Single Motherhood by Choice, Libertarian Feminism, and the Uniform Parentage Act

By Jones, Bernie D. | Texas Journal of Women and the Law, April 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Single Motherhood by Choice, Libertarian Feminism, and the Uniform Parentage Act


Jones, Bernie D., Texas Journal of Women and the Law


I. Introduction

Over the past thirty years, new developments in American culture and society have contributed to changing family patterns. Divorce rates have increased, many Americans remain single longer, others never marry and still others raise children alone. Scholars have addressed the rise of single parenthood among non-married women, focusing their attention on teenagers. Within the realm of social policy, this focus has led to attempts to lower the numbers of single mothers on public assistance because teenage pregnancy is perceived to be at the root of welfare dependence.

Current trends indicate, however, that there is a growing population of single mothers whose existence is hidden by this focus on teenage mothers. As teenagers' births decrease, births are on the rise amongst older single women.1 Within this group are those who call themselves "single mothers by choice," women who have chosen motherhood when the traditional option of marriage and family seemed impossible.2 Contrary to the teenage single mother, many older single mothers spent years furthering their education and establishing a firm economic foundation. Childbearing and marriage might not have been their greatest priority in their younger days. Others might have married when they were younger, only to divorce later, with no children resulting from the marriage. As older women, their professional security enabled their decision to become mothers. Although adoption is an option for many single mothers, this paper focuses upon single mother pregnancy.

Many women who are choosing single motherhood in middle age experienced the feminist movement of the 1970s. If they were too young to be active participants, they were aware of it, nonetheless. All benefited from the wave of feminism spearheaded by white American women. The revival of the feminist movement in the 1970s had its roots in the 1960s era New Left and in the African American civil rights movement. Liberal feminists, the adherents of this revived movement, sought to gain full equality for women under the law, removing the proscriptions that forced them into subservience, including the cultural perceptions that denied women autonomy and the opportunity for professional achievement routinely experienced by men.3

From the standpoint of feminist theory, how does one explain the shift to maternity? Is the call to motherhood an awakening to cultural feminism, the perception that there is a special aspect of women's culture and identity-motherhood-of which liberal feminists feared losing? Is choosing to become a single mother a rejection of men and patriarchy? A radical feminist view might say yes; however, many single mothers by choice had the dream of marriage and family. Indeed, those were issues they grappled with before deciding upon motherhood. Society expected them to marry; they imagined they would too. But when they did not marry or they divorced, motherhood without a partner became an option when childlessness seemed inconceivable.

To the extent that some older single mothers dreamed of starting their families within stable marriages, were they traditionalists? Is single motherhood a subversion of liberal feminism? Might it be an unintended consequence? Had their traditional desire for a family coexisted with their career goals and interests, or did it develop later? By choosing a nontraditional route to gain a traditional end, what sort of statement did they make? If anything, it appears to be a feminist one of empowerment. As younger women, they believed they had the right to pursue educations and careers, just like men. Children might not have been their priority at the time, but as they got older, they found that their interest in maternity became significant. As older women, they now argue that mature, responsible women with financial and emotional resources are entitled to find their fulfillment in motherhood, regardless of the presence of a partner. In their view, wives do not have exclusive ownership of motherhood. …

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