A pause for thought : Single Mothers

Pause for thought : Single Mothers


The following is a short extract from an extensive and intense essay, “Mothers” written by Jacqueline Rose and published in Volume 36, Number 12 of the June 19th, 2014 issue of the London Review of Books p17-22. The full text of the essay can be accessed at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n12/jacqueline-rose/mothers

This autumn Jacqueleine Rose becomes the Diane Middlebrook and Carl Djerassi Professor of Gender Studies at Cambridge University.


A single mother stands as a glaring rebuke to the ideal. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the number of single mothers in this country rose faster than at any other time in history, seemingly unaffected by an increasingly strident Conservative rhetoric of blame. The most pervasive image was of an unemployed teenager who had deliberately got herself pregnant in order to claim benefits, although as Pat Thane and Tanya Evans point out in Sinners? Scroungers? Saints?*, their study of 20th century unmarried motherhood, she was ‘very rarely to be found’. Over the past century single mothers have variously been one or other or all three of those epithets, the first and last stringing them between opprobrium and holiness (neither of this world), the second more prosaically casting them as objects of moral contempt. The single mother, it seems, was the original ‘scrounger’ the terms which allows a cruelly unequal society to turn its back on those it has thrown on the scrapheap. This manipulative, undeserving mother was the perfect embodiment of the ‘dependency’ culture, an idea which is being revived today in order to justify an ever more thorough dismantling of the welfare state. It is also worth noting how far her vulnerability and her needs, not to speak of those of the children for whom she has sole responsibility, seem to count against her   –   lone parents, especially unmarried mothers, are still today one of the poorest groups in Britain.



* Sinners? Scroungers? Saints Unmarried Motherhood in 20th Century England by Pat Thane and Tanya Evans (Oxford, 240pp., August 2013, 978 0 19 968198 3).