I am proud to be raised by a single mother, but it also wasn’t all cherries and rainbows. It’s hurtful to witness people blatantly disrespect the person that I love the most. But, it also made me highly attuned to the way misogyny functions in society.
According to Webster’s dictionary, misogyny is “the hatred of, aversion to or prejudice against women.” We frequently talk about prejudice or inequality against women, but we are often too afraid to address the deep-seated hatred of women that exists in society, which is the root of the problem. We are afraid of being called “man-haters” or “too sensitive.” Fortunately, being raised by a single mother taught me that people who say this are really not worth listening to, so here is my unapologetic account of what I learned from my experience.
As if being a single mom wasn’t tough enough, being a Black or brown single mother comes with an added stigma. White single mothers still face prejudice but are typically assumed to be single as a result of divorce. However, the media portrays Black or brown single mothers as poor, teen mothers, who were never married. The hypersexualized images of Latinas in media contributed to the way my mom was treated by men. Often, men would make disparaging comments about her body or assume that she lived a promiscuous lifestyle. I cannot tell you how many times people asked my mom (right in front of me and my brother), “Are they from the same father?”
Now, is there anything wrong with a woman expressing their sexuality? Does it make you a better mom if you were divorced or never married? Hell no! However, misogyny teaches us that these are reasons to vilify women. I’m not only talking about men, by the way. Being raised by a single mom taught me that women can be just as misogynistic too. As feminist scholar, Gloria Anzaldua wrote in her book Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, “Males make the rules and laws; women transmit them.” Some of the most degrading treatment my mom received was from other women. Often, married women would deem my mom as untrustworthy or immoral and wouldn’t allow her around their husbands (as if they were such catches anyway).
When people talk about single moms, they say things like “You need to be strong for your child.” or “What about the child?” All the while, we reduce a human being to a single role without taking into account her feelings. Sure, we respect single mothers, but only if they are actual superheroes. Although calling moms “superheroes” can speak to the power of women, it’s also an immense amount of pressure to put on one human being.
The truth is, we put way too much pressure on women in general, especially single mothers.
We uplift the single mothers who are doctors, scientists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, but we blame those who are not as privileged. We punish women for being poor, for being Black, for being Latina, etc. Misogyny teaches us that women must be breadwinners, wives, homemakers, entrepreneurs, the ones who carpool their kids to soccer practice, a “bad b*tch”, to be worthy of respect. Being a human being isn’t enough because in a misogynistic society, women aren’t seen as human beings. Marriage is so valued in our culture because it validates a woman’s worth, which is heavily tied to whether a man finds her desirable and “respectable.” But the truth is, if you can’t respect all women, or if you somehow place a special bias against single mothers, then you’re a misogynist.
Admittedly, I used to believe all this garbage too. l placed all the expectations of a father figure and a mother figure onto my mother. Yet, I didn’t put that same pressure on my dad to be a superhero. The standards we hold men to are pretty low. This is because misogyny makes us far more compassionate towards men than to women. Single fathers are seen as martyrs, while single women are seen as irresponsible. When women found out my dad was single, he would often be followed up with an “Aw, such a good father! Doing it all on his own!” However, when people found out my mom was a single mom they would react with invasive questions about her life or unsolicited parenting advice. Mothers who go on welfare are often vilified because misogyny teaches us that women are the ones to blame for their poor decisions, even if they are doing everything right for their children or come from marginalized backgrounds.
Now, my mom didn’t do everything perfectly. In fact, she made a lot of mistakes. But, now as an adult, I have the maturity to understand that given the circumstances, she tried the best that she could, and that is all we should expect of single mothers. We don’t need to romanticize their lifestyle or shower them with condescending comments at the grocery store—but we don’t need to make their lives harder. Why not try to make it easier? Why are we punishing women for supposedly making a “mistake”? Are women not worthy of forgiveness? Rather than demonizing single mothers, let’s demonize poverty, homelessness, the inhumanity of our healthcare system, the attacks on Planned Parenthood, racial inequities, or the fact that our country confirmed an extremist to the Supreme Court who has no understanding of how the real world works or is willing to extend an ounce of grace to those who aren’t as privileged as she is.
Being a single mother should not mean that a woman must carry around a scarlet letter for the rest of her life. Misogyny does exist in irritating everyday interactions, but it also is woven into the fabric of our society. We need systemic change that allows single mothers to get an education, move up in their career, and give their children a quality life and a better chance at her own.