:13 AM. I thought it was a shitty song, and it deserves to have its message criticized.

    I won’t pretend to understand your situation. I don’t have a child. From what I’ve heard, having one for the first time is the life changing event. Forget graduating from high school or college, or even landing that dream job. At least that’s from the anecdotes I’ve heard.

    I do relate to this, though:

    My choice not to marry, though it was offered to me, was in the end a good one for everyone involved. Yet my single status is, for some, a reflection of poor morals and lack of character.

    According to the followers of Dr. Laura, I’m “shacking up”, “living in sin”. My girlfriend and I have been together for over 6 years. Something to note is that cases of unwed couples living together, even owning a home together, have lost much of the stigma that it once had, whenever it was prominent. (Like single motherhood, it’s one of those things that’s been ubiquitous throughout human history. Unlike war, though, it’s far less distructive.)

    We just have to admit that individuals, in general, are not idiots. They will tend to make the best decisions they can at the time with the knowledge they have. When it works out (as it seems to have in your case) we chalk it up to good luck, which we shouldn’t. It’s about making the right choice. When it doesn’t work out, one side likes to ignore it, while the other uses it as evidence that they’re own “values” “work”.

    What we truly need is a discussion about individual choice – not songs about it. The song I heard in Wal*Mart that night is especially counterproductive. Not only is it not a forum for any type of discussion, but it alienates those who believe in and spread the stigma.

    I hope this all makes sense. I’m on my fifth glass of wine.

  2. Good post, Lauren.

    I remember walking around in a cloud o’ fury about 14 years ago when Dan Quayle pulled that crap about Murphy Brown’s fictitious baby. My niece, whom my sister brought into the world without “benefit” of spouse, was just old enough to start paying attention to the news at that point, and I boiled over that Quayle might wound my beautiful niece’s psyche in order to score political points.

    And of course those times look like a happy-go-lucky idyll in retrospect.

  3. What we truly need is a discussion about individual choice – not songs about it. The song I heard in Wal*Mart that night is especially counterproductive. Not only is it not a forum for any type of discussion, but it alienates those who believe in and spread the stigma.

    but what exactly is wrong with having a song about it? & more to the point, can’t the song be a starting point for discussion, just like any other piece of art (as both Ms. Lauren & Ms. Yolanda Young have used it for)? and what’s with terming it “counterproductive”? is there some program we’re following here? and how do you know it’s alienating to anyone (besides Ms. Young, that is)?

    i mean, damn! given the unbelievable amounts of shit that has been heaped upon single moms over the past several decades (not to mention centuries) isn’t it about fucking time someone stood up & spoke for them (even if only in a pop song)?

    anyway….

    here’s the line that i thought was the most telling in Ms. Young’s article: But what strikes me most is not my father’s pathology, but rather my mother’s poor choices — a reality that society doesn’t properly acknowledge or combat.

    yup. her dad shot her mum but all she can think about is her mum making “poor choices” (like having her, i suppose? who knows?).

    i really don’t understand folk who think that only one kind of family arrangement works… it’s a particularly infuriating form of arrogance (coupled as always with an equal if not greater amount of ignorance).

  4. Some might say that it is ironic that the same people who condemn single mothers for choosing to have and raise their babies also condemn women who choose abortion, instead. But there is no real irony there, just more evidence that the motives of such people are suspect.

    People who truly respect life do not pass judgement when single women choose to keep their babies rather than having abortions, they applaud them for their courage and help them. People who sincerely care about the welfare of children do not question those childrens’ mothers’ values and morals simply because said mothers are not married, they offer assistance and support legislation that helps mothers to better provide for their children.

    But the people who claim to respect life while at the same time setting up the social consequences of single motherhood and accusing single mothers in need of having a sense of entitlement in spite of having made “bad choices” cannot possibly respect life and care about the welfare of children., so what they really must be after is making procreation into a privilege for which people must qualify.

    Sure, they’re intimidating sometimes, sitting in their ivory towers or riding upon their high horses, pointing fingers, passing judgements and meting out social punishments. But no one should be afraid of them because people who are in the business of judging everyone else’s morals and family values actually have little to no concept of either — and when you keep this in mind, such people are easily dismissed as mere busybodies who have spent so much time and energy worrying about other peoples’ values and morals that they have ceased to reflect upon their own.

    However, do not rush to judgement and condemnation as these people deserve pity rather than scorn, for they are truly lost souls. The lashing out at the way that some people live their lives is evidence of the torment such people suffer due to a lack of the true faith that is required to effectively deal with the temptations of freedom in contemporary society.

    PS. The live comment preview plugin for WordPress is the coolest, isn’t it? And it installs so easily, too!

  5. Someone needs to clue these folks in to the fact that the only place where one could find a magic ring was in a Tolkien story–not in marriage.

    Sheesh.

  6. Maybe terming it “counterproductive” is a bit harsh, but I think Lauren’s done a fine job of discussing her own situation without the song. You’re right, though, if Barrino getting on TV and singing Baby Mama helps open a few eyes then it is productive, regardless of how incredible/horrible of a song it is.

    It is about time someone spoke for them. It’s one of the reasons that I read Lauren’s site everyday. She may not be on primetime television, but she is in the top 200 (or so says the blogger that shall not be named).

  7. Indeed, women should not selfishly allow the desire to procreate overshadow their ability to care for a child. We must be committed to giving our children fathers who are responsible, supportive and present.

    For my own health, I’m NOT going to read the rest of the article, because this particular passage is so very twisted.

    There really is such a thing as a “selfish desire to procreate” — I know, because my father defined the notion. I’ve always described him as a man who wanted offspring but never wanted children. He liked the idea of being a father because it made him look respectable and allowed him to continue his various grifts. But he hated the little buggers he created and did his best to make our lives miserable.

    Frankly, I find it hard to believe a woman could get away with such behavior in this day and age. For the vast majority of parents, procreation is never a selfish act. You really have to be an effective con artist to turn parenting into a selfish act and even my father ended up in prison after his 20-year streak of luck ran out.

    We must be committed to giving our children fathers who are responsible, supportive and present.

    Single mothers do that all the time. After my father left, my mother made sure I had responsible, supportive and present adult men who honored the various traditional roles of fatherhood regardless of their relationship to my mother. My husband and our male friends do the same for the children of our friends, whatever the status of their birth parents.

    Those who demand two-parent, heterosexual parentage suffer from a lack of imagination.

  8. Lauren, your post is really compelling to someone like me who is already on your side. But in general, there is so much shame heaped on single mothers that I think that a little overreach in defending y’all is necessary as a curative. Think “gay pride” in response to the shame that came before. Single mother pride seems like the correct response to the shaming of articles like this. And pride is whipped up not just with thoughtful articles but also songs and slogans. It’s a little childish, sure, but it’s really effective.

  9. Single mothers come in all forms and by way of many circumstances. Why must we categorize those circumstances? The more important observations should be what kind of parenting is taking place, what has the parent found to be the most supportive sources for parent and child(ren) and to recognize the productivity of both parent and child in our society. What measures success? Who are we to judge others? Are we without “sin”?

  10. I am 28 and I have always known that I never want kids. I take detailed mesures at all times (sometimes after the fact) to make sure it doesn’t happen. I constantly have discussions with my sisters about being a parent. I have no doubt it is difficult, which is probably why I fear it so.

    I think the USA Today article should have addressed the issue of poverty more. It seems to me that poverty is dramatically and directly connected to the problems of parenting, single or married.

  11. Um, not to interrupt the pridefest with a dash of reality, but you guys do realize that single parenthood is a major cause of poverty among children? That children born out of wedlock have far higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, imprisonment, poverty, have sex at a young age, far less likely to graduate high school, higher illiteracy rates, etc. I’m sure everyone can name someone who’s the product of a single parent and is successful and well-adjusted, but there are many more who are not. The majority are not. A parent’s responsibility includes doing everything possible to make sure their child has a successful life. One of those things people should be encouraged to do is to make sure they have their child in a stable financial as well as emotional situation, namely marriage. yes, I know marriage isn’t perfect or a cureall, but it’s the best we’ve got. Now sometimes marriage isn’t the right response and that’s fine, but let’s not deny the fact that, in a certain sense, you’ve fucked up and chances are this will have negative ramifications for your child’s life and society as a whole.

    Perhaps the negative ramifications for the child are why society heaps so much shame on single parents?

  12. So, Mariana, how does this diatribe about the kids of single parents being “fucked up” help anyone?

    And, by the way, go ahead and read the stats with this post. It may very well rain on your righteousness parade.

  13. Mariana,

    There is a difference between correlation and causality. By writing that “single parenthood is a major cause of poverty among children” you’re showing me that you haven’t really thought this through. Poverty is not caused by any type of family structure. Low wages, undereducation, etc. cause poverty.

    Could it be that the conditions under which many single mothers are living is poor prior to motherhood? Could it be that the system is rigged against the poor of this country in favor of the rich? Comparing single mothers across class distinction actually sounds like a very interesting study.

    Also, you said:

    One of those things people should be encouraged to do is to make sure they have their child in a stable financial as well as emotional situation, namely marriage. yes, I know marriage isn’t perfect or a cureall, but it’s the best we’ve got.

    How do you know it’s the “best we’ve got”? I don’t think forcing marriage upon unwilling parties is a hallmark of personal freedom, actually. As long as there are people under the sun, there will be those who do not wish to commit to an unhealthy marriage. The question is then, “How do we deal?”

    I also want to point out that your point of view was/is common among Taliban appeasers in Afghanistan. It is a slightly extreme analogy, but an important point. In their case, it was an end to war that led to the rise of that group. Their argument that there is nothing better than Shari’ah for running a Moslem state is what led to many of the sociopolitical fiascos we will be dealing with for the coming decades. But hey, they did get rid of all those poppy fields, right?

    This line of thinking may alienate you. I’m just trying to emphasize that Dr. Laura (who I’m sure would fit right into pre-9/11 Afghan life very well), who agrees with you, does not express the views of the average American. Yes, a committed marriage between two loving, healthy, well-paid parents is very beneficial, but forcing marriage (or any legal agreement, for that matter) upon anyone is un-American and destined to fail.

  14. There’s lots of things happening here. But above all what the Schiavo case should tell us is the absolutely worst place to have these deeply personal decisions being made OR socially ‘graded’ is in Congress or in the State Legislatures. I think collectively American women are due in excess of 20 Billion dollars worth of back child support. THAT should be the government’s first task; see to it that BOTH parents are contributing to the raising of their children.

    The state does not raise kids, Parents do. Moms & dads can not do this with adequate income support. It takes a lot to raise kids. The shame, misery and recriminations can come later. (Hey, that’s what the teens are all about, right?) Meanwhile every indicator of outcomes I know is heavily dependent (and deeply confounded with) income.

    And ask yerself Ms. Thang (USA Today), what would the world look like if we didn’t all have *some* level of ‘selfish desire to procreate’? Yes once again we shall deny certain Human rights to another class of people ’cause like, they have messy outcomes. All kids have messy outcomes. If you’re rich and well connected enough you bail them out sooner and more often. Muffy goes into detox. Vito finds his cold turkey in jail. Bif gets a new Beemer when he totals his dad’s car while drunk. John’s family will never afford to get him the therapy he needs to recover from his DUI accident, and now he’s got a record to boot. I want to know how we enforce or even imagine this eugenic construct that says ‘only certain folks, good Christians, wealthy or middle class shall be sanctioned to having families’. The rest are just miscreants we’ll barely tolerate.

    This is not a simple or unique phenomenon. All of Western Europe is facing the same issue of the rise in single parenthood. It has to do with stability of income and jobs (or the lack thereof, especially for young couples), and the changing nature of both marriage and women’s roles in marriage.

    But to me pro-choice means just that. The government should not, can not and must not be allowed to tell you when, where, how of if to have a child. They might suggest that teens are not currently favored by this outcome, and how they might avoid this, but this is nothing they can not figure out on their own.

    If you feel the best use of your time right now is raising the next generation while trying to educate yourself, the government should at the very least not have much to say about this decision, failing issues of consent. The central concern should be for the health, safety and sources of support for mother and child. This is of course presently done in a haphazard and more difficult fashion in the US since the abolition of welfare.

    Having the government aid in this choice for teens has been tried extensively in Europe with the ‘mixed’ results of MUCH healthier babies AND moms, but increasing levels of single parenthood. There is also a bit of a social backlash at the once lavish level of state financial aid for children, but much less so than here. It would be nice to have a discussion that moved out of the realm of medieval philosophy on this issue. Perhaps our grandkids might live to see it, if the planet is not destroyed and rendered inhospitable for human life by the present generation.

    I figure it’ll be a close footrace for planetary survival… When that happens, I just know they’ll blame all the sluts and not the suits, right?
    [Yes, that’s a Joke, and NO that’s not my real email].

  15. Sheet, that USA Today article is even worse now that I took the time to read it all. As if family violence was only visited upon the poor, or on women who made ‘poor choices’. [It’s that damnable desire to procreate again, right??] All families make poor choices, the difference is that some families have a social support network that makes even big problems seem manageable.

    Take bankruptcy for example. It’s the death knell for many a family. Always has been. It’s the last way station to poverty and a childhood of deprivation and loss. It Kills kids.

    But Not for our current FearLess Leader [TM}! Bush Jr. Cratered 6 separate business ventures, and each and every time his daddy’s rich Saudi Oil cronies bailed him out. Like taxes, the rich know Debt is for Other People. The Little People.

    This conflict has everything to do about class and NOT kids. Them rich white folks are really resentful of all ‘dem browns out reproducing them. And you know what? This state of affairs will continue demographically well into the future, so we’d better get used to it, and learn to deal with it successfully. This is what our future looks like.

  16. This is an argument that I hear time and time again and I’m really sick of having the blame heaped onto the moms in this situation, single or no.

    I mostly get the reaction, with sigh and head shake, “I don’t know how you do it nut. You must constantly be tired.”

    And I reply, such as Feministe did, “I don’t think about how *hard* it may or not be, just that shit needs to be done and who else is gonna do it but me?”

    Mariana,

    You do realize you repeated exactly the same amount of bs that is usually touted when trying to blame single moms? What have you got to say to those moms who are single bc their husbands left them or died? What about the moms who left an abusive relationship in order to save their children? What about the moms whose husbands are over fighting our very own “dirty way,” do they count? You don’t leave much room for actual thought in your regurgitated theory.

    Let’s get you into the single-mom loop and see how much things change.

    Like others have already pointed out, it is often the conditions that the children were born into that get perpetuated until someone decides to break the cycle. You can’t place all of the blame on mothers especially since our governments won’t fund real sex-ed programs to teach the kids about real stuff. And because many young women are often not correctly informed of their choices to begin with, they don’t know any better.

    Goodness knows how irritated I get when I’m shelling money out for peanut and yet another fundraiser or pictures or lunch money all with the grandeous expectation that I have a spouse to help me with all of this. Then there are the school closings or his after-school care closings that I have to fit into my already tight schedule.

    Single-moms need support and a salute, not to be further patronized.

  17. Well, Mariana, you are right that single parenthood and poverty often go hand-in-hand. But all of you seem to miss the fact that many have single parentlhood FOISTED upon them *after* they have married and set up a stable home.

    Too many people laugh off mid-life crisis with jokes about red convertibles but the fact is that society foots the bill for these deadbeat dads who abandon their families in order to pursue their last-gasp penile fantasies.

    Even those loser would-be readolescents who abide by state-ordained “child support” guidelines leave their offspring underfunded while the cast-off spouse shoulders the lion’s share of the work. (And, yes, it is the female lion who does all the work)

    Personally, I think all men should be taxed to support all children, since so many of them shirk. Even that would not make amends for the abandonment.

    And for the men who would whine that they are “responsible” and pull their share…go kick your cheating brothers’ asses, and if you had to shell out extra you’d still not ever catch up on the unpaid slave labor of single moms. Yes, it may be labor of love on our parts, but it is slave labor when looked at from the POV of men who skipped out and relied on that labor of love for their own selfish purposes.

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