Good Enough Mothering? Feminist Perspectives on Lone Motherhood

By Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

‘Parental responsibility’: the reassertion of private patriarchy?

Lorraine M. Fox Harding

Since 1979, the Conservative governments in Britain have developed an interest in the issue of family responsibility, notably as it impinges on the scope of state responsibility and in particular on the amount of expenditure involved. A rhetoric of family behaviour has been developed in which certain themes, such as individual responsibility and the undesirability of dependence on the state, have become central to the aim of restoring or revitalizing family responsibility. A major preoccupation has been the area of parental responsibility. The Conservative interest bears the mark of a lobby known variously as neo-traditionalist, moral, and ‘family values’. This lobby is internally heterogeneous, but shares a concern with the decline of the marriage-based family. A central preoccupation is the problem for government and society of the rise in lone-parent families, especially where mother-headed. For this group, the dependence of mothers on the state must be avoided. Dependence on the family, particularly for financial support, is regarded as vastly preferable.

This chapter focuses on the Child Support Act 1991 and its effects. 1 This covers resistance from men, reactions from women, government responses to the dissatisfaction with the Act, and likely continued dissatisfaction in the future. Two concepts are explored: ‘parental responsibility’ and ‘private patriarchy’. ‘Parental responsibility’ can be understood in different ways, but it is clear that the government’s main concern has been to shift responsibility away from the state. ‘Private patriarchy’ refers to the form of patriarchy where women are controlled by, and dependent on, individual patriarchs in a household. Since the late nineteenth century this form of patriarchy has been in decline in Britain as women have entered the public arena. The argument is developed along three dimensions:

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