Micro-Aggressions and Single Mothers

Micro-aggressions – the many little devaluing and disrespectful verbal interactions and injustices that are almost too small to identify, but accumulate to make the recipient feel judged, undermined and demoralised. Sound familiar? I think for many single mothers, it will.

Last week I was delighted to attend the Women’s Policy Action Tank which aimed to put women in the centre of policy development. It was an amazing array of cross-sector panels, new research and helpful insights, much of which is very relevant to CSMC’s work with single mothers. Still fresh in my CEO role, I was very proud to be representing CSMC and heartened by the response I received from supporters of CSCM in the community sector.

Dr Kristin Natalier’s research into micro-aggressions really struck a chord with me. Kristin’s work has centred on single mothers on concession cards, who are the primary users of our support services.

There are three types of micro-aggressions:

  • Micro-assaults – often deliberately discriminatory or unhelpful comments, for example representing single mothers are bad mothers;
  • Micro-invalidations – negating the lived realities of a group, such as implying the single mothers run out of money because they waste it, rather than the reality that there just isn’t enough;
  • Micro-insults – demeaning and undermining interactions that are obviously rude or insulting.

These many small negative interactions serve to remind low income single mothers, or other marginalised groups, that money and power are bound together in ways that disadvantage them, and cumulatively represent the underlying systematic power inequalities. Ultimately, women’s sense of self and confidence becomes eroded, and individually and collectively, single mothers are devalued.

What can you do, upon receiving such behaviour? You can counter them directly in conversation, if possible, with a statement like “That’s not my experience, and it’s not the experience of many other single mothers”, or by using phrases or asking questions such as:

  • I’ve experienced the opposite…
  • I’m not sure that reflects my experiences…
  • I would disagree with that…
  • Who have you talked to about that?
  • Do you think there are other opinions about that?*

It’s not always going to be comfortable to response verbally in the moment, however these injustices do need to be taken seriously.

In many cases they may be linked to the culture of the agencies in which staff are dishing them out, and there are recourses to complain about the way you are treated by staff. For instance, you can make a complaint about Centrelink by calling 1800 132 468 or online.

Finally, including single mothers in development of policy that impacts them directly will help to build policies that reflects their lived reality.

For now, there is this – you are not imagining it! You are not alone!

If you would like to share experiences you’ve had of micro-aggressions, you can post on our Facebook page.

For support, referral, advocacy and information, please call our Support Line on 03 9645 0622 between 9.30am and 3pm Monday to Friday. If you’re outside Melbourne, you can call 1300 552 511 for the cost of a local call.

At CSMC, all our staff are, or have been, single mothers and we understand the challenges and joys of parenting solo and the realities of grappling with government agencies, family law, limited finances and other difficulties.

Jenny Davidson
CEO

Read more about Kristin’s work on micro-aggressions here. 
*This language has been adapted from a blog on sexist micro-aggressions.

 

Alex Girle: What A Current Affair didn’t tell you

When Alex Girle invited reporter Ben McCormack from A Current Affair (ACA) into her home she did so openly, trusting he was there to tell her story with honesty and integrity and to report on her efforts to improve the life of her family.

Alex allowed McCormack and his camera crew to spend two days following and filming her family, getting to know her and befriending her children. Watching the footage it’s clear Alex and her children felt comfortable with the reporter and were lulled into a false sense of safety. At one stage Alex’s disabled son sweetly pats McCormack and tells the reporter he’d like to go to the park and Alex says McCormack even attended the birthday party her son invited him to.

Because she felt a sense of camaraderie with the reporter, Alex spoke openly and candidly about how much she received from Centrelink, the difficulties she faced finding work while looking after four children and why she was asking people to support her Go Fund Me project. She spoke about the small business she’d started, designing and making wall decals and the interest she was receiving in her designs; however, many customers were asking for larger decals, which Alex’s current equipment can’t accommodate. To buy the machine she needs Alex has to raise $13,000 and so she started the Go Fund Me campaign as a way to kick start this.

Reliance on welfare is not a lifestyle Alex willingly chose for her family and no one in their right mind could legitimately accuse her of being lazy. Alex has six children, four of whom live with her, including her teenage son with cerebral palsy, who requires near constant care. With the exception of her eldest daughter who now lives and works overseas, all of Alex’s children have the same father, including an infant daughter who died a number of years ago after only living for 16 days and whose loss Alex still grieves.

The better part of Alex’s life has been devoted to raising her children, leaving her with little opportunity to develop the kinds of skills that would give her access to employment which pays enough and provides the security she needs to look after her family. Alex wants to work, but finding an employer willing to accommodate her responsibilities as a parent (which includes being on call for her son) has proved impossible. The moment she mentions she has a high needs child doors start closing and the already rare job opportunities available to her dry up.

If she were to return to work, childcare costs alone would undo any economic benefit she’d gain and in fact would put her in a worse financial position than the one she’s in. While the ACA segment acknowledged this it failed to recognise there are numerous other costs associated with working, all of which would set Alex and her family even further back. Since she’s already struggling to make ends meet on what she receives from Centrelink it would be a foolish financial decision for her to take a job that won’t support her family. As she clearly stated in the interview, she often goes without food to pay for things her kids need and her sparsely furnished home is testament to how little Alex’s family really has.

Still, determined to find a way to support her family, Alex realised if no employer was going to give her a go she needed to take matters into her own hands.

When she approached ACA Alex wasn’t looking for sympathy or a handout, she was looking for a realistic way to help her family get out of poverty. You can imagine her horror then when the program aired, portraying her as a welfare queen, laughing all the way to Centrelink and living the high life off tax payer’s dollars.

ACA chose to edit their program in a way that clearly painted Alex’s family and other single mothers as welfare bludgers sponging off hard working Australians. They edited footage of a family experiencing intergenerational poverty into the segment, but failed to tell viewers Alex’s eldest daughter is now living and working overseas and was recently promoted in her work.

CSMC is dependent on donations to support to single mother families. Please join us.


 

The camera panned across her children sitting on the couch playing on iPads, knowing their viewers would surely question how a family on welfare could afford this expensive technology; however, they didn’t tell viewers Alex’s disabled son requires an iPad to help with his communication and learning, or that he dropped the original tablet, shattering the screen. It was only through a stroke of rare good fortune Alex was able to replace the broken iPad.

ACA deliberately didn’t show the cracked screen on the device her younger son was playing with. In fact in the shot where the little boy holds the iPad up Alex states he did so at the cameraman’s request, so the broken screen couldn’t be seen.

ACA didn’t tell its viewers Alex didn’t choose to be a single mum or that her family was shattered through violence and abuse. They didn’t tell you Alex and her partner moved their family from Sydney to Melbourne to access better medical care for their son. They didn’t tell you about the unscrupulous real estate agent who reneged on the lease the family had signed and paid bond and rent in advance for when they got to Melbourne, leaving them homeless with five children.

They didn’t show you the hard working mum who, in spite of the many setbacks she’s faced, still manages to get on with life or the mum who still keenly feels the loss of her baby daughter. They didn’t ask why Alex gets no child support, or tell you she manages the needs of their disabled son and the other children with almost no help from the children’s father. They didn’t focus on her genuine efforts to break her family’s current dependence on welfare and Alex’s attempts to create her own work were only added as a kind of afterthought.

During the segment ACA shows Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison saying “We don’t want to give children and people growing up in families the expectation that welfare is a career choice, ‘cause it shouldn’t be.” 2GB broadcaster Chris Smith followed this with, “. . . the system’s there to cushion her through this, but she shouldn’t think that that should be her future, nor the future of her children . . . with all the welfare benefits she can obtain we’ve now got a situation where she won’t be contributing to the country, she won’t be getting a job. She doesn’t have the motivation to get a job . . . we’ve gotta get that multi-generational welfare out of the heads of people and make them realise the benefits for people that accrue when you go out and get a job.”

Neither of these men met nor spoke to Alex and one wonders whether ACA told them Alex’s real story, because they clearly didn’t understand her situation. And instead of focusing on the lack of suitable jobs for women with caring responsibilities, or acknowledging employers are rarely willing to hire women in Alex’s situation they insinuated she was to blame for her circumstance.

Of course ACA must have known their viewers would take one look at Alex and see a mum with four kids and make assumptions about her family without considering the dedication and obvious commitment it takes to raise four children on her own. They didn’t ask her about how hard it must be to be the sole carer of her disabled son. They told you what Alex receives from Centrelink but neglected to acknowledge how hard it is to raise one child on that income, let alone four or a child with a disability.

Australia’s safety net long ago became a poverty trap for those who most need support. Income support payments are now so low single mums and their children often don’t have enough even to cover the basics.

Women like Alex, who have experienced domestic violence and homelessness, still manage to achieve safety, security, education and love for their children, but programs like ACA choose to ignore this in favour of sensationalism and the opportunity to vilify single mothers and others caught in the devastating cycle of poverty.

Rather than highlight the true horror story, which is a system that abandons Australians to a minimum wage insufficient to support a family, a lack of real job opportunities or job security for anyone with limited experience, skills or education and the fact that support for income recipients has not increased to meet the real costs of living in more than two decades, ACA chose to use Alex and her family. They came into her home, gained her trust and befriended her children. They asked her loaded questions, repeatedly stopped the camera to coach her on what to say, including asking her numerous times to say the line, “I earn almost a thousand dollars a week on welfare. Why would I work for anything less?” and then edited her words out of context in order to misrepresent her and hold her up as an example of people on income support who don’t want to work.

It was a confusing and contradictory segment, which on one hand seemed to acknowledge wages were too low for a family to survive on, but then implied a minimum rate of income support provided as a safety net was too generous.

Since the segment aired Alex has received abuse from strangers and has had to suffer the embarrassment of a prospective employer “Googling” her during her interview and reading the mortifying details of the ACA beat up. After reading about her online this employer told Alex, “We are looking for someone with work ethic. Clearly you don’t have one,” so not only has ACA humiliated her, they’ve further damaged her already limited employment prospects.

What’s even more devastating however, is the impact the show has had on her kids. Alex’s children have been subjected to ongoing taunts and schoolyard bullying, including physical attacks and being told to “just give up and swallow a handful of pills” and “go home and cry to your welfare mum”.

Alex contacted the show to advise them of the torment she and her children were subjected to after the program aired. ACA advised her they had pulled the segment from their website, which suggests they recognise it was cruel and its misrepresentations were putting Alex’s children at risk; however the segment can still be viewed on the Nine msn website http://www.msn.com/en-au/video/tech/welfare-roundabout/vp-AAch8H1

Alex states ACA also tried to appease her by donating $1500 to her Go Fund Me account, but she returned this because ethically she couldn’t accept money from a program that had deliberately and publicly disgraced her.

The portrayal of vulnerable people, like Alex and others on income support payments by sections of the Australian media are polarising and often appear to coincide with the introduction of cuts to income support and harsher penalties for non compliance.

“Alex’s story on A Current Affair aired on the same day as a front page story in the Daily Telegraph claiming that Australia’s welfare bill was out of control,” says Cassandra Goldie, CEO of ACOSS.

Australia’s welfare bill to top $190b with taxpayers funding 240 million payments a year’, by Daniel Meers, The Daily Telegraph, June 29, 2015:

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/australias-welfare-bill-to-top-190b-with-taxpayers-funding-240-million-payments-a-year/story-fni0cx12-1227419226438

“This was at a time when the government was pushing to have legislation passed in Parliament to further reduce family payments that would particularly affect single parents,” she says.

“We have been concerned for a long time at the way sections of the Australian media treat people receiving income support payments, especially single mums, young people and people with work incapacities and with disability. Unfortunately, degrading and insulting portrayals of people doing it tough in our community have become commonplace and many of our members have repeatedly raised these issues with media outlets and the Australian Press Council over the years.

“ACOSS has also raised this with successive governments. It’s become striking to us that such stories invariably surface at a time when the government of the day is about to enact some harsh legislation that strips income or rights away from people receiving welfare payments. We saw this under the previous Labour government with the cuts to single parenting payments, which dropped around 80,000 sole parents onto the lower paying Newstart Allowance.

“It’s time for governments and media outlets to stop this practice of misrepresenting, demeaning and insulting people receiving income support payments. This only serves to damage people and divide our community.”

CSMC sought comment from ACA, Ben McCormack and the two men interviewed for the segment, Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison and 2GB Announcer Chris Smith. ACA, Ben McCormack and Scott Morrison all declined to comment. Chris Smith was not available for comment at the time CSMC attempted to contact him.

Understandably, Alex was devastated by the program’s misrepresentation of her and her family and legitimately felt her trust had been horribly violated. Despite this awful setback however, she remains committed to doing whatever it takes to help her family and get her business off the ground. Working from home will allow Alex to be there when her son needs her and she’s hopeful the business will eventually make enough money so she and her family will no longer need to rely on government income support.

If you would like to support Alex you can visit her Go Fund Me webpage at gofundme.com/ww7qjqc and make a donation.

Parenting in an age of uncertainty

by Liz Shield

 

Ross Griff flickr cc

(Image credit: Ross Griff, flickr creative commons)

 

CSMC member, Liz Shield, shares how she finds meaning and beauty in life, teaching her values and exploring the world with her daughter, while making the most of what she has.

As parents, we all vary, but essentially what we want is to do what we think is best for our children and to protect them from harm.  Right?

I am a single mum with a 15 month old daughter and some days I feel like this is achievable. Other days, I am swamped by a tidal wave of despair and anxiety worrying about her future.

As someone who is passionate about justice, I have been involved in community action around a number of causes over the last 20 years. I have rallied, sat-in, marched and occupied. I have signed petitions, written letters, held banners and phoned members of parliament. I’m still an activist, but now I have to co-ordinate my participation around my baby’s needs and sleep times. Participating is a lot more involved now.

There are some indisputable facts about our current global situation: unequal division of resources; over consumption and waste; the massive drain on finite natural resources, threatening habitat and biodiversity; control of our economy by undemocratic institutions motivated by profit; and pollution, which is adversely affecting our climate.

I want to be able to live self-sufficiently so I started to think about what I could do to live happily, save money, minimize our impact and in some way prepare ourselves for an uncertain future, as well as instilling the values I wished to share with my daughter.

Here’s what I came up with:

Consume less news

I realized I was on information overload and needed to reduce my consumption. Now I get my news from a limited number of sources, and choose not to watch it on TV.

 

Play more 

Not watching TV means I have more time to play with my daughter.

 

Plant a Garden

Even though I am renting and have limited space, I want my daughter to know where food comes from and experience the wonder of watching a seed germinate and turn into a plant. She loves playing in dirt and “helping” me with gardening. This is also an exercise in food activism, as we are saving money and eating healthily while reducing food miles.

 

Talk to the animals

Children in western nations have weaker immune systems today because they have less contact with animals. My daughter pats lots of dogs and plays with guinea pigs and her nanna’s chooks. We have visited the Collingwood Children’s farm. It feels like a good start in cultivating her interest in and compassion for our nonhuman companions. Also, she knows where food really comes from.

 

Walk the talk 

To save money and reduce my carbon footprint, I try to drive my car less. I wanted to buy a ‘cargo bike” those really amazing ones with a large square carrier for children. They cost several thousand dollars, which I don’t have. For now, I try and live locally and walk a lot. We also catch the train (because she LOVES it) and patronise small local businesses.

 

Be a Borrower 

Instead of trying to OWN everything I am enjoying showing my child the value of sharing and belonging. As members of our local library and toy library we can read and play with amazing books and toys, then give them back! And get more! This breaks the cycle of consumption and waste and makes my single parent pay stretch further.

 

You can make it!

I don’t consider myself very “crafty” but when I was pregnant I decided to make my baby some bunting for her room, rather than buy it, so I could look at it and know I made it for her. Now I try to apply that to a lot of things. I enjoy making activities for her to play with, which means we have to depend less on imported and poorly made items. I hope she will appreciate “stuff” comes from resources and people’s labour, and will know the value of learning skills ourselves.

 

Go outside

I have spent so much time worrying about the world and trying to save it, that I have been guilty of forgetting to enjoy it. I take my daughter to the beach and the bush, and show her the moon, the river, the sky. In doing this, I see for myself the beauty in the world, and remember there is so much good that just doesn’t get reported because it is right there, under our noses.

 

It is important for me to include my daughter in protests and community campaigns I am involved with; however, I’m finding peace and joy in the small acts of direct action we take every day that change us both, as well as the world.

For more information about global financial and other changes and suggestions for a DIY lifestyle please see http://doingitourselves.org