Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Enough of the 'Naughty Sex' Explanations for Poverty

If you go and watch the 30 days episode that I recommended yesterday, "Minimum Wage," you too can mull over one of Spurlock's insights: the reason that so many families living below the poverty level fall apart is because of the stress of living in constant crisis. Yes, there are a lot of single mothers living below the poverty level. There are less traditional families living the working poor, minimum wage earning, lifestyle that Spurlock and his girlfriend tried to live.

If you peruse any Wingnut publication, you are bound to find some stentorian blowhard point to out of wedlock births as the #1 reason for poverty. In fact, this is the common right winger and libertarian conservative explanation for why Black people are poor. It is a brilliant rhetorical move. It takes an issue (poverty) that really isn't about who is fucking who and makes it all about immoral sex. It works for a couple of reasons: (1) no one wants to really take a look at how complicated poverty is (e.g. the real roots, the policy blunders, the greed of corporations); (2) if people did take a look at how complicated poverty is, it might (guess what!) implicate YOU; (3) and, it's an American sport to get on the moralizing bandwagon, to demonize those who are struggling and blame them for their situation.

But, Spurlock makes a good point: being poor, living from pay check to pay check, not having enough money to have a life outside of just surviving--this is some stressful shit. How many couples fight about money as it is? Try living in an extremely stressful situation. It's almost impossible. Even during the 30 days that Spurlock and his girlfriend tried the lifestyle, they fought a lot about pennies.

So, you see, the reason why there are so many single parents struggling below the poverty level cannot be wholly explained by naughty sex. Everytime a Wingnut makes that argument, it makes me want to scream. Not only is it moralistic, which I HATE. But, it is just stupid. And, frankly, that is what really insults me about these arguments: they never deal with data, with studies, nor are they built from real stories and real experiences of people. They are trite, hate-mongering platitudes and they serve the ultimate agenda of those who put them forward: to not have to give a damn about their fellow human beings.

Today the NYTimes ran another one of their "trend stories" on how most women will spend half of their adult life outside of marriage. The gist of the story is that women find themselves much happier and fulfilled outside of marriage. The story features mostly upper-class women and hence says little about why so many women with less means choose not to marry. The article does feature Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, who tries to point out the pointlessness of conservative policies to strengthen marriage:

“Although we can help people ‘do’ marriage better, it is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage,” said Professor Coontz, the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

Yet, overall, I think the article misses the point. Many marriages break apart because people are just struggling to make it. They don't have enough stability to weather difficult times; they lack support networks. Again, living in constant crisis: worrying about how to pay for medical bills, make rent, paying utilities, these things will eat away at even the best of us.

While I am no banner carrier for traditional marriage, I do think the Times can do better at making sense of why women don't marry--outside of the privileged women's reasons.