No person is born outside of discourse and if your body is encoded with several negative descriptors, those that exist with social privilege will use the imbalance in power to continually affirm their position through the promotion of harmful ideologies. When we examine the hierarchy of bodies as it relates to the western world there can be no doubt that the black woman has no institutional other. She is oppressed to maintain both white hegemony and patriarchy.
Rather than examining the ways in which privileged bodies work to ensure that the most vulnerable members lead lives of poverty, the blame is placed specifically on the oppressed for either an unwillingness, or inability to conform to socially constructed norms.
Government statistics reveal that the percentage of all babies born to unwed mothers nationally rose to 32 percent in 1997 from only 5.3 percent in 1960. Among blacks nationally, 69 percent of births were to unwed mothers. And in a departure from previous increases in births to unwed teen mothers, 70 percent of births to single mothers involved women 20 or older.
The survey data notes that in 1960, 9 percent of children lived in a single-parent household — usually headed by the mother. By 1998, 28 percent of all children and 55 percent of black children lived with a single parent.
This “substantial weakening of the institution of marriage” is also part of a national trend identified in a report by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. It found that the marriage rate fell from about 73 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women aged 15 and up in 1960 to about 49 per 1,000 in 1996, the latest available figures. This rate is the lowest recorded since the turn of the previous century. And many black women are giving birth and raising children without ever taking marriage vows.
It is assumed by many that the patriarchal family is the desire for all women. The wedding day is referred to as “the brides day”; after all we need to celebrate that she was lucky enough to catch a man. Women are encouraged from childhood to celebrate their future nuptials as a validation of coming of age and as the symbol of a value of their femininity. You have to be worth something if a man is willing to a live a longer, reduced stress life, with a live in caretaker, cook and sex partner. Gee the sacrifices men make when they say “I Do” is overwhelming isn’t it?
The causes of plummeting marriage rates, particularly in the last four decades, are many and varied. Researchers note the social acceptance of sex outside marriage; more working women who have less economic reliance on a husband, and a popular culture that often mocks the institution of marriage. There appears to be no hard data, however, indicating why births to unwed mothers are so much more prevalent among black Americans.
Single parenthood should not be viewed with indifference. Indeed, the number of single moms poses serious social and public-policy dilemmas. It has been well documented and reported, for example, that children born to unmarried women are far more likely to live in poverty, suffer abuse and be neglected. Girls born into these families are more likely to become pregnant than children living with their married parents and continue the generational cycle of unwed motherhood.
Children from low-income, fatherless households are also more likely to become school dropouts. Children in these families tend to be lower achievers than those from two-parent, higher-income families. These trends generally exist even when a stepfather is present.
The social ills brought on by single motherhood are absolutely terrible. If only these women would keep their legs closed until they garnered the brass ring. How dare they attempt to raise children, get educated and have jobs, when society has made it clear that they will be punished along with their children. How much more clear can we make it that women are meant to submit to the patriarchal family?
We continually see the terrible stats associated with single motherhood and instead of disciplining the fathers who have abdicated their responsibilities, we blame the woman because women are understood as the gatekeepers of sex. Even as we continually reduce access to abortion and birth control information, the rising phenomenon of single motherhood is constructed as the fault of a wilful slut. Ultimately this is about controlling women and not about the welfare of the children that are born outside of wedlock.
If we truly cared about these children we would be providing these mothers with everything that they needed to lead successful lives. Things like subsidized day care, decent subsidized housing, education, and a good support network could go a long way to ensuring that these children had a stable environment in which to grow. We push the patriarchal family not because it is better than a communal form of responsibility for children but because it supports male hegemony.
We understand this as an individual problem which is a false construct in a society that is interconnected. Humans are communal, despite the individualistic ideology adv0cated by bourgeoisie capitalists. It is in the interest of the ruling elite to push this false construct because it is comprised largely of white men. For them to admit that their standard of living is largely possible because of the exploitation of women and in particular women of color would severely limit their ability to maintain the obvious inequities that are rampant within our system. The daily shaming and lack of positive effort to improve the lives of single mothers is about the maintenance of power and privilege and not because we lack the ability to retool how our society is constructed. It is politically correct to speak out against poverty and suffering yet our daily actions prove the mendacity of our words.
When I see studies like the above which actively engage in shaming women, I cannot help but to question where our social responsibility is. It is not enough to look at the bare statistics without examining how they came to be generated. If we own the shame that patriarchy seems intent to enforce we cannot possibly hope to create a world that is at the very minimum a safe and healthy space for women and children. Our actions should seek to dismantle our current power structure rather than encouraging the blind conformity of all beings to a corrupt, decrepit, soul crushing way of life.