Gestation Anxiety: the othering of intentional single motherhood

“Maverick Mother” is playing on SBS tomorrow, Friday February 1, at 10 pm. (on XY Doc).


“Brave stuff”.


ABC’s Life Matters has this to say about Janet Merewether’s autodocumentary, “Maverick Mother”. Did Merewether climb Mt Everest? Take her kids cave-diving? Trek through a war zone with a baby on her back? Refuse chemotherapy for a child with cancer?

No, she chose to mother without a man in charge.

From the interview:

“Acknowledging that perhaps you’re not in the right relationship and that you have to actually take an active step to separate the idea of a relationship and the idea of a child – it takes quite a long time.”

“The biology wouldn’t wait … and I had to try and make the decision myself.”

More from Merewether, from the SBS forum blurb:

“It is a sign of ultimate reproductive independence for women. […] The film interrogates the nature of “family” in contemporary western society and contemplates the past, present and future concepts of solo motherhood, and the attitudes of women who, rather than being “left on the shelf” by men because they are too smart, too funny, too ugly, too talented or too independent, embrace their own sexuality and fertility to immerse themselves in life’s greatest love and greatest challenge.”

The issue of choice pervades the buzz around this film. Women making decisions for themselves. Women having options, and taking them[2].

Women have been raising children for rather a long time now. But someone actually choosing such a thing? Society is taken aback and more than a little disapproving at the shocking courage and independence of single-mothers-by-choice (SMBC). Despite being just like me and you (and I know at least some of “you” are SMBC), independent mothers are being strenuously Othered. I can hear the media machine gearing up to make absolutely sure that we know that being a SMBC is novel, weird, out there, and a consummation devoutly to be avoided.

I’m guessing the usual suspects will drum up a flapping freak-out about this as soon as they can. Actually choosing to be a family without a father (as opposed to the father abandoning them or fleeing, as in the natural order of things)? Unthinkable! While single mothers who have been buffeted by circumstance are to be pitied, patronised, and reluctantly supported (unless they’re women of colour of course); women who choose their own path in life are to be feared and disparaged. And the silent root of the moral panic will be that cold feeling in the pit of their stomachs, the creeping whispering horror of the thought that maybe, just maybe, women don’t actually desperately need men.

Why should that thought create fear, however? Why is women’s need, dependence, and helplessness so important to them? Because they can’t envisage a world in which some, perhaps many, women and men might choose each other, or not, and in which these various alternatives are equal in status. In which partnerships are negotiated and egalitarian. In which gender doesn’t matter. In which no one is boss and no one is subordinate. In which people have real reproductive choice – in all directions.

No. The people who panic about this, deep deep down in their hearts, believe that if women have a real choice, a viable alternative – they won’t choose men.

They think that if they lift the boot for just a second: a gleeful, triumphant lesbian separatism will take over the world.

This is why they strive to keep us poor.

[1] Sorry, no film stills; this is a random photo of my son.

[2] In the end, while going through the process of choosing single motherhood, Merewether conceived in a one-night stand. The actual conception wasn’t planned – but she had and did make a choice to mother alone. Yes, the father has been told and has been offered parental involvement.

Categories: gender & feminism, social justice

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3 replies

  1. At times I have found mothering extremely difficult so I take my hat off to anyone who does it single handedly whether by choice or by circumstance. People who knock single mothers don’t know how hard it is.
    Mindy’s last blog post..For Battle Royale

  2. What gets me is that the choice that Merewether made has been made by many other women.
    The first SMBC I knew was when I came to Sydney to go to uni in 1982: she wanted to be a parent, and chose not to wait for a committed relationship to arrive to sanction her parenthood. The kid was about four when I lodged with her, and seemed to be thriving. She knew several others in the same situation.
    That others seem so shocked by the choice, still, is a good enough reason to make the film, but I doubt that Merewether herself is under any delusion that she’s pioneering anything new here.

  3. tigtog: Absolutely. I think it is in conservatives’ interests to paint it as a novel phenomenon, because then they get to panic about it and point the finger at feminists for killing the “natural family” and causing the moral decay of society.
    Mmm. Is anyone else considering a Traditional Family Values bingo card now? I don’t know if I can bear to go looking for material, though. Might start a new thread.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Supporting an apology

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