The XX Factor

Weird New York Times Op-Ed Tries to Make Conservative Single Mothers a Thing

Are the small percentages of single mothers who vote Republican the wave of the future? No, but that fantasy scenario was enough for Molly Worthen to write a misleading trend piece for the New York Times this weekend, in which she interviews a handful of the single mothers who do vote Republican—well, and one who votes for Democrats because otherwise her panel would be completely white—and argues that these outliers represent some kind of deep cultural rejection of liberalism.

Worthen admits that three-quarters of single mothers voted for Obama but wants very much to believe that the other quarter says something profound about the pull conservatism has over the public. “The single mothers who reject the politics of their peers,” she writes, “tell us something about the limits of the liberal effort to redefine cultural ideals.”

Worthen makes many of the false assumptions that are common to conservative pieces on single moms, such as overestimating how much more social welfare they use than the rest of us and assuming unmarried mothers are single, when plenty of them have partners. But what really makes this piece so special is that Worthen’s proof of a turning tide are a motley crew of rather strange-sounding people. For instance, there’s the woman whose revulsion at being a “single mother” has convinced her that she’s not actually in that demographic at all:

Evangelicals are assuring single moms that God has a plan for them, and it still includes marriage — just not in the way they expected. Rita Viselli found herself pregnant at age 35 with the child of a man she was casually dating. She was a recovering drug addict, the troubled daughter of a single mother herself, and a recent convert to evangelical Christianity. In 2000 she began a Bible study for single mothers in her living room in Southern California. She taught them what she had realized: “I have a husband. His name is Jesus Christ. I have decided that he will be my daughter’s father, and she has grown up being told that God is her father. He is real in our house,” she told me. “He has provided for me and my child better than 10 husbands could have.”

Reads less “heart-warming example of traditional family values” and more “comical representation of how religious conservatives can bend themselves into pretzels trying to reconcile their ideals with reality.”

Then there’s the one non-Christian example Worthen drummed up, who inspires more terror than pity:

Sharon Secor is “a minarchist libertarian, an anarchist who acknowledges that there is a small role for government,” she told me. Her views owe much to a history of nasty encounters with the state, from adolescent trauma in the foster care system to more recent run-ins with Child Protective Services. A college dropout who has read deeply in history and psychology, she fled upstate New York for South Texas with her three daughters. There she could home-school without state interference. She earns a living as a freelance copywriter and is writing a survivalist cookbook.

Watch out Democrats.

Worthen wants you to admire these conservative single mothers for rejecting feminism as “a cult of self-love that denies women’s basic yearning, not to be free, but to be secure.” Unfortunately, with examples like these, her piece ends up accidentally portraying conservatism as an ideology for people who just like to vote their fantasies. The other three-quarters of single mothers that vote D aren’t portrayed in this piece at all, but one can’t help but think they must seem like sensible people by comparison.