I usually love writing about how great homeschooling my kid is and just generally spreading the word about education alternatives, but lately I've just been really stressed out and it has been hard to write positive stuff. The troubles in my life seem to be mostly of the economic variety--trying to make ends meet while home schooling a kid is a challenge and it seems like the economy is getting worse all the time. There never feels like there is enough time to get everything done and there is always another bill to pay. I know a lot of other mothers that are having as much trouble as me trying to pay the bills, work through school, educate their kids or all of the above. I know mothers that are facing much greater challenges than me--mothers who are battling addiction or living with physical disabilities and mothers in abusive relationships that are afraid to leave their partners because they might lose their homes or even their kids.
When just trying to get by is such a struggle, it is easy to become cynical and sour about things. So many of us feel like we are in a hole that we are never going to be able to climb out of. And all we want to find on the outside of these holes is good educations for our kids, health care, jobs that pay a fair wage and won't strip away our dignity, a decent home to raise our kids in. This is basic stuff we are scratching and pecking in the dirt for. When I hear about "Welfare Reform" and the high unemployment rate and how colleges are getting more and more expensive and women still aren't getting paid the same as men, I want to just scream, you know?
There are times that I am convinced that American society just hates women and children. Why else would people be so callous and oblivious? When so many Americans support the march of the military death machine and don't bat an eyelash when funding to public schools is being slashed left and right and prisons are overflowing, there is nothing to lead me to believe that we cherish life or freedom or our future. I'm sick to death of hearing about all of the perceived threats to our freedom when there are so many kids without and education or food to eat or safe homes to live in. Military spending goes up and kids take the cuts in education, food and health care programs. There is no freedom for kids like that--just a lifetime of enslavement to poverty. But I know that the lack of support or concern for mothers and children is not a blind ambivalence. The truth is, a lot of people and institutions benefit from vilifying poor and working class families. Women (particular poor women and women of color) and children make great scapegoats because they are so poorly represented in the media and government. "Welfare Moms" have served the war loving-Christian-right wingers very well. We've heard so much about "family values" that it almost seems like they care about families. But are single mothers really destroying the integrity of our country? Do blatant lies, "preemptive strikes" and a general disregard for world opinion not speak of our moral fiber? And are Welfare Moms really breaking the federal bank, anyway? When 4% of the national budget is spent on welfare and 50% is used for military spending, how can anyone rightfully claim so? By making welfare moms out to be some sort of threat to the American way of life--a burden in our pursuit of happiness--the patriarchal structure is simply passing off propaganda that stifles any threat of their vision of America where the white nuclear family reigns supreme in economic status and political power.
Attacking welfare moms is just one way to maintain the status quo. The War on Drugs and tougher sentencing laws, such as "three strikes", have been an effective tool not only against people of color that also deeply effects women and children, too. I ran across some statistics that state: "Nearly 5% of black men, compared to .6% of white men, are incarcerated" and "...the proportion of blacks in prison exceeds the proportion among state residents in every single state. In twenty states, the percent of blacks incarcerated is at least five times greater than their share of the resident population." And there is so much more information out there pertaining to the U.S. government's involvement in importing and profiting from illegal drugs into this country and the racial bias of the justice system, all while waging the War on Drugs. We are talking about a war on people who are struggling to survive without the same education and job opportunities as white Americans. Not only does putting black men keep them politically and economically oppressed (convicted drug offenders cannot get federal aid for school and in many states convicted felons cannot vote: 13% of black men in America cannot vote for this reason) but it takes fathers away from their children, creating single moms who become the very welfare moms that are supposedly such a burden. How does this make sense? It doesn't make economic sense other than giving more white men jobs as cops, judges, prison guards and politicians. We should also consider the women incarcerated in U.S. prisons. In the last twenty years the number of women in prison has tripled. Ninety percent of women in prison are single mothers. Most women that are in prison are serving time for economic crimes such as check forgery and illegal credit card use. When you take into account that 80% of these women reported incomes of $2,000 or less in the year prior to their convictions, it seems obvious that these single moms are in desperate financial crisis. Can anyone out there imagine trying to take care of a family on $2,000 dollars or less in a year? All in all, the U.S. "justice" system has left 1.5 children with a parent in prison.
As I write this, President Bush has declared the following days "National Marriage Week". Not only is this an affront to gay couples and families, it is yet another jab at single mothers. He is regurgitating the same old tired rhetoric, saying, "Research has shown that, on average, children raised in households headed by married parents fare better than children who grow up in other family structures." Yet there is plenty of research that says that kids fare just fine in single parent homes and "other family structures" as long as their needs for education, health care, love and attention are being met. The problem isn't single parents, the problem is overworked and stressed out mothers who are given little to no support. Again I say that it might sound like the government cares for children, but promoting marriage doesn't do anything to actually solve the problem of poverty. Homosexuals and teen moms are just scapegoats that are so much easier to attack than setting about the task of creating good schools and a national health care program.
The misogyny of the rich white men in power is damaging enough to women and their children, but the lack of support--and sometimes outright disdain--among liberals and radicals is probably the most disheartening thing of all. Growing up as a female in this society tends to thicken your skin a little. You almost come to expect to be treated as a second class citizen...a lot of government policy doesn't phase me because I just don't expect things to be any different or better for women, minorities, and children. However, when I encounter sexism, classism, homophobia and child hate from punks and political activists it still hurts me deeply. I have looked to this community for solace for so long and so many times it has inspired me to think that there is some hope. There are times that I find myself disappointed in our progress, though.
I can't count how many times I've heard punks and radicals say that they can't stand or even hate children. It is said casually, it probably doesn't mean much. I know that most of the time when people say this it is not a sort of active hate for children, but more just a way of saying that children can be tiring or annoying. I understand that--not everyone has to enjoy the company of children and seek it out--but it seems like such a shallow and sweeping opinion. Some of the same people who believe it is absolutely unacceptable to hate an entire sex or race of people seem to think it is okay if their tolerance for people stops with children. This further promotes the idea that children are not valuable--they are not fully people and therefore do not deserve to be treated with the same tolerance, rights, or respect as adult citizens. Sadly, this seems to be a very popular stance...why else would children be treated so badly or be so overlooked in our country? If you want to be a freedom fighter then speak up for the people who have no voice in government or the media. And that includes children. Maybe more so than any other group of people. Parents are the only real representatives of children, and so many parents are not represented by government or media because they are women, people of color, behind bars, poor or working class.
I also hear radical minded people say that it is not "right" to have children because the world is in such bad shape. This idea seems almost humanitarian in nature: By sparing all the unborn babies the cruelty of life, we would be doing them a favor. First of all, that is a dangerous argument. It sounds too much like the Christian argument of giving unborn babies a chance at life. This issue is not about imaginary, unborn babies pulling at our heart strings. We are talking about reproductive rights here. Supporting the autonomy of women by promoting their right to choose means not pushing your opinion about "right" and "wrong". You either support a woman's right to choose or you don't. Maybe you won't like her choice to bring a child into this world, but how can you be pro-choice and not trust a woman's decision? As a women it is hard not to be offended when I hear people say that they don't think it is "right" to bring children into this world because it seems as though I am being judged for my choice to have a child.
The world can be pretty awful, I agree. I respect other peoples decision to not have children for that or any other reason. Sometimes I just find that argument to be yet another instance where children are scapegoats. Yes, there are already so many sick and hungry people in this world... but over population may not be the source of the trouble. The fact is, there is enough food and other resources to ensure that everyone on this planet is taken care of. Maybe there are too many babies, but maybe there are too many greedy people that have created a disproportion of resources on this planet. Not only do nations with military might and mega-corporations keep entire populations of people oppressed and deprived in the name of profit, but as individuals we have taken very little responsibility in sustaining our planet. Eat meat? Drive a car? Buy sweat shop produced products? Support (or passively endure) a corrupt government? All of these things, and so many more, deplete resources and contribute to making the world a hostile environment for future generations. But it certainly is easier for some people to tell women that they shouldn't have children rather than being accountable for their own irresponsible way of life. I'm not attempting to argue in favor of people having children--I am simply in favor of choice and respecting the decisions of women. I realize that this is a complex issue...many people reading this might think that having children is irresponsible, plain and simple. I don't really like that idea, but I don't have to like it and you don't have to like my choice. But we can still respect each other. What I would like to see is a change in how the subjects of children and the right to choose are addressed. As a mother, I feel somewhat ostracized when people disapprove of my choice so bluntly. I'm not sure if people intend to do that or not, but I don't think it makes for good community building.
I feel like there is little sympathy and support for mothers that are people of color, poor, working class, single, young etc. because people figure, hey, she made the choice to have a kid and that is not my problem. It is a problem for everyone when mothers can't take care of their kids because they aren't able to earn a comparable wage to men or when the justice system is racially biased. Those things effect us a society--these things speak so much about what kind of people we are and yet that truth is so easy for so many people to shrug off because but the burden of inequality and injustice falls on the backs of those on the bottom rung.
Being a parent is really hard...we've got a lot of obstacles set out before us. It is harder still without the support of community and constantly feeling like we have to justify our choices and the existence of our children. I am indebted to people like Chris Boarts who give mothers a place to be heard. Even though I consider the way I think and live to be outside the mainstream and feel lucky to be able to reach out to people and share my experience, I realize that I am sitting in a pretty unique position. I have an amazing support network in my life and while there is always a struggle to pay the bills, I have a lot of luck and privilege and good people on my side. I want to wake up the feminists and radicals and activists to the fact that the struggles of less privileged mothers and their children are tightly interwoven with so many other issues we rally for: the right to choose, equal pay for equal work, anti-racism, anti-globalization, and so on. Moms and kids are not a special issue--they are the poor, the working class, the imprisoned, the people of color. We've got to really understand how people are made into scapegoats and used against each other by government puppets and their media cohorts. We've got to recognize and overcome our own bias so that we can challenge and dismantle their systems.
—Candyce/2717 Dodson Ave./Fort Smith, AR/72901 email@example.com
*The statistics I use here are from Human Rights Watch and The Prison Activist Resource Center.
(contact info from 2003, current info not available in 2011 - ed)