Scarlet letter effect: evidence of a single mother narrative
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date14/06/2023
Andrada, Amy V.
The thesis examines the stigmatization of American middle-class single mothers. In doing so, the research questions the extent to which being unpartnered as a mother influences stigmatizing experiences. Furthermore, as the work centers on privileged (middle-class) single mothers, it also disentangles arguments of stigma from socioeconomic status, socioeconomic status from lone motherhood, and singledom from single motherhood. The thesis illustrates that stigma is a personal and social consequence produced by cultural and structural inequalities linked to the construction of womanhood. As such, stigma among middle-class single mothers results from being unpartnered as women, thus challenging economics as a rationale for their stigma. Due to the complexities and dimensions of the research focus, narrative analysis was used to capture women's stories as they navigated single motherhood. Thus, the thesis presents a meta-narrative of the single mother narrative, detailing the various phases of middle-class lone motherhood. Collectively, the phases of disruption, resolution, and repair illustrate the stigmatization of these mothers. As the disruption phase centers on self-stigma, it captures how single mothers use the narrative of biographies to navigate or respond to their experiences of stigma. In doing so, lone mothers drew from historical and personal biographies to assess the ‘single mother’ stereotype. As a result of these influences, combined with their unhealthy/undesired romantic partnerships, mothers rationalized their choice to select single motherhood as an act of agency, thereby establishing the ‘beginning’ of the single mother narrative. As a result of selecting lone motherhood, mothers entered the resolution phase or ‘setting’ of the single mother narrative. As the work focuses on social stigma, detailed through various social levels of interactions, this phase captured how lone mothers used narratives of resistance (denying, challenging, or abstaining) as strategies in responding to their stigma. In doing so, the phase details how lone mothers experienced 'resource poverty' as a product of their lone motherhood. And finally, as single mothers’ ‘end’ their narratives, the work closes with the repair phase, intended to repair their damaged identities as mothers and women. In doing so, repair narratives illustrate lone mothers' strategies to project and resolve their single mother narrative. And though these narratives focused on repairing a damaged self, single mother outcomes demonstrate that despite the ways women attempted to alleviate their stigma, each ‘result’ ultimately ends with women being denied full agency—evidencing the limitations of cultural and structural influences upon their trajectories as lone mothers. Ultimately, these phases of the single mother narrative evidence how single mothers experience the ‘scarlet letter effect,’ or the stigmatization of single mothers. In doing so, the work stands as a testament to stigma management, performance, and identity (re)construction inherited from a ‘legacy of injustice' often extending beyond the personal to embody an existence defined by deviant positionality and resistance.