Yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Review ran an article under the headline, Single Mothers With Family Values (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/opinion/sunday/single-mothers-with-family-values.html?partner=rss&emc=rss).
I was arrested by the title. Was this an article defending single mothers? Refuting the scapegoat status of single mothers as symbols of the ethical and economic chaos engulfing modern life?
Nah-uh. It was an article about single mothers who vote Republican, a demographic the piece claimed was a significant minority but whose numbers it never identified. In other words: Republican = family values. Republican single mothers = a minority of single mothers with family values.
No doubt the title was meant ironically, but nothing in the article it graced suggested that.
Instead, what was offered was a confused discussion of conservative women, with the assertion early on that it is hubris to write them off them as fools acting in their own worst interests. It’s true that it can be tough for liberals to think about groups such as the gay and lesbian Log Cabin Republicans, the National Black Republican Association, or RNC [Republican National Committee] Women without a queasy suspicion that they represent the triumph of self-delusion. I read on, intrigued. Ready to be enlightened.
What followed was a jumble of examples of conservative single mothers. Some whose politics seem linked to their objection to other families receiving the kinds of government assistance that have kept them and their children going in the past. Some who expressed disaffection with feminism, which they understand as a political stance taken by women who believe they can survive and even raise children without men – a stance these women themselves embody, albeit in some cases asserting that they aren’t really single as they are married to Jesus Christ. One whose resolve to take responsibility for herself includes shouldering the blame for domestic violence she’s suffered. Family values indeed.
As a single mother who is both a feminist and a democrat, I’m not in sympathy with these views, though other women are certainly entitled to hold them. I’m far more offended, to get back to where I began, with a title that implies an amazing discovery: Single mothers with family values!
Family Values is one of those phrases – Right to Life is another – that we have allowed right wing extremists to co-opt and render meaningless. Whether she chose to give birth or adopt on her own, or whether she’s found herself unexpectedly parenting solo, in my experience a single mother tends to be a person putting family first. In fact I can’t think of a better poster child for family values than a woman single-handedly trying to meet the needs of children, bearing on her own the burdens of family life that two-parent families have been known to find onerous. She may not be talking family values because she’s too busy honoring them.
“Single mother” and “family values” is not an incongruous or startling pairing. A single mother is, by and large, a person living a 24/7 commitment to family values – in many cases while the man who fathered her children is doing anything but.