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Single Mother

The Emergence of the Domestic Intellectual

Jane Juffer

Publication Year: 2006

Long perceived as the ultimate symbol of social breakdown and sexual irresponsibility, the single mother is now, in the context of welfare-to-work policies, often hailed as the new spokesperson for hard work and self-sufficiency. A dozen years after Dan Quayle denounced the television character Murphy Brown for making the decision to become a single mother “just another lifestyle choice,” President George W. Bush applauded single mothers for “heroic work,” and positive on-screen representations of single mothers abound, from The Gilmore Girls to Sex and the City to American Idol.

Single Mother describes the recent cultural valorization of this figure that—in the midst of demographic changes in the U.S.—has emerged as the unlikely heroic and seductive voice of the new American family. Drawing on her own life as a single mother, interviews with dozens of other single mothers, cultural representations, and policies on welfare, immigration, childcare, and child custody, Juffer analyzes this contingent acceptance of single mothers. Finally, critiquing the relentless emphasis on self-sufficiency to the exclusion of community, Juffer shows the remarkable organizing skills of these new mothers of invention. At a moment when one-third of all babies are born to single moms, Single Mother is a fascinating and necessary examination of these new “domestic intellectuals.”

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I can’t remember when I decided to write this book. The plan must have emerged, gradually, over the last decade or so, in between or during trips to the park, the emergency room, the children’s library, the soccer field, and the take-out restaurants....

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Introduction. Domestic Intellectuals: Freedom and the Single Mom

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pp. 1-34

The year is 1992. On the campaign trail, Vice President Dan Quayle blames single mothers for the dissolution of family values. He derides Candace Bergen’s character Murphy Brown, a successful television anchorwoman, for flaunting fatherhood and making...

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part I. Keyword: Everyday Life

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pp. 35-44

Alex giggles his dark curly hair is almost shoulder length. He’s got on a Garfield the Cat shirt and a saggy cloth diaper. We’re unloading groceries from their plastic bags in the kitchen. He has developed his own game: he takes an item out of the bag, announces its name, and finds some place in the kitchen to...

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1. Representing the Single Mom(and Watching TV with Alex)

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pp. 45-76

In March 2004, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition featured Contessa Mendoza, a single mother of three children, owner of a small, dilapidated home in California. Mendoza is introduced as a twenty-seven-year-old social worker who...

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part II. Keyword: Spaces

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pp. 77-84

When Carmel Sullivan-Boss’s marriage fell apart after seventeen years, she lost her husband, her hopes for their happy future with a young son, and her house. Forced to relocate to Los Angeles to look for work, she found herself overcome with fear that...

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2. The Corporate University

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pp. 85-111

Critiques of the corporate university abound. These are sobering accounts of the increasing entanglement of universities with private corporations, the pressures on faculty to secure outside grants and then compromise their research in order to retain them,...

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3. The U.S.-Mexican Border

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pp. 112-143

Border woman/writer Gloria Anzaldúa describes the U.S.- Mexico border as “una herida abierta,” an open wound, “where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.” Yet it seems this bleeding is productive: “Before a scab forms it hemorrhages...

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4. Puerto Rican Chicago

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pp. 144-166

Gentrification lurks around the corner of Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Driving west on Division Street, one sees the signs—a yuppie bakery, an upscale restaurant, well-dressed people getting their Starbucks coffee before catching...

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part III. Keyword: Ethics

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pp. 167-172

The denunciation of single mothers has in the past relied on an intensely moral discourse of shame: the shame of getting pregnant “out of wedlock,” of not being able to support your baby, or having failed in your marriage...

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5. Mothers and Sons

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pp. 173-205

How does the son of a single mother become a successful man? It’s not easy, if you listen to a number of voices from across the political and social spectrum. In independent filmmaker John Singleton’s 1991...

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6. Choice

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pp. 206-236

“Choice” is the key word in Gloria Steinem’s explanation of why single mothers represent a threat to conservative forces as we enter the twenty-first century. On an Oxygen channel documentary on single mothers, Steinem says, “Positive choice is...

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Conclusion: From Identity Politics to Human Rights

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pp. 237-242

A cartoon reprinted in Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul shows two women, presumably both mothers, sitting at a kitchen table, drinking coffee. Says one mother to the other: “I’d like to get married again, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to get the ‘Single Parent and Proud of It’ bumper stickers off...


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pp. 243-248

Works Cited

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pp. 249-258


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pp. 259-266

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About the Author

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pp. 267

Jane Juffer is an associate professor of English and Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University, where she specializes in cultural studies, Latina/o studies, and feminist theory...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814743799
E-ISBN-10: 081474379X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814742792
Print-ISBN-10: 0814742793

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Single mothers -- United States.
  • Single mothers -- United States -- Public opinion.
  • Single mothers -- Government policy -- United States.
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