• 16Sep

    I was privileged to attend Federal Parliament in 2013 to witness the Australian government’s apology to mothers and their children who were forced to relinquish their children for adoption. https://www.juliagillard.com.au/national-apology-for-forced-adoptions/

    Many of these women were single and their pregnancies were considered shameful. Single mothers were denigrated and stigmatised, cast as ‘whores’ and ‘harlots. As Anne Summers has stated, unmarried mothers were ‘the most visible single symbol of the bad girl’ (Damned Whores and God’s Police, p. 51).

    It can be argued that this stigmatised attitude towards single mothers has lessened in the 21stC. The feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s had much to do with this, advocating for women’s rights and against draconian laws which limited women from fully participating in society. With the advent of the birth control, and abortion reform laws women were able to take more control over their reproduction. Changes to the Family Law Act in 1975, also allowed women to leave unhappy and abusive marriages. This has had an impact on the number of women raising children on their own.

    Emily Wolfinger has analysed this trend and argues that whilst the denigration of single mothers on moral grounds has decreased, they now face being labelled as ‘welfare dependents”, resulting in “punitive and paternalistic policy measures”.

     “It was in the 1980s that the focus began to shift from the ‘problem’ of the single mother to the ‘problem’ of welfare dependency whereby single mothers’ reliance on welfare, rather than their marital status, was deemed the social problem. While society has entered an age of liberal sexual attitudes and changing family structures where explicit moral judgments are less tolerated, the denigration of single mothers persists via a construction that sees them as flawed economic citizens.” (p.4)

    Neo-liberal economic ideology has been responsible for a number of policy and legal changes which have placed financial burdens on single mothers.

    • tougher penalties imposed for compliance failures (including ‘no-payment’ for up eight weeks), and it extended the new rules to many sole parents and people with disabilities, (Howard Government)
    • The Rudd government also tightened the conditions under which parents received welfare benefits,
    • January of 2013 when the former Gillard Labor government moved recipients of Parenting Payment (Single), whose youngest child had turned eight, onto the lower Newstart payment.
    • Northern Territory Intervention
    • Cashless Welfare card

    Within these policies changes, not only are these impacts on women but there are also racist and class implications.

    Stolen Generations

    Whilst Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations (2008) preceded the apology for forced adoptions, racist policies and practices continue to remove aboriginal children from their families.

    Aboriginal children are almost 10 times more likely to be placed in out of home care than non-Indigenous children.

    Indigenous women are losing their children to child protection because of housing shortages that force them to stay in abusive relationships, new research has found. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-29/abused-indigenous-women-losing-kids-care-lack-of-housing/11462026?pfmredir=sm

    The Northern Territory Intervention

    In 2007, the federal government staged a massive intervention in the Northern Territory on the basis of the report, “Little Children are Sacred” as a result of a government inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory.

     
    “The fall-out was a full-scale, (including army), intervention which resulted in the reinforcement of the unwavering, systemic stealing of children from their arms, to who knows where? The Department of Childrens Services have lost the files on some 8,000 children who are thus just “disappeared”.” https://sim345.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/cashless-welfare-to-target-violence-against-women-not-in-my-name-sexist-racist-and-unacceptable/

    The intervention in fact has done little to address child sexual abuse or violence against women. http://stoptheintervention.org/facts

    The allegations of violence and abuse show no details of who and why such abuse occurs in Indigenous communities – and shows little information about how this compares to white Australia.

    Who is abusing young girls in these communities? Is it the same white men who commit violence and abuse in Australian society generally?

    “There was, and is, no acknowledgment of who does this to girls and women (men do this to them). There was no acknowledgment of more than 200 years of ongoing genocide in this country. Certainly, not a word about the prostituted as a class nor the acknowledgement of what the underlying structure of capitalism and male entitlement does to girls and women.”

    We know that young girls who are impoverished and vulnerable are more likely to be targets of abusive men – “the worst of those committing predatory behavior and violence.”

    Interestingly, two years after the Northern Territory Intervention, The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs’ report Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory revealed that convictions of child sexual abuse involving Aboriginal perpetrators have “barely changed”,

    https://www.grandmothersagainstremovals.com/

    Maria Mies and Silvia Federici have both written about the different treatment of Western women and women from colonized nations and how capitalist patriarchy has used different strategies to oppress and colonize women, depending on the needs of capitalist accumulation.

    Cashless Welfare Card

    The instigation of a welfare card practice leads to a greater exploitation and vulnerability for women and children.

    “Removing control of money from recipients is a dangerous practice. What the outraged or concerned media and general public call ‘paternalism’ is actually far worse. It is a means to ensure an expanding class of people vulnerable to exploitation. That the majority of the victims are women, indigenous and the young is not just an extreme act of ‘paternalism’, it is an extreme commitment to profit from the abuse of the bodies and lives of those most marginalized, by taking away what limited independence we may have.”Eachone

    https://www.facebook.com/ClownsOfTheAbbotocalypse/?__tn__=k*F&tn-str=k*F

    Our Herstory

    The oppression of women, and single mothers in particular, has been going on since the beginning of patriarchy, almost 5,000 years ago.

    Gerda Lerner in her excellent book “The Creation of Patriarchy’ talks about how the “appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductivity capacity occurred prior to the formation of private property and class society” (p.8)

    Communities where sex roles were previously equal, and perhaps even matrilineal became patriarchal, ruled and dominated by men. The patriarchal family was born. Women’s status and class was mediated through their relationship “sexual ties” with men.

    Thus, Lerner states,

    “The division of women into “respectable” (that is attached to one man) and “not respectable” (that is not attached to one man or free for all men)…” (p.9) became institutionalised through the patriarchal family and has continued to present time.

    Federici (The Caliban and the Witch) acknowledges that male violence against women has been historically taking place for centuries as a reflection of patriarchy. Violence, at the least, legitimized by the State, if not actively encouraged.

    Federici’s thesis is that such violence was bolstered by the persecution of women as witches. It led to:

    • “confinement of women in Europe to unpaid domestic labor”
    • “legitimated subordination to man in and beyond the family”
    • “state control over reproductive capacity” (p.47)

    This was about power and control and capital accumulation. Where previously in villages and communities there was a system of sharing resources, such as the Commons, where women used and shared their knowledge and experiences of caring and healing, midwifery and reproduction. The state needed to take control of this knowledge and these skills.

    “…the witch-hunts served to deprive women of their medical practices, forced them to submit to the patriarchal control of the nuclear family, and destroyed a holistic concept of nature that until the Renaissance set limits on the exploitation of the female body.” (p. 11)

    The state needed to disempower women of their knowledge in order to take control. In particular the state needed to take control of women’s reproductive capacity and knowledge. As capitalism was taking hold, children were seen as products for labor exploitation – economic property which the capitalist state need to control. Thus, women’s sexual behaviour and procreation needed to come under the control of the state.

    “We must think of an enclosure of knowledge, of our bodies, and of our relationship to other people and nature.” (p.21)

    “As I wrote in Caliban and the Witch, the witch hunt instituted a regime of terror on all women, from which emerged a new model of femininity to which women had to conform to be socially accepted in the developing capitalist society: sexless, obedient, submissive, resigned to subordination to the male world, accepting as natural the confinement to a sphere of activities that in capitalism has been completely devalued.” (p. 32). Federici:Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women

    The witch hunts were about controlling and the oppression of women. Women are required to be under control of a male within the nuclear family and hence under the control of the state. And the treatment of single mothers today is indicative of state’s continued control and oppression of women

    Our treatment of single Mother’s currently has a historical ideology.

    “(there is)… a direct causal connection between the global extension of capitalist relations and the escalation of violence against women, as the punishment against their resistance to the appropriation of their bodies and their labour.” (Mies; xi)

  • 06Sep

    It was great to see an all-female panel (except of course for Tony Jones) on Q and A on Monday night. (1st September).

    anc qanda

     

    Unfortunately we know that not all women are feminists or are willing to promote women’s issues.

    The research that Kay Hymowitz was propagandizing sounded very familiar.

    Her research posits that the family unit is suffering

    – that single motherhood is causing high levels of poverty and inequality

    – that the destruction of the nuclear family unit is toxic to boys’ well-being.

    She links single motherhood to high rates of delinquency and criminal activity in boys.

     And of course we have heard this all before. Fathers’ rights groups have been pushing this line of the crisis of manhood and the destruction of the nuclear family.
    It fits in very well with right wing ideology:

    “children’s interests are met best in a heterosexual, two parent family, where the mother says at home to raise her children” Cohen and Katzenstein

     

    And of course they blame feminism.

    Kay Hymowitz reflects common views held by right and neo conservatives.

    For example, it is claimed:

    “the feminist movement…has caused certain changes in the family which further the dissolution of society. He suggests that the family and the independence of women cannot exist together.” Lasch (1977)

    It was ironic and interesting that later in the discussion on Q and A, Jane Caro linked prostitution with marriage. This has created quite a commotion in the mainstream media.

    Michelle Smith from The Conversation provided us with a more realistic exploration of the issue.

    “In 1790, the English writer Mary Wollstonecraft argued that for women to “marry for a support” was “legal prostitution”. Other British feminists made connections between the male dominance inherent in both institutions, as well as the ways in which both could “enslave” women’s bodies.”

    Marriage in the not far past did involve economic exchange of women’s bodies. Women depended on men in order to survive economically.
    Male heirs inherited property, women were expected to marry.

    At the beginning of last century, the legal status of married women in Australia reflected English common law.

    Women were unable to vote or hold public office. Married women did not have legal guardianship of their children and a wife could not hold property. Divorce was rare. Husbands had complete legal powers over their children and extensive powers over their wives.

    “Marriage, for many women, was a necessity to ensure that they would be housed and fed into old age.” Michelle Smith

     Radical feminists have argued convincingly how the nuclear family is oppressive for women.

    “It may be expressed through its physical manifestation in assault, its economic manifestation in male control of resources and decision-making, its ideological control through the socialisation of women and children, and/or its control of women’s energy in emotional and physical servicing of women and children.” Robyn Rowland and Renate Klein

    radically speaking

     

    It also is a site of socialisation where children learn the gender rules. Where boys learn that to be boys they need to be aggressive, whereas girls learn that being feminine is being passive.

    “The pressure on women to undertake the mothering role is intense, yet it is only admirable when the mother is attached to a legal father.”Stacey (1993)

     As marriage has become less obligatory, particularly for women, we have seen an increase in the rhetoric about the destruction of the nuclear family and negative critiques of single mothers.

    Ellen Friedrichs cites research which shows that negative views about single motherhood tend to stem from a conviction that there is something inherently wrong or damaged about a single mother as a person.

    As I have written in my previous post: HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY – WELL MAYBE NOT.

    “If you are a single mother you are likely to face discrimination and condemnation – and lesbian mothers even more so.
    Government policies push single mothers into poverty.”

    Research which promotes the view that the two-parent patriarchal heterosexual family is the only way to raise our children is ultimately damaging for both women and children.

    We must continue to resist this right wing conservative ideology that seek to lock women into traditional patriarchal nuclear family relationships.

    Michelle Smith sums it up:

    “Ultimately, Caro’s comparison has a real historical basis. The facts of traditional marriage should not be forgotten as we continue to address the vestiges of sexism in a culture that was once grounded in the economic exchange of women.”

    Lasch, C (1977) Haven in a Heartless World, Basis Books New York

    Stacey, J. (1993) Good Riddance to “the Family”: A Response to David Popenoe Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55 pp 545-547

    Robyn Rowland and Renate Klein in  Radically Speaking. Feminism Reclaimed eds Diane Bell and Renate Klein (1996) Spinifex Press

    Cohen and Katzenstein (1988) The War over the Family is not Over the Family In Dornbusch, S.M. & Strober, M.H. (eds) Feminism, Children and New Families. Guilford Press New York

     

  • 21Aug

    Update:

    An excellent article by European Women’s Lobby

    Surrogacy: a global trade in women’s bodies
    Sweden’s leading feminist lobby regards surrogate motherhood as a revival of serfdom for women

    “Becoming a surrogate mother is a way for women in socially vulnerable positions to sell what fundamental human rights should protect them from selling – their own bodies.

    A study of surrogate mothers in Anand, India, revealed that 50 percent were illiterate and that many could not read the contract that they were signing.

    The Swedish Women’s Lobby views surrogate motherhood as a contract of temporary serfdom, where the surrogate mother waives her rights to bodily integrity during the pregnancy.

    We must privilege the right to bodily integrity and fundamental human rights over a supposed right for parents to have children. Children always have the right to have parents, but there is no human right for parents to have children. Every child has the right not to be a commodity on a market. We must renounce the view of a liberal market-approach to surrogacy which privileges paying buyers while women’s rights are negotiable.

    Having a feminist approach to surrogacy means rejecting the idea that women can be used as mere vessels and that their reproductive capabilities can be bought. The right to bodily integrity is a right which should not be able to be negotiated by any form of contract. However the contract is worded, surrogacy is still trading with women’s bodies and with children. The rights of women and children, not the interests of the buyer, must be the focus of the debate surrounding surrogacy.”

    “Surrogacy doesn’t liberate us from biological constraints — it turns women’s bodies in factories”

    Great article by Kajsa Ekis Ekman

    Margaret Atwood wrote a ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ in 1985.

    Handmaid's Tale

     

    Almost 30 years ago she forecast, as a future dystopia, what is the reality today.

     

    In her book the religious right have taken over her society. The state has taken control of women, reducing their role to that of reproduction alone. The state has complete ownership and control of women’s bodies.

    Due to some unknown widespread environmental catastrophe there exists high infertility and sterility rate, and a higher birth defect rate. So reproducing has become a high priority.

    The state ensures that those in power and with higher status have control over reproduction and the raising of children. A selected group of women, the Handmaids, who have potential to reproduce, are forced into being reproducers for the elite.

    “The Handmaids themselves are a pariah caste within the pyramid: treasured for what they may be able to provide – their fertility – but untouchables otherwise. To possess one is, however, a mark of high status, just as many slaves or a large retinue of servants always has been. Since the regime operates under the guise of a strict Puritanism, these women are not considered a harem, intended to provide delight as well as children. They are functional rather than decorative.” Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood has written a number of novels which she describes as ‘Speculative fiction’. That is, in these novels

    “…nothing happens that the human race has not already done at some time in the past, or that it is not doing now, or for which it has not yet developed the technology.”

    The concepts expressed in her novel are reflective of the current situation with surrogacy.

    Rich western couples now have the ability to rent women’s bodies to satisfy their own desires for children. Women’s bodies and children are thus commodified.

    Women from poor third world countries – are forced as a result of their poverty – to sell their bodies for reproduction.

    “Many surrogates are from very poor backgrounds, have little or no education and certainly limited or non-existent financial literacy. There are concerns that some are pressed into the industry by their husbands and families as a quick way to make an otherwise unimaginable $7000AU per birth.” ABC Foreign Correspondent 

    What does this mean?

    Journalist Susan Ince went undercover as a potential surrogate mother in the USA.

    This is what she discovered.

    It means that women are subjected to multiple intrusive physical examinations and multiple drug treatments. They are restricted in their freedom.

    “She may not have intercourse, smoke or drink. She has to submit to all of the physical examinations and treatments the program prescribes.”

    Once pregnant, women have an Amniocentesis examination and are forced to have an abortion if results show abnormality.

    “If the doctor prescribes a Caesarean section, the surrogate has no right to refuse it.”

    “Women have become infertile as a result of serving as surrogates.”

    ABC Foreign Correspondent program “The Baby Makers” explored some of the conditions in India where surrogacy has become a booming industry.

    “100 surrogate mothers live in a house for the term of their pregnancy. They lie in single bunks.”

    Restricted in her freedom for the duration of her pregnancy. And this is a good agency!

                      Renate Klein

     

    According to Renate Klein, the assumption on which surrogacy is based is that the “surrogate” mother will not have a relationship with the developing baby as it is “not her child”. “

    “An absurd notion for any woman who has ever been pregnant.”  Renate Klein

    The sad reality is that women’s fervent desires to have children are reflected in our society’s view of women and motherhood.

    Women’s worth is still measured in her ability to have children. And so we have developed industries such as IVF and surrogacy so that rich western women can fulfill society’s expectations of them.

    And in the process we treat women and children as commodities who can be bought and sold.

    “Surrogacy is a heartless, exploitative, capitalist enterprise.” Renate Klein

     

    Kajsa Ekis Ekman is the author of Being and Being Bought. Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self (Spinifex Press 2013).

                                                                                                                                                           being and being bought

    She draws a link between prostitution and surrogacy.

    “The parallels between prostitution and surrogacy were immediately evident to me. Two industries profit from women’s bodies: one from her for sex, the other from her uterus. Two industries commercialize basic human phenomena: sexuality and reproduction. And these, as it happens, are also the basis of the historical oppression of women and the ongoing division of women into ‘whores and madonnas’.”

  • 11May

    The chocolate and flower producers are a happy lot this weekend as many of us rush out and buy our Mother’s Day gifts.

    After all mothers in Australia are revered – they have a special place in our society. They have status.

    Well maybe if they are the “ideal” mother – the one who keeps her home perfectly clean (and of course germ free), who cooks wonderful meals, who is always available, loving and caring to her husband (she definitely needs to have one of them) and her children; who has a full-time fulfilling career and yet manages to get to all her children’s sports and recreation events.

    We idealize these mothers.

    But as Suzy Freeman-Greene has written in the Age – “A celebration of real mums” –  there are not many mothers who live up to this ideal.

    And if you are not this ideal mum, then our society levels a high degree of retribution.

    If you are a single mother you are likely to face discrimination and condemnation – and lesbian mothers even more so.

    Government policies push single mothers into poverty.

    “Tens of thousands of single parents have had their already meagre income support slashed following a change in government policy that has single parents being shifted onto Newstart – the dole – once their youngest child turns eight. This decision has had devastating consequences for many families. Listen to the stories of single mothers as they explain what happens when you push the poor further into poverty. Pushing mums and their children further into poverty isn’t helping – it’s hindering”  National Council of Single Mothers and their Children – check out their website for stories from these mothers.

    And if you are a mother who is in or has been in a domestic violence relationship, let’s not blame the abusive partner and father, let’s blame …. the mother.

    Our child protection services when dealing with domestic violence will regularly threaten women, women who are already living under threat of violence and abuse: “Leave the abuser or we will remove your children from your care”.

    Some support that is.

    Wouldn’t an alternative, more humane response be to remove the abuser from the home? To have a legal system that effectively deals with domestic violence by punishing the offender?

    In Victoria, mothers will now be criminally responsible if they do not report child abuse. Legislation which aims to make institutions responsible for failing to report child abuse has the potential to punish mothers who may be also experiencing violence and abuse.

    We all know of how difficult it is for women to make the decision to leave. One just has to read the numerous media reports of men who kill their (ex) partners and/or children, often because they have or are attempting to leave. Women read these reports too. So when he says “If you leave, I will kill you. I will kill the children” she takes this seriously.

    Sometimes it is just safer to stay.

    And if she does leave then she faces the Family Law system. A system which takes little note of the core responsibility that she has taken in raising and caring for her children. A system that says “good enough fathers” are better than no fathers even if he has physically and/or sexually abused the mother or her children.

    A system that would rather label mothers as liars and manipulators when they raise allegations of abuse, than take a protective stance towards abused women and children.

    So let’s stop idealizing these visions of the ideal mother and let’s start making our policies, our legal and welfare systems responsive and sympathetic to the real dilemmas and struggles that real mothers face every day.

    Let’s celebrate the “strength, resourcefulness, resilience, and generosity” that real mothers show.

    OK?