By Dena Landon
Women are the breadwinner in over forty percent of households in the United States. Seventy-six percent of single moms are employed, over half of us only have one child, and fifty-eight percent of us have attended college or have at least a bachelor’s degree. The teen birth rate has been on the decline since 2007, and the average age of the first-time mom is twenty-six. And yet, in 2014 Marco Rubio made childbirth out of wedlock the focus of an anti-poverty speech. The list of politicians who’ve bashed single moms would make your head spin.
Why do we still get so much blame for society’s ills, and why do politicians still spread so many outright lies about single moms? For one, we’re an easy target, because we’re often too busy raising our children, working full time, going back to school, starting part-time businesses and generally kicking ass to bother to respond to them. But I think the reasons go deeper and have, at their root, fear of and an inability to adjust to cultural change.
Gender roles are changing. Women now want emotional support from their partners. We expect men to help around the house and with child care – though the burden is far from equal. On average, women perform more than two hours daily on chores, far more than the eighty-two minutes men perform. Over sixty-one percent of women age 16 and up are participating in the labor force. If the age limit was bumped higher I’d be willing to bet the participation percentage would go up, too. We’re working, and still doing more at home. But now we want men to help. We want more from them than money going into a bank account.
I think that the pushback against single moms, complete with wild and outlandish statements which ignore the actual facts, stems from an inability on the part of some men to adjust to these changing gender roles.
These men have so strongly rooted their idea of manhood and masculinity in traditional gender roles that I believe they are secretly terrified that this cultural shift will leave them behind. That they’ll be worthless and have no value to society or their partners. They have not learned, or been taught, how to perform emotional labor or support their partners. By and large, they don’t know how to listen and engage in equal conversations. Emotional intelligence and self-awareness are foreign concepts to them. In a world where they are no longer necessary to bring home the bacon, they worry about being metaphorically slaughtered with the pigs.
And no one challenges those ideas more than a woman who doesn’t need a man to support herself or her children. Did you know that women initiate almost seventy percent of divorces now? Many report that lack of equality, or quality in the relationship, is the driving reason.
The more we keep raising our voices, the more our numbers grow, and the more boys we raise to chip in around the house, the more our society will continue to change for the better.
When I was married I did – takes deep breath – all grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, folding and putting away the laundry, vacuuming, sweeping, household shopping, raking, mowing, snow removal, the majority of childcare, and all dusting, cleaning and straightening. And I worked full time. My experience is hardly unusual, and guess what? I’m the one who initiated the divorce.
My house is now ten times cleaner and tidier than it was when I was married, and not just because I downsized. I’m teaching my son how to clean up after himself, he helps me sort the laundry, and he recently added wiping down his sink after brushing his teeth to his chore list. I’ll be damned if I’ll raise a man whose learned helplessness forces the women around him to care for him if said women have internalized society’s expectation that they be caretakers.
To be clear, just because we can do it without a partner doesn’t mean we want to. I’d love to have someone to run out and grab Tylenol when my kid gets sick, rather than having to bundle him into the car. I worry about money without two incomes, and for a while it kept me from pursuing a career I love. But single moms have learned to go it alone, and that it’s preferable to dragging a deadweight husband along with us.
It’s obvious that our self-sufficiency scares men whose world views are rooted in patriarchy. These men could shift their thinking beyond traditional gender roles and learn to be an equal partner in their relationships. Do more housework, watch the kids, and root less of their self-image in their job and money. They might actually find it healthy and freeing to be able to express their emotions. But instead they’re fighting a losing battle, demonizing women’s choices in order to avoid looking at their own.
Eventually, the people who cling to tradition will lose this battle. The reality is that most families are two-income families – both parents work in 61.9% of married couples with children – divorce rates are over fifty percent, and those currently married women are going to keep working and living after divorce. And the more we keep raising our voices, the more our numbers grow, and the more boys we raise to chip in around the house, the more our society will continue to change for the better.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.