Thursday, April 15, 2010

J.K. Rowling: The Single Mother's Manifesto

J.K. Rowling, famed author of the Harry Potter books, recalls the 1990s, the days when she was a despised and stigmatized single mom in need of a friendly welfare state. Like many single moms, in both the U.K. and the U.S., J.K. Rowling has some very bad memories about the 1990s. As a despised and stigmatized single mom who lived in the U.S. during the 1990s, I can relate.

Very bad memories have something to do with why J.K. Rowling has never voted for a Tory. While Tories and Republicans seem equally horrendous to me, I cannot forget that here in the U.S., it was ultimately the Democrats who did the dirty work of shafting single moms via a welfare reform meant to punish women and bribe women to get to the chapel or else. But it's remarkable how pols in the U.K. and the U.S. use the same hateful talking points and policies against women. Oh wait, it's the patriarchy.

J.K. Rowling: The single mother's manifesto:

So here we are again, taking stock of where we are, and of where we would like to be, both as individuals and as a country. Personally, I keep having flashbacks to 1997, and not merely because of the most memorable election result in recent times. In January that year, I was a single parent with a four-year-old daughter, teaching part-time but living mainly on benefits, in a rented flat. Eleven months later, I was a published author who had secured a lucrative publishing deal in the US, and bought my first ever property: a three-bedroom house with a garden.

I had become a single mother when my first marriage split up in 1993. In one devastating stroke, I became a hate figure to a certain section of the press, and a bogeyman to the Tory Government. Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State at the DSS, had recently entertained the Conservative Party conference with a spoof Gilbert and Sullivan number, in which he decried “young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list”. The Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, castigated single-parent families from St Mellons, Cardiff, as “one of the biggest social problems of our day”. (John Redwood has since divorced the mother of his children.) Women like me (for it is a curious fact that lone male parents are generally portrayed as heroes, whereas women left holding the baby are vilified) were, according to popular myth, a prime cause of social breakdown, and in it for all we could get: free money, state-funded accommodation, an easy life.

An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help.