Tag Archives: marriage

Six Things You Can Do Instead Of Shaming Unmarried Women For Having Children

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Image Credit: AfroDad

By Guest Contributor  Deesha Philyaw

A few years ago, there was an orchestrated online blogging effort to shame black women for having children outside of marriage.  This effort masqueraded as a movement of concern seeking to reduce poor socioeconomic outcomes for black children.  Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  As a co-founder (along with my ex-husband) of co-parenting101.org, I was asked to participate in this effort.  I took note of the fact that my invitation to participate came after the movement launched and was found to be wanting.  I mean, after you castigate women and call their children “bastards,” and critics are calling you out for it, it’s definitely time for Plan B (no pun intended).  Well, I wanted no parts of it, and I made my reasons clear when I declined the invitation.  Co-parenting101.org was created to support and encourage parents and their children, not demonize them.

Further, I refused to participate in something that I felt would dishonor the struggles of my single mother, who did not raise me to be ashamed of the circumstances of my birth nor of her marital status.  But for a variety of reasons, I did grow up feeling ashamed about it.  And I know that I’m not the only child of unmarried parents who experienced this shame, or the shame that’s heaped upon people simply because they are poor.  It’s a shame that predates blogging and the internet. Shame clearly isn’t effective birth control.

I also chose not to participate out of respect for my relatives and grade-school classmates who later became young, unmarried mothers unexpectedly.  Because I know that on several occasions, I was just one day in my menstrual cycle or one broken condom away from that same situation. We went to the same free clinics together in 8th and 9th grade, got our “foam and rubbers” to use until the birth control pills were reliable, and had sex while holding our breath.  Nobody said a word to us about HIV and AIDS in 1985.  A lot of them got pregnant before they wanted to; I didn’t.  I don’t feel superior.

That said, I absolutely care about the fact that half of all children raised in single-mother-headed households grow up in poverty.  But shouldn’t we be attacking poverty, instead of attacking people who live in poverty, if that’s really the concern?  Imagine if even a fraction of the $1 trillion in resources and public support for the failed “War on Drugs” of the past 40 years had funded a “War on Poverty?”  But that didn’t happen, of course, because it’s easier to simply blame poor people for being poor.  In the absence of actual solutions comes blame, shame, and the politics of respectability.  

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are six alternatives to shaming and blaming unmarried women for having children:

1. Get Your Stats Straight

Here, here, here, and here are some statistics that are often mentioned to highlight concern for children raised by single mothers in the U.S.:

*While half of all children raised by single mothers grow up in poverty, only one in 10 of their counterparts in married households grow up poor.

*Nearly 3 out of 4 black children are born outside of marriage.

*Most babies born to women under 30 are born outside of marriage, and in the last 20 years, the fastest growth for this trend has been among 20-something white women who have some college education.

However, a statistic that’s far less widely known is that most single mothers in the U.S. are separated, divorced, or widowed.  And these moms have higher poverty rates than single moms in other high-income countries, despite working more hours.  Across the board, single US mothers’ employment experiences and support from the social safety-net lag behind that of their counterparts abroad.  

2. Support Public Policies That Support Women And Children

Why are US single working mothers and their children faring so poorly? And why is marriage put forth as a cure-all for their predicament?

Writing in The American Prospect, Amanda Marcotte observes, “To justify obsessing over non-married-ness—at the expense of, say, asking why a single income isn’t enough to be middle class, as it was for huge percentages of the population in the 1950s—requires believing that single women need a bit more scolding…”

And if single women need more scolding, single black women–with our wanton baby-making selves–need 10 times more.  But, oh, right…it’s about the children.  Our children face a harder row to hoe than their white counterparts, hence the urgency of the situation…and the extra heaping of scorn.  

Except scorn never fed a child’s mind or empty belly the way, say, early childhood education and his mom’s equal and higher wages could.  Scorn doesn’t enact better family- and sick-leave policies, and it doesn’t protect the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or food stamps (SNAP) from Republicans hell-bent on destroying the social safety-net.

And scorn never gave a woman or girl access to birth control and abortion when politicians on the right want to eliminate access to both…at the same damn time.  

3. Ditch The Marriage Myths About People With Low Incomes

According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, people with low incomes subscribe to more traditional values with regard to marriage and divorce than those with moderate and higher incomes.  Thomas Trail, UCLA postdoctoral fellow in psychology and the study’s lead author, notes that lower-income partners “have no more problems with communication, sex, parental roles or division of household chores than do higher income couples.”  But, according to the study, they may still choose to remain single because they recognize that sustaining a marriage is particularly difficult when you’re struggling to make ends meet, and they don’t want to end up divorced.

The study also concluded that unmarried women with lower incomes have children because while they may have no role models for successful, healthy marriages and may not trust the men they know with their “financial and family future,” they do feel capable of raising a child because they have role models for successful single motherhood.

Unfortunately, government policy is based on false assumptions about what people with lower incomes value and how they relate.  The result? A billion dollars spent on educational curricula to promote marriage to people who already believe in it.

Benjamin Karney, co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA and senior author of the study, says increasing social mobility, through educational and career opportunities, is the best way to lower teen pregnancy rates.  In general, government money is better spent helping people with the “day-to-day challenges in their lives” such as transportation and affordable child care, not on relationship education.

4. Remember that Life Doesn’t Always Go As Planned

Relationships and marriages fail.  Birth control fails.  Some women choose not to marry people they deem to be unsuitable mates, while still choosing to have a child. Things happen that we don’t anticipate.  Punishing ourselves or teaching our children that they should feel less-than when life doesn’t go as planned isn’t productive.  As parents, our job is to help our children make wise and healthy decisions.  But it’s also our job to raise resilient children who know how to be resourceful, how to cope, and how to bounce back when bad, difficult, or unexpected things happen.

5. Stop Talking About Single Moms…and Start Listening To Them

Stacia L. Brown, founder of BeyondBabyMamas.com, makes so many excellent points about the diverse social, personal, and economic experiences of single moms in her piece for The Atlantic Sexes, “How Unwed Mothers Feel About Being Unwed Mothers,” that I’m just going to link to it here.

6. Remember That Not All Single Moms Are Parenting Alone

Research, anecdotal evidence, and plain old common sense bear out the fact that children can thrive when their fit and willing parents play an active role in their lives, even if their parents aren’t married to each other.  If the government wants to spend on curricula for parents, then funding ongoing, quality co-parenting classes–not just the handful sometimes required by family courts–would be a wise investment.

Someone can make a terrible mate, yet still be a great parent to their child and a great parenting partner to their ex-mate.  This isn’t always easy, to say the least, and our cultural expectation is that exes will be hopelessly combative.  Yet some co-parents manage to put their animosity side and put their children first.  Some previously absentee fathers do the hard work of re-engaging in their children’s lives.  And some single moms parent with the support of a “village” of extended family, other moms, and friends.

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Children born to unmarried parents are not a foregone conclusion. Condemnation of single parents doesn’t allow for the myriad of possibilities of their children’s lives.  But for black folks, embracing these possibilities requires us to let go of cultural presumptions about deadbeat baby daddies, child-support-misspending, promiscuous baby mamas, and their “illegitimate” children.  Our children deserve better.  They deserve our advocacy and our activism–not our contempt.

Deesha Philyaw is the co-author (with her ex-husband) of “Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce” and the co-founder of co-parenting101.org. She is a remarried mother of four girls–two daughters and two bonus daughters.

 

Quoted: Marriage is like Kitchenware

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Over at Clutch Magazine, Racialicious editor Tamara Winfrey Harris contrasted marriage advice aimed at black women with the old adage “there is a lid for every pot.”

On a literal lid hunt, one looks for the top that suits the particular contours and properties of the bottom. No one would dream of perching a saucepan lid on a cast iron skillet and expect the fried chicken to turn out right. And you wouldn’t take a hammer to your crockpot to make some random cover fit. But society constantly bangs on black women in an effort to mold us into something allegedly more attractive to potential partners — as if our needs are secondary and as if they don’t really care about healthy partnerships, but just marriage for marriage’s sake.

Read more…

 

Image Credit: Vladimir Yaitskiy

Our Heroes Are Only Human: Manny Pacquiao And Gay Marriage

By Guest Contributor Theresa Celebran Jones, cross-posted from Hyphen Magazine

A few weeks ago, a scandal erupted on the web thanks to an unfortunate misquote regarding Manny Pacquiao’s stance on gay marriage, made in response to President Obama’s public extension of support for it. Essentially, Manny Pacquiao tells a reporter, “God’s words first.” The reporter then quotes Leviticus 20:13; an L.A. Weekly blog post quotes that piece and uses the headline “Manny Pacquiao Says Gay Men Should Be Put To Death”; and the misquoted story goes viral. About a day later, the whole thing had been researched and debunked. As it turns out, although Pacquiao’s still against gay marriage, he said nothing about wanting gay people dead–but the damage was done. His image was already tarnished, my conservative family members were already blabbering on about the biased liberal media, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. had already jumped on the opportunity to support gay marriage publicly.

It’s hard to keep track of the layers of f*ckery in this story. There are so many questions we could (and should) ask: Would this issue have gone viral and would Pacquiao have been misquoted in the first place if he were white and American instead of brown and foreign? Could our leap to conclusions have hurt the gay community in the eyes of people who don’t yet consider themselves allies? Did nobody realize that Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s coming out in support of gay marriage because it was a more popular political move was actually a pretty big deal–given his history of homophobic rants–even though it was clearly opportunistic on his part?

But then, I’m hung up on my experience as a Filipino American growing up around some gay Filipino American folks, and that’s where the story hits me.

Continue reading

The Poverty Of Marriage

Courtesy of eurasianet.org

By Guest Contributor Sana Saeed, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch

The burdens of poverty affect most, if not all aspects, of social relations. Most prominently (and unsurprisingly), women carry the greatest burden of the social predicaments that arise from a dire lack of economic security.  Women in groups hit hardest by financial strain easily become seen as sources of further strain on their families. Education is often either inaccessible or seen as an unnecessary part of a young girl’s growth and life.

This is not always necessarily the case, as there is much evidence that shows support of girl-child education by, specifically, mothers who realize the role education can play in providing a better life for their children. Yet, despite this, in many instances across the world (primarily in developing countries, but not limited to them), young girls are forced to accept the strain upon their families that they are perceived to pose. This position can lead many young girls, either by coercion by family or by “choice,” onto the road towards prostitution, sex slavery, or even suicide.  Yet perhaps the most common result is marriage.

An article published earlier this month on EurasiaNet explores the impact of poverty on “early marriage” in Tajikistan. The article cites a recent study by the Eurasia Foundation that looks at the issue of “informal justice” in Tajikistan. While looking at a variety of issues, the article dedicates a good amount to gender relations, specifically the issue of non-state-administered justice for women in unregistered marriages, which come in a variety of flavors, one of which is early marriage. Marriage before the age of 18 is illegal under Tajik law and subject to harsh punishment.

However, it is commonly practiced and encouraged by many religious clerics who not only feel it is sanctioned within Islam but also believe it to be a solution to the problems of poverty faced by women in a country ravaged by years of war. In its discussion of underage marriage, the report explores the relationship between the privilege (and burden) of education on poor families and marriage before the legal age of 17 for Tajik girls.  According to the report (emphasis mine):

Early marriage is partially a result of poverty and, given the weak state of the economy and gender discrimination in hiring practices, there is little incentive to support daughters wishing to pursue higher education before marriage. As a result, a worrying trend associated with underage marriage is young women not completing their education. Tajik girls’ access to education is impacted at the secondary level, and there are significant gender disparities at the high school and university levels.

In rural areas of Tajikistan, it is common for girls to leave school at grade nine due to inadequate educational facilities and economic constraints. Families have to contribute money for their children’s education, including buying uniforms and renting textbooks…Due to limited resources, families make conscious decisions to educate boys over girls, as girls’ education is not seen as a pragmatic investment.

According to a UN Report from 2004, an “estimated…12 percent of [Tajik] girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.” Given that the burden young girls may place on a poor family is characterized in economic terms, it is natural that the resulting solution to the problem would also be economic in character. Most, if not all, young girls, who are forced (or, in some instances, “choose”) to marry at a young age, marry men far older than them.

While there is certainly the aspect of the attraction an older male may have towards a young, virginal woman, the economic security that he provides for both her and her family in this context cannot be understated. Given the nature of employment, maturity, gender relations, and poverty in many underdeveloped countries, men are considered mature at an age that comes far later than for women.

At the heart of this maturity is financial stability. Unfortunately, this stability often comes at the expense of a young girl’s rights, sexual agency, body, reproductive and sexual health, and choice. These young girls also often do not only face domestic violence in their unequally leveraged relationships but also can once again return to a point of economic and social uncertainty if their spouse dies, bringing an added burden of being a widow.

The EurasiaNet piece (and the report it cites) on early marriage in Tajikistan, as well as other similar pieces on underage marriage elsewhere in the world, points to an important issue. Equally important is the ability to see the practice of early marriage as motivated by more than just religion or culture. But early marriage is not the only consequence of strained economic times. What is missing from this discussion is that marriage has often been traditionally as much an economic contract between two individuals and two families as a religious contract or a bond of love within legal parameters for reproduction and social harmony.

Thus, poverty cannot only lead to young girls being married off to much older men but also women, over the marriageable legal age of a particular country, marrying far older men, entering polygamous relationships (which the Eurasia Foundation report notes) or even temporary marriages. Marriage, for many women facing financial burdens or uncertainty, becomes seen as a refuge from the harms that follow being a single woman without an education in a social sphere where no other economic safety net exists (or is enough to meet increasingly costly demands of life). And this is certainly not exclusive to poverty- and/or conflict-stricken countries.  Furthermore, there needs to be a clear differentiation between early marriage and ‘child’ marriage, the latter in which the framing of “child” needs to be clearly defined. Surely there must be a difference in betrothing an 8-year-old and betrothing a 16-year-old?

My concerns, however, aside–such pieces point to the unfortunate circumstances in which many early marriages emerge and highlight the abuses and injustices faced by these young women.

Didn’t You Forget Me? A Queer Black Feminist’s Analysis of the Black Marriage Debate

by Guest Contributor Taja Lindley, originally published at Nicole Clark’s Blog

By now we are all too familiar with the preoccupation with the unmarried Black woman in the media. The question that keeps getting raised is: “Why can’t a Black woman understand, find and keep a man?”
Fundamentally I don’t have a problem with conversations about love and relationships. I have them all the time. What’s unfair about this question, and the conversation that follows, is what’s at stake because when single white women search for love, they get an HBO series (Sex and the City). But when unmarried Black women are approaching, at, or over the age of 30: it’s a crisis, it’s a catastrophe with severe consequences for the ENTIRE Black community, warranting late night specials on major television networks and talk shows dedicating entire segments to finding us a man.The conversation always becomes “what’s wrong with Black women? “ and we get demonized as: unlovable, broken, undesirable, domineering, angry, aggressive, incompatible, uncompromising, too compromising, (in the words of Tyrese) too independent, possessing unrealistic expectations…and the list goes on.Then here come Black-male-entertainers-turned-experts on their horses with shining armor to save the Black woman from herself! To save her from her own pathological destruction so she can do a better job of successfully creating and preserving the Black family. (Damn, that must be a lot of responsibility.)

Conversations like these put Black women on the defensive where now we need to explain what we think, how we act, and for what reasons so that these so-called experts can give us paternalistic and patriarchal prescriptions for solving the so-called crisis of the unmarried Black woman.

Academic professor and researcher Ralph Richard Banks, recent author of Is Marriage for White People?, administers the latest advice for us. He enters the conversation on the assumption that has gone unchecked: that all Black women are successful, and all Black men are victims of America…as if heterosexual Black women seeking marriage aren’t in poverty with a net wealth of $5, suffering from wage discrimination, or also dealing with escalating rates of incarceration. But setting those facts aside, he advises that Black women consider interracial marriage for the purposes of bolstering the Black family and better serving our race. (No, I’m not making this up, see for yourself.)

So clearly what’s at stake here is the Black family. Not Black women’s happiness, not our ability to learn and grow as lovers and partners in a relationship or in marriage. What’s at stake is the responsibility that consistently gets laid on our back about the success or failure of the ENTIRE Black community. As if single parent families headed by women are the root cause for disparities and inequality. (Sound familiar? Yup, kind of like the Moynihan Report.) Continue reading

Quoted: Dani McClain on Fierce Single Black Women and Activism

I didn't work this hard just to get married cover

That panic is rooted in the sense that too many professional women (of any race) not getting married means too many people pushing back on sex-based pay disparities in the workplace. It means too many people questioning the logic of tying health care benefits, property rights, hospital visitation rights, etc. to marriage. To me, these articles and “news” programs are being published and broadcast in an effort to stem this coming tide. And those of us black women who feel offended and mischaracterized by the media onslaught should take this as our cue to claim our rights and our rightful place as trailblazers in the 21st century reconfiguration of family and adulthood.

Rather than take the bait and feel terrible about ourselves when some media outlet tells us we’re both cause and victim of an “epidemic” or “crisis” in the black community, let’s assert that we are grown-ass human beings, and thus deserving of the same social, economic, civil and political rights that married people can access.

A vocal segment of the LGBTQ activist community has been making this argument for a while now. People like Kenyon Farrow, Jasmyne Cannick and Yasmin Nair have long been arguing that rather than making marriage the be all end all, we should be supporting each other in creating custom-made families that work for us. They’ve pointed out the folly of fighting to mimic and reproduce the patriarchal, nuclear families that continue to be held up as the only legitimate model in this country. These writers argue – and straight, unmarried black women would be smart to join the chorus — that rather than focusing on getting more people married, we should be de-linking human rights from marriage and creating space for a broader acceptance of the cobbled together, nontraditional families that many of us came up in. I know I’m not the only one who was raised by a thoroughly capable single parent and the family members she kept close to make sure I was surrounded by love and good care at all times. My family has never been illegitimate.

So where have we been while this segment of the LGBT community has been crafting the arguments we need to be firing off to Essence every time they let Steve Harvey ruminate on how much we should hate ourselves? While segments of the gay community are planning for a time when non-sexual domestic partner benefits are available nationwide, why aren’t those of us who still don’t quite get how marriage would enrich our lives spiritually, romantically or materially supporting that fight? Even if we do think we might want to marry some day, why not join forces now with people like Farrow and Cannick as they argue for the kind of movement that would benefit us just as much as it would benefit them?

–From Unmarried black women: “We’re here, we’re fierce, get used to it.”, full post available at Feministing

Happy Black Girl Day x Assimilation x Whiteness

by Guest Contributor Renina Jarmon (M.Dot), originally published at Model Minority

Black assimilation is premised on being accepted by White people and making them feel comfortable.

In reading Kevin Mumford’s brilliant book, Interzones, I learned that the Urban League and the NAACP are historically rooted in making sure that country Negros from the south, who moved to the north, didn’t make aspiring middle class Black folks look bad. These two groups monitored Negro behavior on the streets, went door to door teaching folks about “personal cleanliness” and monitored Black sex workers.

I am excited about #Happyblackgirl day because it is about us affirming ourselves and not looking to mainstream media to do so.

I am grateful that @Sistatoldja took the time to make it happen. The 7th day of every month is now, Happy Black Girl Day. Wooter.

Last week I tweeted “Black women are awesome on 55 million different levels. CNN can’t capture that and I don’t expect them to. It ain’t they job, its ours.“

I see those reports and roll my eyes because I know that when CNN does their Negro reports they are simply doing their job, which is to serve the interests of the shareholders and of the white power structure.

Don’t get me wrong, if CNN was like, can you come on and talk about Black women’s sexuality, global economy or gentrification, I would roll, but I highly doubt that phone would ring, lols. Renina the pundit. Ha!

Back to the hair. Black women needing to straighten their hair to increase their chances of getting a job or a mate, is a manifestation of structural domination. Continue reading

Interracial Marriage Rate Declines Among Asians

by Guest Contributor Angry Asian Man, originally published at Angry Asian Man

The Washington Post has an interesting story on recent trends in interracial marriage in America — specifically, a decline in the rate of Hispanics and Asians marrying partners of other races in the past two decades: Immigrants’ Children Look Closer for Love.

Sociologists and demographers are just beginning to study how the children of recent immigrants will date and marry. Conventional wisdom has it that in the open-minded Obama era, they will begin choosing spouses of other ethnicities as the number of interracial marriages rises.

But scholars are coming across a surprising converse trend. According to U.S. Census data, the number of native- and foreign-born people marrying outside their race fell from 27 to 20 percent for Hispanics and 42 to 33 percent for Asians from 1990 to 2000.

Scholars suggest it’s all about the growing number of immigrants. It seems that the large immigrant population fundamentally changes the pool of potential partners for Asians and Hispanics. Thus, the second generation is more likely to marry people of their own ethnicity.

It’s not quite like it was before, when there were only two Asian kids in your school — you and this other boy/girl — and everyone thought you two should go together to the prom. Forced coupling. Now half the school is Asian, so it’s not such a big deal. Something like that.