Good Enough Mothering? Feminist Perspectives on Lone Motherhood

By Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 10

Social constructions of lone motherhood

A case of competing discourses
Ann PhoenixSince the 1980s, the media in Britain and the United States have made many negative pronouncements on lone mothers. The notion of ‘feckless mothers’, who get pregnant in order to obtain welfare payments and housing and then rear children who are likely to become criminal, has been much aired by underclass theorists (such as Charles Murray 1990). Such notions have been picked up by politicians (including Bill Clinton as the Democratic president of the United States and Dan Quayle when he was the Republican vice-president) and by various British Conservative Secretaries of State. While many of these pronouncements have used moral arguments, of ‘responsible parenting’ and maintenance of ‘traditional families’, their proposed remedies to these ‘problems’ have been designed to reduce the economic dependence on the state of lone parents (who are predominantly lone mothers; Burghes 1993) and their children. They have produced a construction of lone mothers as ‘feckless’, wilfully responsible for the poverty that has been well documented to be a feature of lone parenting (Bradshaw and Millar 1991; Burghes 1993) and undeserving of either public sympathy or economic support. A major aim of the legislation and proposals regarding lone mothers (in Britain and the USA) has been to save the treasury money. Thus, in Britain there have been several measures to enforce ‘parental responsibility’. The most important are:
1 The setting up, in 1993, of the Child Support Agency (in operation of the 1991 Child Support Act) as an attempt to force errant fathers, rather than the welfare state, to be economically responsible for their children.
2 Holding parents responsible for their under-age children’s crimes and hence any penalties enforced on children. There are also now

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