Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why is America So Far Behind?


These last years, I have connected with many single moms from around the world. In sharing stories, people were often baffled by how far behind the U.S. Is in comparison to other Western countries. I started to make some of my own comparisons which ultimately led me to begin the Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy anthology.

Information on child support is difficult to find, which is baffling considering how many women and children it effects. One of the most comprehensive studies I have found over the years is “Worst Off: Single Parent Families in the United States.” This paper compared U.S. single-parent families with single-parent families in 16 other high-income countries.

We find that U.S. single-parent families are the worst off. They have the highest poverty rate. They have the highest rate of no health care coverage. They face the stingiest income support system. They lack the paid-time-off-from-work entitlements that in comparison countries make it easier for single parents to balance caregiving and jobholding. They must wait longer than single parents in comparison countries for early childhood education to begin. They have a low rate of child support receipt.

U.S. single parents have both above average employment rates and above average poverty rates. High rates of low-wage employment combined with inadequate income support explain the paradox of high poverty despite high employment.”1

Nowhere is the gap more apparent than with maternity leave and sick days. When my son was born, I worked from my hospital bed. A few days after his birth, I rolled him into my office in his stroller and shoved all my files into the bottom to take home. 

I needed the money. 

I did not receive any child support at all for the first year of my son's life. I can barely remember that year. Not only did my son not have a father, he really didn't have much of a mother eitherat least in the way I had always envisioned being a mother.

Fortunately, I was able to work from home often and hire my sister as our nanny for his first two years. That said, I still cry when I think about his first year and the enormous loss for both of us.

I remember a wise old crone chastising me for not going after my son's father for child support. I suppose, at the time, I was afraid his “father” would disappear altogether so I didn't pursue it. She pleaded with me, “What sort of message will this send to your son? When children don't receive child support they associate it with their own self-worth. A child who receives nothing in child support comes to believe s/he is worth nothing.”

Photo by Maurizio Peddis
When I think about collecting child support—for both myself and women throughout the world, I remember those words. Our children deserve child support. Mothers also deserve to be financially supported.

It is extraordinarily difficult to work as a single mother in the United States and make ends meet. There are just not enough social structures in place to ensure that both mothers and children get what they need.

In my case, a high-commissioned job ensured our basic needs were met, but it came at a very high price physically and emotionally. My body broke down, I was sick frequently and I was severely underweight. My son did not get the attention from me his first year deserved.

Try being a working single mom with sick children. 

In the U.S., It is impossible. 

If you try to maintain a normal job with regular school holidays, sick days and everything else, you will be unlikely to keep it for very long. I remember my ex-father-in-law exclaiming with disgust several times: “I just don't understand why you don't have a real job.” 

(My books don't count, and apparently raising his grandchildren doesn't count either.) 

It would be much easier to maintain a “real” job if someone were co-parenting with me and sharing the weight of sick days and school holidays. But the U.S. is unique as a “high-income” country in not having systems in place that would help single moms.

This became all the more apparent to me when I moved to Norway with my children last year. Here in Norway single moms have special considerations for paid leave. They can legally take more days off work if they have more children or are single mothers. For instance, after working for a qualifying period of four weeks, a person without kids can take five paid days off for sickness.
  • If you have one or two children, you can take 10 additional sick days off – and take time off for any doctor/dentist/school appointment with no problem.
  • If you have three or more children, you are entitled to 15 days a year.
  • If you are a single mom of one or two children, you are entitled to 20 days a year.
  • If you are a single mom caring for more than three children, you are entitled to 30 days of paid time off.
There are additional provisions for longer sicknesses. If you have chronically ill or disabled child, you can get ten days in addition for each chronically ill or disabled child. You are also entitled to the same number of days if you work part-time.

The following chart demonstrates the disparity very clearly.
Table from "Worst Off - Single-Parent Families in the United States

 
Notice that the averages and mediums listed exclude the U.S., which is the only country of the 16 studied which provides zero days of annual paid leave. The study notes:

Many U.S. employers voluntarily provide paid annual leave, sick days, and holidays but many also do not...Based on the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) of individuals, 32% of single parents and 64% of married parents reported having access to paid leave at their main job in 2011.1

The study also notes that child care is expensive in the U.S., compared to the other 16 countries where it is generally provided. Single mothers with children under five have a particularly rough time with this, as for “many single parents, actual or potential earnings are too little to pay for child care.”2

While public education is available for children over five, it generally ends in the early afternoon, leaving a huge gap in the day. In addition, school districts in my home State of Oregon are only in session 165 days a year. 3

Not to get too far off track, but when you take into account that most people nowadays are forced to drop their kids off at school whether they are sick or well, it also means that kids are often sick more frequently now. Additionally, when you are already living under the chronic stress of being a single parent, you are also more susceptible to becoming ill. I remember some years where my children and I were sick more often than we were well. 
 
Lastly, of the 16 countries studied, the United States was the only country that did not provide a child allowance, averaging about $150 a month per child. Some countries also provided an additional amount for single mothers.4

In Norway, we receive approximately $100 a month per child. This doesn't go very far in today's world—raising children is expensive—but it does help! It is the only time in years that I haven't had to worry about paying my children's allowance on time and whether or not we can afford to attend birthday parties.

In quite a few of the “high-income” countries, we seem to have lost a sense of communitywhich would help single moms out more. Many grandparents are working in their later years or live further away. Neighbors and extended family aren't what they used to be. Western societies have become more individualist and driven by capitalism—and no one suffers more from this than single moms and their children.

Child support enforcement seems to be one of the biggest obstacles in supporting healthy single-parent families. I highly recommend reading the full study in detail, which is available online as a pdf. I know in my own life that not receiving child support has been one of the biggest hurdles in raising healthy and happy children. 

 
Looking to Scandinavian countries seems wise in determining the best course of action in reforming child support enforcement in the United States. As Think Progress recently noted:

As of 2010, all European countries except the Netherlands guaranteed child support payments to custodial parents even if the noncustodial parent couldn’t pay or could only pay part. Sweden goes even further and has a guaranteed assistance program in which all custodial parents get a child support payment from the government no matter what, and the government then collects what it can from the noncustodial ones. Such a system seems to work — 95 percent of these parents get child support payments.”5

Even though I have remarried—and life is considerably easier in Norway—there is not a day that goes by that I don't have to deny my children something because of lack of child support.

This is not something any of us will likely “get over” for the rest of our lives.

The authors of the “Worst Off” study conclude: "U.S. single-parent families will remain the worst off unless the U.S. expands its family-supporting policies."

-Trista Hendren, an excerpt from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy - out later this year.

Pre-order here.



This anthology will be offered freely as a PDF to any woman who has been a single mom who is struggling financially.


Endnotes:
 
1 Casey, Timothy and Maldonado, Maldonado. “WORST OFF – SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES IN THE UNITED STATES.” December 2012.
2 Casey, Timothy and Maldonado, Maldonado. “WORST OFF – SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES IN THE UNITED STATES.” December 2012.
3 Oregonian Editorial Board. “More days for Oregon students, more pay for Oregon teachers: Agenda 2013.” The Oregonian. August 31, 2013.
4 Casey, Timothy and Maldonado, Maldonado. “WORST OFF – SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES IN THE UNITED STATES.” December 2012.
5 Covert, Bryce. “The Brilliant Idea From Europe That Could Revolutionize Child Support.” Think Progress. April 16, 2015.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Becoming My Own Midwife by Celeste Gurevich

Painting by Arna Baartz

I learned to survive by quilting myself with breath, blood, bones, and stories.

Panel by panel, saturated remnants of all of the Celestes I have ever been. The stitches laden with the scent of early Spring daphnes, garden-fresh basil a licorice-y labor of loving hands. The eternal tang of salty Pacific Ocean air. In the warp and weft of fiber, my scars, each with its own tale to tell.

Listen carefully and you will hear the music that moves me. You will feel the boiling momentum gathering in my root chakra, moving through my limbs with the notes, up through my arms and legs. The release, exquisite, of muscles moved to dance. Of vocal cords thrown open in song.
Mine is an embodied body. A body that was abused, and is still in recovery, rediscovery. A body that brought life into the world without a pharmaceutical fog to separate me from my Pain. A body that has walked barefoot, childtoes in love with mud-thick, warm Mother Earth juices.

Mine is a body in flux, at the mercy of the dialogue between estrogen and progesterone, the interplay of ovaries and uterus. A bodymachine heaving herself in fits and starts toward cronehood.

And I.
Am.
Ready.

Arms wide open to this New Self, it is time to embrace my failings, see them anew. To honor them as blessed teachers.

To reclaim.

From this day forward, I transmute into power being told that I should NOT read in class my very first day of school. Shamed by the adult in charge for teaching myself to read. The embarrassment, guilt for being smart at six years old.

As of today, I recognize my value in my relationships. Off with the blinders of self-doubt. I see now that I was a woman desperately in need of affection, for someone to have my back, to hold me and say it would be okay. Settling for abuse or safe mediocrity because I couldnt yet see that I could thrive, and not merely survive.

I reclaim my own experience of being a poor, struggling single mother in a generation of women who watched as socially guaranteed safety nets were yanked out from under our feet. Denying those of us who ached to elevate. Those of us who were willing to sacrifice, those of us who kicked and screamed against the System.

All we wanted was the opportunity to succeed.

Ill take every shitty job, every small-minded, small-dicked tyrant boss.

Decades of working my body to chronic pain and injury for someone elses profit.

I call to power my library and barstool education. I rose beyond the poor-ass school district I spent hard time in. Held my creativity close. Set my own curriculum. Pushed through being denied funding and support to continue my education. The thing I wanted most desperately.

I proclaim my diploma from The Global University of the Self-Educated and the Academy for the Ideal of Unlimited Potentiality.

I claim it all. 
 
Every piece invaluable. After all, until you fall enough, how can you lose your fear of falling?
It made me who I am today.

Healer, mother, writer, artist, empath, musician, wife, gourmet chef. Grandmother. Matriarch.

Holding the line of my ancestors. Holding the line.

Heart wide open. 
 
Mind on fire.

There is wisdom, empathy and strength through suffering and pain. If you chose to look that motherfucker in the eye and not blink. To jump free-fall down into your stories is a courageous act, and they are the most crucial gift we have to give one another.

To say FUCK YOU to fear is the only way to create new trajectories for ourselves. Away from abuse. Away from neglect. Toward loving ourselves as we are. Knowledge, consciousness, and righteous outrage are my weapons.

Stretching, my mind and spirit are being pulled outward in every direction. Ocean size. To the nebulas. Far enough to hold the magnitude of abundance that is my life now. That is my love. Now.

Mind wide open. Heart on fire. Expanding, out and out and up and beyond, wide enough to hold all of the intensity and passion and pain and humanity and laughter and sex and joy and stories and stories and love and art.

-An excerpt from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy - out later this year!




Celeste Gurevich is a multi-medium Social Artist, Bird Nerd and proud Matriarch who grew up on the Central Oregon Coast, and has lived in Portland for almost 25 years. Her work has been published in Perceptions: A Magazine for the Arts, The Manifest-Station, and elsewhere. She is also an Associate Producer of the podcast, On The Block Radio. 

Celeste is currently putting together her first chapbook of poetry. If you need more of her words, you can find her on all the social medias.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How to Notice Red Flags by Molly Pennington

Art by Arna Baartz

My first husband once broke his neck by smashing head first into a brick fireplace. “I did it for you,” he told me. “That's how much I love you. Instead of hurting you, I hurt myself.”

“But you did hurt me,” I answered. “The bruises—”

“The bruises aren't from me,” he countered. “That's on you. Everything makes you bruise. You can't blame that on me.”

Brian (not his real name because he'll find me and sue me) had lots of pronouncements for me: I pushed buttons. I asked for it. I walked into fists. I bruised easily.

I have to tell you that I missed every red flag.

That's just it about the flags. They aren't red. They aren't obvious. They come in like whispers. Like the scent of lilies. They're shaped like chiffon hearts. They are the color of bubbles. They are apologies and proposals. Intensities in the dark. Pleadings. That you must give in to. For love. He tells you it's love. The flags are sinews of shame, stretching slowly, bending to an ache, then finally snapping sometime when you're pretty far away from anything you recognize as home.

In my case, our son was two. He was standing by the stove, watching us. He had always been way too pensive for a baby. Serious. Observant. Clingy.

“You bitch like a fuckin' cow,” sneered Brian.

I looked at my son. I met his eyes and his understanding, and finally, my Achilles tore. And just then, when I irreversibly had the fire to leave… it was all just beginning.

When I left, Brian argued. But not about our child. I don't think it had hit him yet. I was the one who took care of the baby after all. Why wouldn't I take him with me? Brian complained about our son anyway. “He doesn't like me. The kid prefers you,” he seethed.

“He's a baby,” I explained. “He doesn't have to give you anything. You give it to him. That's parenting.”

When I said this kind of thing Brian looked at me like I was an alien.

I was blindsided when I found out that he wanted our son. Not only that. He wanted him away from me.

I count fourteen custody hearings or events over the years. That doesn't include the four-day trial when our son was 12. Or all the psychological evaluations. Meetings with lawyers. Mediators. Court appointees. It also doesn't consider the divorce proceedings. The child support disputes. Usually before hearing officers. Or the final lawsuit—claiming I owed travel expenses from five years prior. I was served those papers a few months after our son turned 18. He was away at college. The lawsuit demanded nearly five figures in cash and also included a motion that I serve time in jail should I be found guilty.

I was not found guilty—so ruled the court, eventually.

Brian instigated each court battle, each hearing, trial and lawsuit—every single one. And I won them all. When I didn't willingly concede. I gave in as much as I could. I cut child support to just $200 per month. I gave him visitation on every weekend and holiday. I gave in as much as I could. To avoid expense and hassle. And the expense was considerable.

If you knew the amount you would probably vomit.

The amount is what it would cost to send two students to college. It's three times the amount of my highest-ever salary. And that was only to fight some of the battles. I didn't fight on child support.

Did you know that it costs thousands of dollars in lawyer fees to compel a person to release their tax returns?

Tax returns he's probably lying on anyway because he was always like that about money.

I gave all that I could. But I could not give him primary custody of our son.

“You'll never see him again,” said my lawyer. And I knew she was right.

Brian didn't care about the outcome of court. He was excited by the idea that I hated it. One time he called me in advance of a hearing with a custody mediator.

“I want to work this out,” he said.

“Me too,” I gushed. “Totally. I hate this conflict. It's bad for our son. I want to compromise.”

Then I got there. And it started. I had fallen. Again. I'm such a sucker when people act human. I believe in the best in them. I believed that even after years of lies, it was possible for him to become decent.

Forgive me for being such a fool because I've finally forgiven myself.

Only a few years previously Brian had told another mediator that I had been evicted from my apartment for prostitution. His lawyer said it so sheepishly. So apologetically.

“Her neighbors had to petition the landlord to have her removed.” Then he leaned forward and lowered his voice, but we could all still plainly hear: “Men coming and going at all hours.” I had neglected to bring a lawyer. I was alone. Sitting there for that.

I wasn't a prostitute in case you were wondering.

And no men ever came and went. I was the only graduate student with a child in a competitive doctoral program. I didn't have time for a social life, let alone a side job. I did move out of that apartment. At my own behest. It was a terrible place. I had to find it, secure it and move into it in about 24 hours. It was all I could find. Brian had confiscated my car during the night. A friend flew in to help.

It took at least a year to get on my feet. I moved again to a little house with an upstairs and A/C – on my teaching stipend. But Brian branded me a loser to anyone who would listen.

I look credible. I'm mild. Well-spoken. Conservatively dressed.

But so embarrassed. I mean, who marries the kind of person who would say these things?

That's a major theme in our culture. The belief that if it is said, then it must be true. Brian threatened a custody trial for years and then finally followed through. Though I had been on my best behavior to avoid it. To placate him. During my deposition, Brian's lawyer asked me why I “strip nude, get down on all fours, and howl at the moon.”

I do not, in case you're curious.

But he said it out loud.

Even after the prostitution allegation, I really did believe that we could compromise. I arrived to the mediation excited, ready for conciliation. As if we could finally move past it. I wouldn't have to say what was on my mind: “That was horrible. I forgive you. Let's move on.” My petition would be present, but unstated. Grace.

That was my mood when Brian began the detonation. Even our mediator seemed stunned. Brian has this way of speaking. His eyes narrow. His voice lengthens as if lies cause drawl. There is an undertow of wrath.

He alleged that I was abusing our son. He said that I was abusing our son in the same way that I had always abused him. Physical attacks. Emotional manipulation.

I couldn't help it. I cried. And I begged him to please stop lying. To please stop. Just please stop lying.

I didn't know then, but I know now, that a narcissist sees compromise as weakness. It points them not to truce, but to confrontation. And weakness isn't accepted as peacekeeping, but assaultive.

“Please,” I sobbed. “Please,” I said it again through choking tears. “Stop. Just stop. Don't do this.” I almost fell to my knees. And might've if not for the formal setting.

The mediator shifted, embarrassed. This was beyond his scope. The dynamic. The accusations. The strike and then entreaty. Nuclear dysfunction.

“I can't stop,” Brian told me. And he smiled.

“You're dangerous.” Then he turned to the dumbfounded mediator: “She's a dangerous woman.”

I have retained primary custody since the day that I left.

Twice, Brian failed to return our son after visitations, for more than a week each time. That's how long it took to rally my lawyer and a court of law to even begin to act. By then my son was returned to me.

Once our son burst into tears after Brian (with his parents) dropped him off and left. “I thought you didn't want me anymore!” my sweet boy cried. They had refused to allow phone calls. All contact was denied. Not by the courts. By Brian.

Whatever Brian threw—and it was truckloads of never-ending mud—none of it ever stuck. But everybody still had to gather and listen. Allegations are eventually proven baseless, but still, the words have been typed into documents, shuffled through bureaucracy.

I do not have any advice on how to get through it. If you've got millions for lawyers, then you are all set. Unleash them. While you're at it, get a solid therapist for yourself and your child. If your insurance sucks and if you've sold, mortgaged, liquidated and borrowed everything you can, then still, get the best attorney you can. The only thing left to do is endure it with whatever grace you have. It will feel like you don't have any, but you do.

Trust love. Even still after all this, trust love. Figure out your past. Get a degree in red flags that are actually, as discussed, the color and consistency of sugar water. Figure out their every nuance.

Think about your own life as a child.

In my younger days, there was a strange, almost dream-like period before these men (Brian was not the first) turned mean and mighty. I try to turn my memory back to the moments before that Big Bang, when I know, when I see… that they are going to hurt me.

It's always been the last thing I'm expecting.

Even the final lawsuit. I thought I was so used to it. So ready. Then my lawyer told me about the motion to send me to jail. It was ridiculous, of course. She would get it dismissed, of course.

You should know that he got me there. It stung.

I didn't realize that he still had it in for me. I'm sure it's just projection or some upside-down fucked-upped-ness like when he told me he broke his own neck to save mine. He knows he belongs in jail, or is in a psychiatric one, so he slaps that onto me. But I was caught off guard. There's a twinge of surprise, a catch in my breath, just like when I was younger, every time, before the storming.

An excerpt from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy.

Molly Pennington is a writer, a mentor, a speaker, a wife and a mother, and a lover of insight and whimsy. Her default setting is perpetual cheer, but she doesn’t shy away from the wounds of the world. To Molly, nothing is more vital than social justice. She believes that perception and compassion are curative. Molly is here to make the world a little less mean. Instead: smarter, brighter, better. You can find out more about her at www.mollypennington.com.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Single mother, single daughter by Karen McLaughlin

Art by Arna Baartz


just us two
she and me
no awkward third in our skippy-hop dance

parenting requires partnership
one child
one adult

we seesaw
fulcrumed by our mutual dependance
she, my sun; I, her earth

our jokes bewilder them
our made-to-measure language lands as gibberish
our clear collusion confuses

holding the wild and safe space for each other
we are
unaccountable (except to ourselves)
free-range (queens of the snuggle zone)
creators (making the world we need)

unwitting rebels

daring to be

without a he

Karen McLaughlin is a homeschooling mother, writer and singer from Northern Ireland, currently flying her kite in the winds of Donegal. She enjoys mooning the patriarchy, conversing with trees and spending quality time with her very needy sofa.

An excerpt from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It's Time To Fight Back Against the Systemic-Historical Violence of Male Governance By Nile Pierce

Art by Arna Baartz


Beyonce thinks girls run the world. I like her optimism, but it’s off-base. If women ran the world – if it was really true that we run the fucking world – 3.5 million female children in Turkey wouldn’t be in contractually-arranged rape relationships (child ‘marriage’), and the pregnant girls of Boko Haram wouldn’t have been abducted, impregnated, left alone to fend for themselves, and shamed by their community. We would be fucking safe from rape, from abuse, from misogynist social policies. We wouldn’t be scared for the safety of our children. We would be able to make more and better choices for ourselves and our families. We wouldn’t be marginalized and shamed for enjoying motherhood. We wouldn’t be fucking oppressed like biblical fucking slaves.



We are in the fucking wilderness.



If you’re a woman and you decide to have a baby, good luck. It’s not easy to navigate the array of social (let’s just call it ‘bullshit’ for the moment) bullshit and expectations surrounding the experience. If you’re a single mother, the level of bullshit is increased ten-fold and navigating it all is much more intense because you are alone. That being said, It’s not always difficult being a single mother. But for a vast majority of single moms, it’s fucking hard. And it’s lonely, and isolating. Women that have the privilege of having a partner (whether that partner is male or female) have help. This means they have financial help in most instances, and that kind of help goes a long way toward relieving a lot of pressure and helping other things in their lives, such as physical and mental health for example. Having someone else around that you can trust to care for your children when you are sick or tired, is an amazing thing. You can rest. They can rest. However, many of us don’t have that privilege. We just go and go and go and go. All of us have to make difficult decisions to make things work financially. Sometimes to the detriment of our relationships with our children and ourselves. We women have to make choices. But the choices that we are ‘presented’ with by society are not fair. Not by a fucking long shot.



The truth is, we are controlled. By men. I’m not going to waste time dragging in statistics here to prove this point but if you want to google some feel free. Take a look at the ratios of men to women in positions of power all over the world and you’ll get a better idea of how controlled we are. From presidents of countries, to corporations, to town hall and city council boards, we are controlled in every which way imaginable. Because we are rarely in positions of power, men make the majority of decisions that affect our lives in both public and private ways. They rely on their own male understandings of reality when they do this – which is obviously highly problematic considering how many of them are religious fundamentalists and think that the pains of childbirth are our punishment from God for tempting Adam in the garden. This is literally what they think. They also think that we are all objects to be fucked. This is what they think. The porn industry is as successful as it is because our society has normalized its acceptance. Women need to wake the fuck up to what this is doing to us and our daughters. And our sons.



We have children on our own terms. But even when we do, the only options ‘offered’ to us are options created by men in power. We are not consulted for policy that affects our livelihoods and existence. We are forced to pay tax on necessities like tampons and fucking menstrual pads. Our social, sexual, emotional, and financial resources are continually extracted by men in power for their own benefit and it needs to stop. These extractions are violent because they are forced and they are against our will and against our intuitive intelligence. Forced extractions do not equal choice, just as forced ‘sex’ does not equal sex – it equals rape. This must stop. Our resources are valuable and we must protect them.



If we have a baby, we are forced to return to work. Frustrated with being forced to return to work, we are forced to play the capitalist game - which is essentially a misogynist game that places more value on the accumulation of capital than on the building of a strong and healthy society. Enmeshed within this system, rife with a variety of damaging liberal feminisms disguised as progressive politics that are patriarchally oppressive in nature to women, we are forced to perform male-sanctioned 'work' and neglect caring for our children. We are forced to make 'choices' that hurt. We are forced to literally go against our nature and our instincts, to leave our children in the care of strangers who we are not allowed to personally vet; we are forced to trust the state and its policies and practices in the governance of our lives and that of our children. We are forcefully placed between a rock and a hard place:



  1. Between slaving away in a bullshit capitalist economy that devalues our motherhood and our work at home through a variety of misogynist social mechanisms constructed to oppress and erase us - or -
  2. Staying home and having our maternal work devalued through a variety of misogynist social mechanisms.



WE. ARE. AT. WAR. With ourselves, internally, and with the patriarchal structures of society, externally. We are at war with ourselves internally because the external social mechanisms and forces of misogyny press down upon us, press down upon our minds and our hearts, twisting our emotions, making it hard to know what to do with the 'choices' we are forced to accept, realizing that in this system, the 'options' available to us are not really choices after all, and so we are made angry, we are deeply hurting, we are made to feel like we have given up, like we are not contributing enough if we choose to stay at home with our children, we are made to feel like we are weak, non-contributing social leeches, unable to perform like everyone around us, according to male capitalist expectations.



FUCK THAT.



We are not fucking slaves. Not to capitalism, and not to patriarchy. Our children are not pawns to be used in the misogynist accumulation of capital. We are not slaves. Our children are not slaves. We owe it to ourselves and to our daughters and the future of our world to stand up to this systemic-historical violence and take our fucking power back. We will no longer allow male-dominated systems and patriarchal regimes of rationalisation to govern us through oppressive rules, policies, agendas, and misogynist practices. We will no longer allow men to dictate what options are available to us. We will no longer accept male-constructed realities of capitalist 'choice' as the only options on our table. We will no longer tolerate the extraction of our natural resources. We will create our own structures of power and governance. We are going to dismantle this system and make it work for US. We are going to make it work in the name of Goddess, in the names of all of the mothers who have gone before us and been abused, violated, devalued, marginalised, mistreated, raped, maimed, oppressed, and silenced. We are the lifeblood of this world. We have always been. They depend on us. Without us they literally wouldn't exist. They owe it to us to listen. And if they don't, we will fight back.



We will shame them. We will publicly call them out on their bullshit. We will not take 'no' for an answer anymore. We are stronger than what we may appear. We are a force more powerful than any government, policy, or religion.



We are going to change the world.

An excerpt from the upcoming Girl God anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriachary.


Nile Pierce is a secret academic and artist currently living and working in Glasgow, Scotland. Her first poem was published when she was 7 years old, albeit under a different name. She has been writing and doing spoken word for many years and has amassed a trove of poems that now number into the thousands. She is a proud single mother and loves her child more than anything else in the world. You can find her social commentary on feminism and single motherhood at magnadea.org 


Thursday, August 25, 2016

£4 billion - the current outstanding child maintenance bill by Louise Pennington

Painting by Lucy Pierce


£4 billion.

This is the outstanding arrears of child maintenance owed in England and Wales. According to a report by the charity Gingerbread called Missing Maintenance, the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) estimates that only £467 million will ever be recovered.1 This leaves nearly one half of single parent families, the vast majority headed by women, living in poverty.

The current Conservative government is in the process of closing the Child Support Agency (CSA) to replace it with the Child Maintenance Service, which charges women £20 for the privilege of opening a file and then a sum each month if some semblance of the maintenance is actually paid.2 The new vaunted system has seen only 53% of the families registered receiving maintenance with 90 000 people having not paid during one three month period. There is already nearly £53 million in unpaid maintenance. Many of the families will receive only negligible amounts of money, as the DWP does not require the full maintenance to be paid in order for the account to be registered as compliant. Realistically, a father of 4 earning £70 000 a year can pay only £5 a month and still be included within the 53% statistic.3

Equally problematic is the fact that the Child Maintenances Service is actively writing to the primary caregivers to request they ‘forgive’ the debt owed by non-paying fathers4 - as though the primary caregivers of children, who are overwhelmingly women, can neglect to pay rent, council tax and the credit card debts they rack up buying groceries knowing these debts will be 'forgiven'. As Polly Toynbee makes clear, 
 
Some 90% of CSA cases have now been transferred over to the CMS, but only 13% of mothers affected have decided to pay the new fees and apply to the CMS: the DWP must be pleased, as it had publicly estimated that 63% would pursue their claims. All the pressure in official letters is to deter mothers. The £20 fee may be a mild block, along with charging fathers 4%, but the evidence suggests mothers just give up when prodded by these letters.5

Charging mothers to use the Child Maintenance Service is simply a way for the government to abdicate responsibility. They are very clear that the sole purpose is to force more parents into dealing with child maintenance themselves. In doing so, they have refused to recognise the reason why men, and it is overwhelmingly men, refuse to pay maintenance: it is both a punishment and a form of control over their former partners. This is male entitlement writ large by men who do not care about the welfare of their children.

We need to start calling the refusal to pay maintenance what it really is: financial child abuse. Forcing your children to live in poverty because you cannot be bothered to support them or refusing to punish the mother are not the signs of 'good fathers'. It is the hallmark of an abusive father.

It is not difficult to implement child maintenance policies that are effective and ensure that men cannot hide their assets. Placing the Child Maintenance Service under the heading of HM Revenue & Customs so that child maintenance is garnished directly from the salary of the non-resident parent. This coupled with actual punitive policies for those who refuse to pay, such as a fee for every missed payment, interest accrued on outstanding payments, and the use of enforcement agents (bailiffs) to confiscate personal property, and, potentially, criminal proceedings would see an immediate increase in the number of men who start to pay their maintenance.6

There is a quote bandied about in discussions of child contact and child maintenance that says 'children aren't pay per view', as though children were nothing more than a possession to be passed about. As with Women's Aid campaign, Safe Contact Saves Lives, we need to stop talking about children as possessions and start talking about children's rights.7 Children have the right to live free from violence. Children also have the right to live outwith poverty.

The erasure of men's financial responsibility for their children, supported by government policy, is an absolute disgrace. It is, simply, state sanctioned child abuse. 

This is an excerpt from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy

Louise Pennington is a feminist writer and activist who works for the campaign organisation Everyday Victim Blaming, which challenges media misrepresentations of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. 


References:
 
1 Report: Missing Maintenance. Gingerbread: Single Parents, Equal Families. (June 2016). PDF: http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/uploads/media/17/9809.pdf
2 ‘Use the Child Maintenance Service or Child Support Agency’. https://www.gov.uk/child-maintenance/overview. Accessed 29.8.16.
3 ‘How we work out child maintenance: a step by step guide”. Child Maintenance Service. (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/325219/how-we-work-out-child-maintenance.pdf) Accessed 29.8.16.
4 Polly Toynbee. ‘Why the silence on the scandal of unpaid child maintenance?’. Guardian. (16.5.2016). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/16/silence-scandal-unpaid-child-maintenance?CMP=share_btn_tw. Accessed 19.5.2016.
5 Polly Toynbee. ‘Why the silence on the scandal of unpaid child maintenance?’. Guardian. (16.5.2016). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/16/silence-scandal-unpaid-child-maintenance?CMP=share_btn_tw. Accessed 19.5.2016.
6 Canada also includes the suspension of drivers licenses and passports as part of their maintenance enforcement programs. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/enforce-execution/pwo-pqp.html. Accessed 29.8.2016.

7 ‘Child First: Safe Contact Saves Lives’. Women’s Aid England/ Wales. https://www.womensaid.org.uk/childfirst/ Accessed 29.8.16