A lot has happened since I last blogged. Well, one major thing has happened. Trump. Singular, but the magnitude of it means that a lot has happened. I’m not writing about Trump though. There are a possibly a million think pieces already and I have plenty of thoughts but not any that I feel would shed any new light on the alternate universe we’ve found ourself in in which someone who only feels they need to be briefed on intelligence once a week because they think they’re ‘smart’, can be a viable candidate to run a superpower. I digress.
On Twitter (which generates meaningful conversation more often than you’d think), I saw a back and forth about fatherhood. It started off as a series of tweets by a man about masculinity and black men needing to responsibility in order to build stronger families. Another man quickly responded, asking what the definition of family was, suggesting that it was possible to have a family without a man, and that him not having a father didn’t prevent him from achieving in life and therefore “the broken family narrative is invalid”.
I could have ignored this as a one off – one young man with possibly unresolved emotions from having an absent father or who perhaps had a great family life despite his absence seeking to make sense of his situation by framing his father as an optional extra in his life. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’m hearing this idea that men aren’t ‘nececssary’ for a family.
Now, it’s quite obvious that there are many families that operate and possibly even thrive outside of the traditional Mum, dad. 2.4 kids template. As far back in humanity’s existence as you can imagine, families have been far more complex than the template. Whether it be children growing up with Grandparents, an Aunty, 5 cousins or a family friend-become-guardian. While this has always been the case, what’s new is the push from certain sectors of society for a radical shift in how we think about what contsitutes necessary or perhaps optimal family structure.
I listened to a podcast last year and I was slightly shocked when one of the women angrily stated that “she didn’t need a black man to have a family anyway”. She claimed that she had other options including adoption and sperm donation that meant that having to deal with black men (and I gathered, in her mind – any accompanying misogyny) was uncessary. I emphasise being only slightly shocked because some strands of feminism in particular, seem to be extremely comfortable with promoting this idea. Now granted, men can be stressful, generally ashy and a complete waste of breath. There have been times post-argument or rejection, where the idea of reproducing asexually has sounded infinitely more appealing than wading through the circle of fire that is the male ego. Despite this, in the cold light of day I’m under no illusion that a present and active male figure is anything less than optimal if I want to have a thriving and happy family.
Not only is the idea that men are optional to a family structure insulting to men, it’s harmful to women, indeed, perhaps even to feminism and goes against all the evidence we have so far – both academic and anecdotal.
In a world where we’re increasingly being told by various factions that gender is a wholly social construct with no clear biological markers as well as scientific advances in artifical insemination, it’s unsurprising that people can lead themselves to believe or want to believe that men aren’t necessary for families.
Whiel I agree that we have made some essential progress in not treating women who are single parents like social pariahs or failures, on the other hand, in response to societies negativity towards single mothers particularly black single mothers, we have almost begun to regress into a ridculous narrative where we not only have accepted it as the new normal but seem to be promoting it?
There is a need to continually pushback against the idea that a household in which there is no male figure is a perfectly normal and acepptable state for over 60% of our children to grow up in. This isn’t societal progress, it is (and I mean it as dramatically as it sounds) a state of emergency. Research into outcomes for children from single parent families is complex and the evidence as to the vastness of the difference in outcomes varies, but one thing is fairly undeniable – your chances of having poor outcomes increases. Very often we argue that boys need men, but just as importantly, girls need men. I needed my Dad, and i still do. My Dad even by sheer virtue of joining his income with my Mum as well as the myriad otehr inputs, enabled me to fulfilll all the feminist ideals of being an interdependent (catch that?), educated woman with a a confidence that lies in my abilities regardless of my gender.
Someone will ask, “would you rather have children grow up in dysfunctional, violent or abusive two parent households?”. Clearly, the answer to this is no. I would much rather a child grow up in a loving single parent household and not be exposed to constant arguing or potential domestic violence. I salute the single mothers that are doing the best they can. I acknowledge that just because parents aren’t together, does not mean that the father isn’t active in the childs life. As I get older I’ve come to terms with the fact that I myself may not necessarily get married but I still definitely would consider adopting a child. However, no matter how active a father or a mother is individually a functioning two parent household will always be the ideal. That isn’t what we need to question.
The question we do need to ask ourselves is what are we NOT teaching our young people about relationships, about masculinity, about femininity that is allowing a situation to occure where so many relationships are unable to last the distance? What ideas about what it means to be a man are we teaching boys that means they can’t have successful relationships with women and vice versa?
Instead of acquiescing to a tide of broken homes, we can start having these conversations amongst ourselves. In our friendship circles, families, churches and mosques we can do the work. We can do the work of seeing a counsellor to sift through our individual or relationship issues (I know being able to suggest that comes froma place of relative financial privilege), we can dig into the resources we have of the wisdom of older generations, asking them what worked and what didn’t. We can choose to reject media that constantly portrays and glorifies dysfunctional relationships for cheap entertainment.
What we can’t do, is allow our children to accept this new normal. It’s not normal.