What I found most surprising in Iris Young’s analysis (“Making Single Motherhood Normal,” Winter 1994) is the radical disconnection between her policy proposals and the constraints and possibilities of our current situation. She calls for “massive increases in state support for child care” when state budgets are strapped, cutbacks are being ordered across the board, and new initiatives in health care will gobble up whatever additional revenues are available. (Presumably she supports universal health care and favors moves in that direction.) She calls for “public policy” to dispel any notion of “normality” in family structure. But, surely, we have already conducted that experiment and it has failed. It has failed for the very people it was designed to help—single mothers and their children. I will offer up evidence on this score—evidence Young systematically overlooks.
She calls for states to “force men” to “pay child support for children they have recognized as theirs.” She claims men shouldn’t be let off the hook where their responsibilities are concerned. But her formulation continues to put the onus for child-rearing and child “recognition,” if you will, on women. In fact, startlingly, her argument is a call for a return to a particularly rigid form of “separate spheres,” something I thought feminists had a strong stake in criticizing and reforming. Once again we are in a world of “women and children only,” where a woman can do it all by herself, thank you. A man could easily bypass Young’s requirement by refusing to recognize a child as “his.” Who is to compel this recognition if the institutional framework within which it has taken place historically—the two-parent family—has been entirely dismantled as a “norm” or “ideal” of any sort? There are no “fathers” or “daddies” in Young’s universe with direct, daily responsibility for child care and family sustenance, something not reducible to a paycheck. Still, Young would “encourage” men to “involve themselves in close relationships with children, not necessarily their biological offspring.” How? Why? What institutional forms will nurture and sustain such relationships? Are we to see forlorn bands of disconnected men roaming neighborhoods, knocking on doors, and asking if there is a baby inside they can “bond” with for a few hours? Young’s rhetorical demolition of what she takes to be onerous tradition combined with her wholly abstract, vague pleas for connection and responsibility shows us again that politics of denunciation and sentimentalism that undermined much of 1960s radicalism. (I know: I was there.)