When old-world topics of gossip and shame surface the usual response is, “This is the 21st century!” This is the response I was expecting when I saw a blog entitled “Single Mothers Are to Blame for Sons’ Poor Grades? Our Readers Weigh In.” Boy, was I mistaken. Of course, the topic brought up socioeconomics, family psychology, and other factors; but what it also rendered were comments validating the hypothesis.
After a minimal amount of Google research (about ten seconds of Google searching, to be exact), it was abundantly clear that society is still not sure whether or not single mothers are a menace to society.
What About Single Fathers?
Firstly, let us point out the most obvious double standard: A single father is hailed as an angelic, good man, while a single mother is not praised as stepping up in her parental duties.
In literature, the only single fathers are merely figures; they are good men who become caretakers to abandoned children.
The most frequent father figure is the absent father, who is seen in the media and in literature as simply an immature man who is not ready to be a father. The most typical absent father example is from the show “The Gilmore Girls.” The absent father was boyishly charming and frequently went in and out of his daughter’s life. Only later in life, when he provided for his daughter monetarily, was he viewed as a good father. (So fathers need only provide their family with money to be good fathers? Another topic for another day.)
Historically, fathers are basically given a free pass. If they are unprepared, we are supposed to reply: “Oh, well if you’re not ready, then by all means, take your time growing up.” If they actually parent the child, they are hailed as gods among men.
The Single Mother Persona
Literature is full of tragic and cautionary tales of single mothers, indicating the plight of single mothers is almost to be expected and accepted.
The single mothers of the literary world never find happy endings, and, more often than not, die a tragic death. In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter single mother, Hester Prynne, had to display her shame with an “A” for adultery an all her clothing and was shunned out of the village. Victor Hugo’s 1862 Les Miserables single mother, Fantine, was fired from her job and had to sell her hair, teeth, and body to support her child; Fantine died of a severe illness. Thomas Hardy’s 1891 Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess, was sexually assaulted by a nobleman, by which she had a child. After years of torment, Tess murdered him; Tess was executed for her crime. Then, all the way in 1956, Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place single mother, Constance MacKenzie, hides her affair by doctoring her daughter’s birth certificate, moving to a small town, and parading as a widow; she inherently sparks shock and whisperings in the small town.
Even as these authors championed their single mother characters, the plots followed the perceived reality of their situations; death, unhappiness, and sordid lives. But what about now, in the 21st century? Are single mothers still perceived as a harbinger for destruction and seedy situations? According to current studies and articles, this seems to be the general consensus. But while society asks itself whether or not single mothers are good for society and children, we say the real question should be: “Is a society that wants to assess children based on their parentage good?”