Initial Reaction To NWNW
**caveat** I was raised in a 2-parent home. I’m 22, and my parents have been married for 23 years now. I am abstaining until marriage and I do not intend to have children outside of marriage. I was also born into the middle-class.
My initial reaction to No Wedding No Womb was an intense curiosity. I wondered if marriage was really the empowering choice for Black women whose partners had already proven themselves to be less than responsible. I also wondered if men will be held accountable for their role in the rates of out-of-wedlock children.
I saw the intention- to emphasize the worth of every black woman, but I worried that the execution would shame unmarried/single Black mothers. After all, you cannot shame Black women into functional and loving marriages. As much as I would love to see all children born into loving homes headed by two parents who love each other and are committed to each other, I recognize that this is not the norm. Yes, Black women and their partners (assuming heteronormative here, as there was only one submission that addressed LGBTQI perspectives on #NWNW it was entitled No Wedding No Womb: What about Queer Parents?) need to make responsible choices regarding reproduction and childrearing. But the onus does not rest entirely on the Black woman. It takes two to tango. Even though I am a Christian and I desire to be married, not everyone sees marriage as desirable- and not everyone is a Christian.
I understand the desire to see more Black women married- especially if they are mothers- but marriage is not necessarily safety. I’ve seen others suggest that abusive or otherwise deficient fathers are worse than being fatherless. I’m not sure that this is true. The damage wrought by an absent father is comparable, in some ways, to the damage wrought by divorce. We cannot ignore the specter of divorce. In the United States, on average, half of all marriages end in divorce. Marriage is not necessarily safety.
As a Christian, I hold fast to marriage as a covenant, a model of the relationship between Christ and the Church. A godly marriage is one of mutual sacrifice, where the individual will is subjected to the collective good of the union. Husbands are called to lay down their lives for their wives, and wives are called to submit to and respect their husbands [Yes, this is heteronormative]. First Corinthians 7 talks about the reciprocity of a marriage between a man and a woman (verses 3-5):
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
You can read the rest at the link.
My last blog post, entitled A Waxen Love In The Sun + Musings weighed the consequences of unequally yoked unions. In a much earlier entry, I talked about abstinence and the virtue of chastity. I myself am abstinent, and plan to remain such until I marry. My choice to abstain is an exercise of will, and in my experience, it is empowering to exercise my agency. I would love to see more women do the same, but I won’t prosetylize about the virtue of chastity. I’ve passed that phase of my life where I feel the need to “convert” others to my ways and belief systems. The best I can do is model a godly life, transparently and honestly. I will fall short. I’m not perfect by any measure.
The “slut-shaming” I witnessed on the #NWNW hashtag and @mdotwrites‘ 2008 “If You Want to Change Society, Close Your Legs” made me consider and ask why so much influence and power is ascribed to women’s sexuality, yet women themselves are disempowered simultaneously. While I do hold the opinion that, as human beings, our reproductive abilities are like power- to be used carefully & in the appropriate contexts. We cannot absolve the men who impregnate Black women on sexist bases without finding ourselves in a conundrum? Barring rape (forced, non-consensual sexual activity), we can assume mutual consent on the part of both parents, BUT obviously, a woman (cis) will carry the resulting child for 9 months- if she chooses to do so.
Appealing to the Well-Being of our Children
All of these appeals to the well-being of children- which is more costly? Divorce, fatherlessness, or both? Strong marriages are key. Marriage does not necessarily provide security in itself. Marriage is a covenant, it takes work. It’s not a salve for social ills. Marriage, the ideal, is the combination of economic and emotional stability that a child prescriptively needs. However, marriage in practice falls far short of the ideal.
The Importance of Community Building
I saw a quote on Twitter once that asked whether those who destroy communities have more or less power than those who build communities. It got me thinking- why are grassroots movements on the community level so tenacious? Think about it- leaves of grass thrive in nuclear wastelands and human communities are reconstituted after great devastations.
The “problem” of out-of-wedlock pregnancies isn’t simply caused by the devaluation of Black womanhood, or the devaluation of marriage. A bigger problem to look at is the lack of societal, communal and familial support for mothers. Regardless of marital status, mothers require a support base because the gendered division of labor places the burden mostly on women. Women still make less than their male counterparts (see my post entitled: Some Thoughts on the Gender Pay Gap in the US). Let’s face it, we still live in a patriarchal society that disproportionately overvalues men to the detriment of women. Women’s work (at least the gendered work) is devalued and treated as unproductive labor because it does not add immediate value to a capitalist market. The economic disparity persists regardless, cementing gendered differences in society.
Marriage is not the panacea for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and children. When you have generational patterns of single parenting, dysfunctional marriages, and children never see a model of a healthy, loving marriage in their formative years, we cannot expect to change their views without a community movement. If we’re going to talk about marriage, let’s also address how premarital cohabitation is correlated with higher rates of divorce.
What can we do to move toward more functional and loving marriages? I envision mentor networks of Black women and men from all socio-economic statuses and all walks of life. I envision mentor-mentee relationships within churches and other community institutions that effectively empower and support single mothers, and single fathers. Boys who do not have a present father figure can find a mentor in a (well-vetted) member of their community, while girls in similar situations are paired with families headed by married parents. Hopefully, this would foster an open dialogue about self-esteem, sexuality, marriage and parenthood. Also, I have accessible marital counseling for married couples and premarital counseling for dating and engaged coupes in mind. We cannot call for more marriages without providing the support necessary for flourishing marriages.
Classism + (Hetero)Sexism
What is the most common image of the promiscuous Black woman in the media? Is she seen as low-class? Socio-economic status plays a role- working-class Black women’s promiscuity is more frowned upon than their middle-class counterparts. I discuss the 4 major representations of Black women in a blog post entitled Under the Pear Tree: Some Thoughts on Zora Neale Hurston and Womanism. Certainly OOW pregnancies are costlier economically and socially for working-class women, but the classism is inexcusable. The embedded assumption that lack of material wealth correlates to lack of virtue or moral standing is an assumption that predates “the Black community” in the United States.
I’m certain that a hetero(cis)sexist movement will not fully address OOW pregnancies among African-Americans. The assumption that most Black women who have children out of wedlock are heterosexual is a spurious one. We canot sidestep the issue that for most Black and gay Americans, marriage is a dream. Most women are heterosexual, but not all. Additionally, the biggest adopters of Black children in the foster care system are older Black women- many of whom are single. And we’ve yet to address the systemic criminalization and undereducation of Black males- especially working-class Black males [for one aspect, see Facts and Statistics: The War on Drugs]
No Wedding No Womb: Just a Catchy Phrase?
The slogan certainly caught my eye. It centered the Black woman’s role in the debate surrounding out-of-wedlock children. On one hand, this makes sense, but on the other hand, the erasure- or rather, the conspicuous absence of Black men (not to mention Black lesbians…) from the discussion was telling. If I had to estimate, there were 4-5 men for every 100 women tweeting about #NWNW. I know that at least 1 was a dissenting voice- and he was the product of a stable 2-parent home- thus rendering spurious any suppositions that he opposed #NWNW because it was foreign to his own experiences.
In my Twitter timeline, #NoSpermNoFetus gained momentum also. The hashtag served as a critique of the gendered dialogue of #NWNW. “No Wedding No Womb” clearly targets cisgendered Black women. If the title serves to be provocative it succeeded, but the conflation of gender with physiology is troubling. A woman should not be reduced to her parts- not even metaphorically. I know it’s salient and eye-catching and succinct, but it is problematic.
I’m going to leave this unfinished, but these were my other thoughts on the matter:
- How do we discuss marriage and OOW pregnancies among African-Americans without shaming those who make different choices?
- The problem isn’t necessarily that African-American women aren’t marrying, the problem is that there is a lack of support for mothers
- Addressing OOW pregnancies among African-Americans takes more than demanding weddings. Address the devaluation of Black womanhood
- address the ways in which Black masculinity undermines the agency of Black women. Address the objectification of Black women in media
- Let’s not forget Black women who marry/date interracially. I’m seeing a lot of assumptions of intraracial unions
- http://ow.ly/2Iqf8 So, The irony that this#NWNW is linked to the 148th anniv of the emancipation Proclamation is just gonna slide by?
- Why should children be marked socially because they were born outside of marriage? I struggle with this. Just as undocumented workers aren’t “illegal” children born out of wedlock are not “illegitimate.” They are human beings subject to circumstance. Can’t choose where you’re born.
- Also, we cannot ignore the inherent classism- the failure to look at how education level/attainment affects rates of marriage: http://pewsocialtrends.org/pubs/750/new-economics-of-marriage (H/T Vizionhiery)