Feministing highlights this mother-blaming USA Today article on Fantasia “American Idol (I Broke My Shoe)” Barrino’s new single “Baby Mama.”
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.
Drive-By Mothering and Parent As Outsider
I Was a Teen Mom
Third Wave Agenda’s “Single moms making ‘poor choices’“