George Will Blowing Smoke About Single Mothers Again

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 13:42 EDT
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It’s deeply unsurprising that conservatives decided to honor the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by denying that racism still exists and instead arguing that racial disparities can therefore only be blamed on black people’s supposed inferiority. I mean, they don’t say it that bluntly, but pretty much every right wing reaction I saw chronicled amounted to trying to argue that black people, as a group, are broken in some way that white people aren’t, and that’s the only issue that needs addressing. George Will’s assholery above (via) is a perfect example. When Donna Brazile and Cokie Roberts correctly pointed out that Republicans are currently trying to take away some of the protections that Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement fought for—specifically by undoing a big chunk of the Voting Rights Act—Will decided to instead obsess about the evils of fornication.

The events to which you refer were foreshadowed by something that happened 8 months after the march. 8 months after that a young social scientist from Harvard working in the Labor Department published a report. His name was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He said there’s a crisis in the African American community because 24% of African American children are born to unmarried women. Today it’s tripled- 72%. And THAT— and not an absence of rights — is surely the biggest impediment…

The power of the wedding ring compels you! Who needs the legal right to vote when you’re still allowed the legal right to marry?

There are many, many sleazy things about the relentless sex panic that conservatives return to when trying to wiggle out of facing the ugly racial disparities caused by their preferred policies, but the truth-lover in me keeps returning to the underlying dishonesty of concern trolling “unwed” mothers. There’s a statistical sleight-of-hand that conservatives use to make the situation of women not being legally wed the day they give birth seem more dire than it is. They reference the greater economic and time management problems facing women who are raising children by themselves and imply that this group is identical to women who aren’t legally married when they give birth. And there’s a side dose there of implying that most to all of the women who aren’t legally married when they give birth just got knocked up by some random dude that they don’t have an ongoing relationship with. There is no reason to believe that’s the case, however. There are some women who are estranged from the father the day they give birth, but overall, that’s not really what’s going on. More typical is couples living together who, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten married yet. A lot of them do get married eventually.

I wrote about this for Daily Beast, but it bears repeating: While it is, indeed, hard to raise children by yourself, there’s not a lot of reason to think that the wedding ring is the make-it-or-break-it item. Marriage and parenthood are not static categories, and there’s a lot of diversity out there. There’s cohabitating couples who have children, and in fact, the evidence shows most “unwed mothers” are in this group—which means they aren’t single.  A lot of single mothers were married when they gave birth, but are divorced now. A lot of single mothers broke up after a cohabitation situation, making them legally never-married, but it’s dishonest to suggest they’re markedly different than the married-than-divorced group. A lot of married mothers were once single and vice versa. The world is complicated.  The kind of “classic” single mother that conservatives like Will are trying to make their audience imagine—women who get pregnant during a casual encounter and have the baby without the father’s involvement—are not actually the bulk of single mothers, unwed mothers, or whatever term you want to fling around. Will is invoking a racist and sexist stereotype, not describing the real world, even if he does toss a bunch of statistics out. They’ve been massaged to be misleading.

To be clear, even if completely single women were having babies at super high rates, that would not actually justify denying that their human rights, especially to be able to vote, were important. But this topic comes up so often that it kind of surprises me how much people don’t mention that a lot of statistics are being thrown out to conceal more than illuminate.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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