Jennifer Aniston’s new film, “Switch,” is a tale with a provocative beginning: a turkey baster. Her character in the movie uses artificial insemination to have a child alone. That’s right – alone. No boyfriend, no, girlfriend, no partner, no husband, no wife.
“Switch” is about a single mother (and, even though it is a love story, attempts to encompass the theme of choosing to be a mother, alone). For real. And that’s why Aniston did it. In a recent interview, she said:
“Love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere. That is what I love about this movie. It is saying it is not the traditional sort of stereotype of what we have been taught as a society of what family is.”
It’s important that we realize, firstly, that pregnancy, motherhood, and sexuality are closely related. The same gender injustices that plague the openly sexual, the sexually “deviant,” and those affected by sexual violence also impact our understanding and cultural perception of pregnant and parenting women.
And single mothers are always under attack: reports each day, month, and year blame children’s drug addictions, killing habits, and gang violence on single-parent families; the government is constantly snipping away at the economic security of women who aren’t dependent on men, but do need assistance (and recently cut diapers from the Food Stamps list); and now, Bill O’Reilly has some choice words for Aniston and “Switch.” According to ABC News, he thinks Aniston’s film is to blame for destroying the “American Family.”
In O’Reilly’s eyes, Aniston’s comments make her a threat to the American family.
“She’s throwing a message out to 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds that ‘Hey, you don’t need a guy. You don’t need a dad.’ That is destructive to our society,” he said on Tuesday’s “O’Reilly Factor.”
Fox News contributor Margaret Hoover and Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson chimed in on the topic, agreeing with O’Reilly that teens and tweens can’t understand the difference between a mature woman raising a child on her own (Aniston is 41) and a teen having a baby.
“She is glamorizing single parenthood,” Carlson said.
As usual, I’m going to break this down for you: Bill O’Reilly, a conservative white dude from who-cares-where America with a talk show and a sexual harassment suit under his belt, thinks that the film “Switch,” a light-hearted piece about single parenthood starring a fully adult woman, is going to destroy the American family, encourage teen pregnancy, and diminish the importance of fatherhood. He also asserted this while giving single moms about .05 percent of that screen time, filling it with lip service about how “abandoned” mothers do great things every day (presumably, like finding new husbands).
To that, I have much to say.
I was raised by a single mother from the age of four on. This has made me appreciate the importance of love in families, of close-knit and open families, of talking and of appreciating the ones you’re with. I am hardworking because my mother was hardworking, and how: she works a humble job and sent my brother and I to immensely prestigious private colleges, all with relatively no money or power to ease our growth. We grew up simple and humble. We studied hard and we had a lot of support and a strong sense of values. We are ambitious and intelligent. We stand head-and-shoulders above many of our peers from married families.
My father, on the other hand, is about as in-tune with my family as Bill O’Reilly himself. Normally, this isn’t something I talk about or throw out there, but it’s necessary now. Right now. Right when movies are finally being made that don’t show single mothers shooting drugs and fucking up their lives. Right when actresses who are single adults are unafraid to admit that they will still pursue families. Right when the stigma and shame of being a single parent remains threatened by people like Bill O’Reilly- by straight, white dudes who treat women like shit and want to ensure that all families make room for men, no matter how violent or unloving those men are.
Bill O’Reilly said that single mothers do great things. He was right. Single parents, and especially single mothers, do great things every day. But Bill O’Reilly doesn’t mean it, and he should. I’m interested in how many of the following things O’Reilly knows: that single mothers on welfare complete their Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, JD’s and Ph.D.’s every day; that single mothers feed entire families while working full-time jobs, often without a hitch; and that when there are hitches, single moms everywhere have proven, year after year and budget cuts after budget cuts, that they have no time to wait on anyone else, and that they will accomplish what they need to – no matter what the time spent, effort involved, or obstacles thrown.
As someone who has been working to empower women in her local communities for some time (not a long time, but certainly longer than Bill O’Reilly), it is hard for me to watch anyone incorrectly summarize what empowerment looks like. There are many routes to empowering women – especially single mothers, who are caught at many intersections of oppression.
For example, single mothers are going to be more likely to be poor than married women, no matter how many children those married women have. Why? The wage gap. If women are already paid less than men, how can women without men in their lives even dream of competing on equal footing? So we need economic empowerment: financial literacy, equal pay, flex-time, and family-friendly workplaces that do not punish working parents.
Similarly, teen mothers (who, unbeknownst to panelists on the O’Reilly Factor, become adult women in no time) face hurdles in completing their educations, and therefore often slip into poverty. So we need educational empowerment: equal access to educational resources, increased scholarships, outreach to women in non-traditional fields of interest, and networking opportunities for everyone in the working world.
Lastly, single mothers also need supports that all women, regardless of familial status, need: cultural equality, healthy and non-violent relationships, workplaces that embrace female leadership, and full equality under the law.
It is hard to believe that “Switch” will actually destroy the American Family, but it may change some minds. It is giving single mothers a voice, and it may alter the way we, as a culture, perceive women who raise children by themselves. It may help us understand their unique situations and it will finally give people everywhere the chance to applaud their accomplishments. And that, I daresay, is not dangerous. Rather, I think it is very important.
It is also hard to believe that “Switch” is going to convince anyone that fatherhood is unimportant. It is hard to believe women at any time in our current economic and cultural state will choose to embark on a road of discrimination and oppression that is known as “single parenthood.” But it is just as hard to imagine that the problems women face have a solution called “fathers” or “husbands.” The solution is empowerment, and the ability to be heard.
Bill O’Reilly may work for a television network, but he’s tuned out to the realities of single motherhood – and it’s offensive.