Single Parent Families and Stereotypes
When I was younger, a dear friend of mine complimented me saying that “I am impressed with what you have accomplished.” He then added, especially considering you came from a broken home.” I was flattered by the compliment and flustered by the added sentiment. It took me a minute to understand and process what he had said. At that time and at any time since I had never thought of myself as coming from a broken home. Sure, my home was different from other people’s, but whose wasn’t. I had friends whose parents hated each other. I had friends whose parents were wealthy. I had friends with five children. I had friends who were the only child of an overprotective family. I never saw my family as any different than how each of these families were different. For today’s WEblog Wednesday I would like to highlight the work of one of my former students, Brooke Pischke. In her blog she argues that single parent families are an overlooked and stereotyped cultural group. My friend had no idea that he was communicating a stereotype in his compliment, one I’ve always disagreed with and never forgotten.
Single Parent Families and Stereotypes
by Brooke Pischke
Single parent families are a stereotyped culture because they deviate from the nuclear family. Even though they compose “approximately 13.7 million”(Wolf, 2011) of our society, the single parent family structure but can be viewed as a minority due to their lack of power based upon their co-cultural group membership, their low level of privilege along with their out-group identity.
Co-Cultural Group Membership
Best described as a group of people who congregate together based on their cultural similarities, co-cultural group membership typically tends to resemble “a person’s belonging to a non-dominant group” therefore they are essentially “ignored and deemed part of the underclass” (Orbe, p. 235). Those with membership to co-cultural groups are typically from a non-dominant group that can be comprised of “people of color, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, people with disabilities and those from lower socioeconomic status” (Orbe, p. 235).
Single parent families are a non-dominant group that is marginalized by prominent societal structures. In this case, the predominant societal structure can be recognized as the traditional familial structure of the nuclear family which is defined as “a group of people who are united by ties of partnership and parenthood and consisting of a pair of adults and their socially recognized children” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
The nuclear family has been accepted as a norm in society. Thus, all other familial structures that deviate from this norm automatically comprise a co-cultural group based upon a unity of otherness where “individuals are deemed to have deviated from the culture standard” (Yep, p. 204). In the case of single parent families, “approximately 84% of custodial parents are mothers” (Wolf, 2011). Since women are defined as apart of a non-dominant group, the fact that they are also the majority of single parents further suggests them membership in this co-cultural group.
Even though single parent families do not occupy the majority and are often at times “powerless within the predominant societal structures, group members do not function less effectively” (Orbe, p. 237). This contrasts the stereotypes used by political commentator, Ann Coulter. In her book Guilty, Coulter blames single parent families for societies shortcomings saying, “The strongest predictor of whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent” (Garfinkle). Even though according to the 2009 census only 27% of single custodial mothers live in poverty, Coulter associates poverty with single parent families and with a high crime rate. This communicates and, in doing so, reinforces the majority stereotype against the non-dominant group of single-parent families.
Power and Privilege
Privilege is best defined as “a frequently invisible and normalized process whereby a person is granted more value and given better treatment solely based on this individual’s membership in a group” (Yep, p. 210). More often than not, privilege is granted regardless of something a person or cultural group has “done or failed to do” (Yep, p. 210). Often at times, society unconsciously creates privilege that lacks true substance known as conferred dominance, thus absent-mindedly encouraging the creation of stereotypes. Through society’s eyes, the nuclear family is regarded as the norm and as a result is conferred dominance. Single parent families deviate from the norm simply because their children are raised by only one care provider.
Privilege gains its strength from this hierarchy of power in which single parent families are viewed as underprivileged and less powerful than nuclear families. Essentially, single parent families become an oppressed group within society because of the conferred dominance attributed to nuclear families. Because power is conferred on nuclear families, they receive privileges as a result. One of these privileges is avoiding the negative stereotypes like that which was communicated by Coulter.
In-groups and Out-groups
One can say that the implementations of power, privilege and group membership are hinged upon the enactment of in-groups and out-groups in society. For starters, “an in-group is a social category or group with which you identify strongly” whereas “an out-group, conversely, is a social category or group with which you do not identify” (Giles, p. 105). In the case of familial structure, society deems the nuclear family as the in-group since it maintains the majority and single parent families as the out-group since it is viewed as representing a minority.
Society portrays single parent families as the out-group by, for example, using them as a scapegoat for society’s shortcomings. In the book “Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts and What Helps”, McLanahan says that single parent families negatively impact a child’s educational achievement as well as increase the risk of teenage pregnancy. Being apart of an in-group or an out-group, Giles says, “there is a direct correlation between your identification with a particular group” and as a result, there is a greater sense of personal worth associated with that identification (p. 107). Society’s derogatory association of single parent families as underachievers (in McLanahan’s case) or as minorities fosters the erroneous belief that this culture is not as worthy as the rest.
Being the victim of a stereotype is never pleasant but by sharing this side of the story one is able to understand that coming from a single parent family is not a handicap but rather is constructed as a handicap by how people communicate about this group. A single parent family is simply a difference in family dynamic and nothing more. Due to their non-dominant group membership, lack of privilege through power along with their out-group identity, single parent families are identified as minorities even though this stereotype does not define this culture’s true potential.
Giles, H., & Giles, J. (in press). Privilege and culture. In A. Kurylo (Ed.), Inter/Cultural Communication: Representation and Construction of Culture in Everyday Interaction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wolf, J. Single Parent Statistics – Figures on Kids Being Raised By One Adult. Single Parents | Child Support and Child Custody | Help for Single Moms and Dads. United States Census Department, 26 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2011.