Tuesday, 16 July 2013

On the scapegoating of single motherhood

An incentive from Conservative MPs, support by David Cameron, are proposals to limit the supposed "automatic entitlements" given to single parents on low incomes, including access to Housing Benefit and social housing. The report itself, however, does not refer to single parents. It refers to single mothers; particularly those of a young age from certain social backgrounds, with the greatest susceptibility for poverty.

The notion of women supposedly getting impregnated to game social security provisions has reared its ugly head historically. During his first U.S. presidential campaign in 1976, Ronald Reagan constructed the absurd tale of a single mother, an archetypal "welfare queen", who supposedly exemplified a widespread manipulation of social support by this demonised minority: "She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000." It was soon established that Reagan's exaggerated propaganda was pure fantasy, founded upon stereotype to appeal to popular bigotry.


The fact that single mothers have been specifically cited as political capital for puerile scapegoating is what immediately struck me. (There are single fathers, of course). As in the case of Reagan's "welfare queen" archetype, it exemplifies the inherent chauvinism and misogyny of the mentality seeking to perpetrate it.


Given that I was raised by a single mother, I find it as disgusting on a personal level as I do on a moral and political one. My mum, for the for most part, brought me up alone. And she did an incredible job, despite all of the struggle, adversity and self-sacrifice that goes with being a economically disadvantaged single parent. But what impacted my and her welfare just as severely was the snide prejudice and hatred she was subjected to on both a social and institutional level.


Such political scapegoating and social stigmatisation of single mothers essentially encapsulates the systematic subordination of vulnerable minorities under capitalist patriarchy. It displays normalised economic, class-based, gender-based and sexual discrimination and violence.


The Conservative MPs' report also makes an issue of the occurrence of abortion among young women, which would be less frequent if there was less sexual subordination, and more comprehensive sex education in schools and access to contraception in society, as is the case in European countries where statistical frequency of teenage pregnancy and abortion and significantly lower than in the UK. Of course, the rights of contraception and termination of pregnancy all fall under the right of biological self-determination and bodily autonomy. Why are the abusers of single mothers so keen to engage in the doublespeak of attacking child bearing they imply as burdensome, yet make issue of women exerting their basic right of bodily autonomy?

As the great comedian George Carlin said: 

Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren't they? They're all in favour of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you're born, you're on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the  foetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don't want to know about you. They don't want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you're preborn, you're fine; if you're preschool, you're fucked.

The same rhetoric which chastises single mothers for implied "economic inactivity" is the same which abuses vulnerable disabled people as "scroungers". It censures women for deciding their own destinies, and for not submitting to institutional economic uniformity. And to the same extent, it victimises infant children for being surplus units of existence in the scheme of state capitalism. Surely, subjecting children to this kind of vindictiveness on an interpersonal and/or paternal level would be classified as child abuse.  At its heart, it beholds the spectre of ideological dehumanisation.

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