This compelling book destroys the derogatory images of single mothers that too often prevail in the media and in politics by creating a rich, moving, multidimensional picture of who these women really are. Ruth Sidel interviewed mothers from diverse races, ethnicities, religions, and social classes who became single through divorce, separation, widowhood, or who never married; none had planned to raise children on their own. Weaving together these women’s voices with an accessible, cutting-edge sociological and political analysis of single motherhood today, Unsung Heroines introduces a resilient, resourceful, and courageous population of women committed to their families, holding fast to quintessential American values, and creating positive new lives for themselves and their children. What emerges from this penetrating study is a clear message about what all families—two-parent as well as single parent—must have to succeed: decent jobs at a living wage, comprehensive health care, and preschool and after-school care. In a final chapter, Sidel gives a broad political-economic analysis that provides historical background on the way American social policy has evolved and compares the situation in the U.S. to the social policies and ideologies of other countries.
1. Moving Beyond Stigma
2. Genuine Family Values
4. Resilience, Strength, and Perseverance
5. “Everybody Knows My Grandma”: Extended Families and Other Support Networks
6. “I Have to Do Something with My Life”: Derailed Dreams
7. “I Really, Really Believed He Would Stick Around”: Conflicting Conceptions of Commitment
8. An Agenda for the Twenty-first Century: Caring for All Our Families
Ruth Sidel, Professor of Sociology at Hunter College, is author of many books including Keeping Women and Children Last: America’s War on the Poor (revised edition, 1998) and On Her Own: Growing Up in the Shadow of the American Dream (1990).
"This pioneering new study by Ruth Sidel is an education for the nation. Sidel shatters all the old familiar negative myths and harsh stereotypes about single mothers, and gives us instead the unvarnished truth about their diverse lives, their courageous struggles to raise their children, and their genuine family values—values they share with millions of other Americans. Many of the larger patterns Sidel identifies—the constant search for a fair balance between work and family, the endless quest for decent jobs and fair pay and good schools and affordable health care—apply to all families as well. Hopefully, this excellent and eloquent volume will act as a wake-up call, and wiser federal, state, and local policies will enable many, many more of these hard-working mothers to find light at the end of the tunnel. This book offers a unique opportunity for every reader to walk in the shoes of single mothers and help find that light."—Senator Edward M. Kennedy
"Ruth Sidel's dramatic life histories of single mothers make a revealing point: These mothers, especially the poor ones among them, work far harder and act more responsibly than some two parent families. They have to, because their and their children's survival depends on it. Perhaps they are America's true Supermoms."—Herbert J. Gans, author of Making Sense of America
"This is a beautiful work of narrative, interwoven with mature reflections, on the courage and resilience of single mothers and the dangerous stereotypes and structural injustices by which their lives are made so difficult in our society. Ruth Sidel is a sensitive listener, and it is this gift which brings forth so much eloquence and piercing honesty from those who share their stories in this strong and stirring book."—Jonathan Kozol, author of The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America
"Few readers will be untouched by the pain, loss and disrupted lives, but also the enormous strengths Sidel uncovers as these women struggle to rise above the debilitating stigma and mean-spirited penalties meted out to single mothers, especially those without means. Thoughtful, sympathetic and well-researched, Unsung Heroines is absolutely required reading for anyone working with single mothers and especially for the nation's leaders who shape public policy."—Mimi Abramovitz, author of Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy From Colonial Times to the Present
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