What do you think of when you hear of a single mother?
What generalisations form in your mind? Do you think of a young woman battling it out against the odds trying to raise a child alone? A welfare bludger out for what she can get? A widow? A seductive divorcee who spends much of her time playing tennis or swiping right on each Tinder profile she sees?
Do you see someone just like any other mother or do you see someone different? Removed.
The writer, Kimberly Seals Allers says that “society secretly categorises single mothers in gradients of respectability depending on income, race and, most important, how you became a single mother”.
She explains how, while no one could ever feel anything but the utmost of sympathy for them, widows receive the most compassion and understanding for the tragic situation they are in.
Then next most accepted type of single mother, she says, are divorcees.
She says those who were once married get “validated” by a patriarchal structure. These are the types who call themselves “divorced single mothers”. They need to refer to their former marital status to ensure no one thinks they are one of those mums down the bottom of the ladder.
Then there are those who become single parents “by choice”. She says these mums are thought of as empowering and revolutionary, especially if they are high-income white women or celebrities.
But down on that lowest rung, right down the bottom is the other type of single mother. Via iStock.
But down on that lowest rung, right down the bottom is the other type of single mother. Never married with a couple of kids whose father has little to no input and she has little support.
The type of single mum you see stereotyped on shows like Today Tonight with no thought for who they are, what they deal with, what issues or obstacles they face, what achievements they've had.
The type of mother whose kids get stereotyped and labelled.
Allers says that for her, in America, there is an even lower rung.
She writes: "The complexities of race shape this experience even further. Years after my divorce, I continued to wear my wedding ring when meeting new school teachers and principals, acutely aware that as an African American woman - even with an Ivy League education and a middle-class income - I was still subject to the stereotypical perception of 'the black single mother'."
Single mums get stereotyped enough. Via iStock.
Sadly, she’s right.
Single mums get stereotyped enough, but even within that label there are more stereotypes to contend with.
You just have to look at how often the phrase single mum is used as opposed to the term single dad.
Single mothers get painted as villains or whingers, battlers or spongers. Heroes or victims.