I should begin by saying that I’m not a mother. I was raised by a single black mother; and our narrative isn’t unlike the stories of working class single mothers nationwide. One of struggle, sacrifices, and compromise. A complex and harrowing navigation of the public safety net and stone-faced determination in defiance to shaming by our culture of women, children and families in need. These sacrifices sent me to college.
When I consider how class-conscious discussions of work/life balance operates in our spaces online and television, it is often to the absence of including voices of working class women. For some reason over the last decade or so, I thought perhaps things would’ve balanced out already, that we’d reach equilibrium in our culture, imagine that all individuals who live in America share the same values: family, work, the pursuit of happiness.
Last week, ROCunited released a study of women working low wage jobs and their challenges in securing proper child care. More than five million restaurant workers are women, two million are mothers, and one million are single mothers with children under the age of 18.
When we talk about motherhood and work in our various spaces, we fail to underscore the significance of single mothers in the workforce. There are still way too many trend stories about upper middle class women (and mothers) in the workforce and to some, it still is the singular narrative and face of modern feminism.
It annoys me to no end. I don’t want to believe that women in our community intentionally continue in their discourse to exclude the narrative, struggles, and facts of working class women, women of color, and single mothers. The “Mommy Wars” continue to exclude working class women, women of color. The conversation has to widen to include a push for economic justice. Higher wages will benefit low wage working mothers and stimulate the economy. Sarah Jaffe echoes this concern in her January article for Dissent.
In the last 5 years we’ve seen a return to that unfortunate discourse of shaming the poor and demonizing women. If we attempt to connect the dots to our current politics– from state by state coordinated assault on women’s reproductive health and choice, to the ad infinitum attempts to resist Obamacare, to Congress’s successful smear campaign to gut SNAP from the Farm Bill —we’ve seemed to have been bullied into austerity, with no real conversation or sustained development in job creation to support communities that would benefit from the preservation of the safety net. While social conservatives destroy any means for low-income women to seek health care in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, and their local and national representatives remain hard pressed to support the implementation of the affordable care act, or science, they have yet to present solutions (and resources) for all the babies they claim to save. I can’t help but wonder that underlying drive to divert so much public resources in blocking women’s constitutional right to choose or not choose an abortion is tied to the fact that the right has presented zero solutions for economic recovery in their home states.
But as others have pointed out, as the recession drags on, it’s women who’ve faced the largest losses, not only in direct attacks on public sector jobs that are dominated by women, but in increased competition from the men pushed out of their previous professions. Some 60 percent of the jobs lost in the public sector were held by women, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And women have regained only 12 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, while men have regained 63 percent of the jobs they lost.
Buried within that number, a significant representation of those public sector jobs was held by women of color, most notably, African American women. I think it’s why the relative or scant absence of low/working class women, single mothers in the progressive discourse really gets under my skin. Stacia L. Brown writes in Salon, ‘Are writers waiting until black women “become Michelles,” before including us in mainstream mommy discourse? If so, the pressure to confine our own discussions to stories that empower the exceptional while erasing the middle- and low-income-mom experience makes more sense.”
I should hope not. My mere existence requires me to integrate all the nuances and complexities in discussions of feminism, class, and race. That burden shouldn’t rest solely on my shoulders. We need a team. We need a team to remember that we exist. The mainstream mommy war discourse is mature enough to include the plurality of experiences in American motherhood. “Single-mom” shouldn’t be accepted as stigma. It is a fact of some women’s lives. One or two mere mentions of these issues don’t suffice. We’re sophisticated enough that everyone who engages in issues of women’s work can accurately represent all women in the public conversation with humanity and nuance rather than a boiled down statistic.