Demeter Press, 386 pages, June 2016
Review by Heather Jackson
Motapanyane has put together a tremendous collection that focuses on differing perspectives of single motherhood. As someone who was a teenage mother and is now a single mother and has also done research on motherhood, I found this to be a thoughtful and refreshing collection. The collection tends to focus on first person single mother experiences, but it was also empathetic in a way that research has not been before. Each author is careful to own their experience and not generalize it toward other single mothers. While most of the topics have already been researched in relation to single motherhood, such as race, age, class, sexuality, geography, it’s an important collection to be taken seriously. It is thought provoking, challenging, yet at the same time, it provides a form of unique and welcome empathy toward single mothers and their experiences.
The first section, Discourse, Media, and Representation, is thorough. Daniel Russell’s take on Katniss Everdeen’s role as a single mother in the Hunger Games trilogy was thoughtful. Russell effectively described how Everdeen was forced into the role of being a single mother to her sister. This role conflicted with established notions of gender, relationships, and family as Everdeen had to navigate different dynamics with her family and friends and take on a role she was not prepared for or planned on having. The other chapters are unique amongst current research such as single motherhood in Hollywood and single mother roles in crime and apocalyptic TV shows.
The second section, The Experiential, was influenced by the very different perspectives of individual single mothers and was explored through their stories, feelings, and thoughts. Ellen Hauser’s take on societal blame of single mothers was enlightening. Frustration was building as I read the chapter; Hauser discussed the single mother who was blamed and charged for her son’s suicide, the historic demonization of single mothers, and the rhetoric of conservative social commentator, Ann Coulter. The other chapters articulate the process of adopting a child of color as a white single mother academic, moving across seas and traveling as a young single mom, and the heterosexism of single motherhood research and reactions to lesbian mothers. This section forced me to contemplate on my own experience as a single mother and validated how hard we really do work. While at times single motherhood is exhausting and overwhelming, it can also be a source of activism and change.
Finally, the third section is Policy, Resistance, and Activism. As an activist, I was excited to see this addition to the collection. It was informative because the chapters discussed policy and research in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Germany. There is also a theme of criticism of capitalism and neoliberalism. This section had exciting stories of single mothers doing important activist work. Nakagawa discusses various groups around the USA that single mothers have started and joined to resist and fight against the policies and inadequacies of the social welfare system. Many of these groups help women locally and nationally. The other chapters in the section continue to focus on single mothers as an oppressed group through policy and society, but point out the various ways single mothers have resisted and been successful.
Overall, the collection effectively united research, personal narratives, and theory that are much needed for the study of motherhood. Not only does the collection bring a breath of fresh air to this research field, it also tackles the challenges and triumphs of single motherhood. I was impressed how each author acknowledged their experiences and privileges as unique to themselves and shared a very open awareness of this. Research and academia are privileged and can be exclusionary. This collection is educational and thoughtful and I did not get a sense of carelessness or disregard. Academics, students, professionals, and parents should read this collection; it is an important and much needed book.