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The Soapbox: I’ve Been A Single Mom And Rick Santorum Can Kiss My Ass

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Senator Rick Santorum — long known for his insightful analyses of same-sex marriage (a mere gateway, as he alluded, to human-dog couples) and more recently for his repudiation of education — proclaimed in 1994 that before single mothers continued on their heedless quest to destroy the “fabric of the country,” they needed a swift “kick in the butt.”

I was a single mom, living separately from my child’s father or any other adult, until my son was four. I worked full-time in order to support myself and my child and, during that time, there were many things I needed: child care that I could both trust and afford, health insurance (I worked freelance and was responsible for paying for own medical care), and the occasional night off. Topping that list, I now realize, should have been a kick in the butt.

Frankly, I’m flattered that a busy family man of Santorum’s stature would be willing to take time out of his day to spur me on, literally, as a responsible cowboy would his trusty (but, face it, lazy) horse.

I’m confident I would have accepted his offer of tough love, but I can only speculate how the process would have worked. There was so much to be done every day (surely due to my own ineptitude) that I think he might have had to arrive at 5:30 a.m. in order to kick my butt out of bed in time to answer emails, shower, and get dressed before my son woke up. I would need several kicks to get breakfast made, the dishes washed, my son dressed and his teeth brushed, his lunch made, and my bag packed for the day’s activities all in the 45 minutes between wake-up and leaving for school. During the six hours while my son was in school, I might need a few kicks to remain focused on writing magazine articles, running my small business, and figuring out how to shift things around so I can pay my mortgage, health insurance, electric bill, car insurance, child care, and have money left for groceries.

Prior to butt-kicking, by the time I picked up my son, brought him home, fed him a snack, made dinner, did the dishes, bathed him, brushed his teeth, and read him six to eight books, I felt so exhausted that I would just go to bed, too. If Santorum was there to kick my ass, though, I fantasized that I could have gotten some dusting done and maybe even finished reading The Second Sex, which I’d been meaning to accomplish since 2002. Author Simone de Beauvoir’s last line — “To gain the supreme victory, it is necessary … that by and through their natural differentiation men and women unequivocally affirm their brotherhood.” — would finally be able to burrow into my consciousness, and I’d wonder with a start of empathy whether the Senator was getting tired. After all, at this point he’d been relentlessly kicking my ass for nearly 17 hours. We’d call it a night.

No rest for the righteous, however, and Santorum would have barely begun dreaming of a world without recreational sex, Dan Savage, and Pell grants when it would be time to kick my butt again. After I caught him limping and dramatically shaking out his foot while I was making coffee, I’d confront him about his weariness. Picking up on de Beauvoir’s message of equality, I’d offer to kick his butt while he made breakfast and got my son ready for the day. As long as he, another responsible adult, was around, I’d suggest that he peruse some recipes for tonight’s dinner and, time permitting, pick up the groceries, dry cleaning, and stamps. I would get some work done, pick up my son and even take a leisurely trip to the park. When Santorum would return — looking a bit grey and tired — I’d give him a few butt-smacks to get him in the zone to make pork chops.

Glancing at my mail after dinner, I would marvel at how fresh I felt since the new butt-kicking regime had begun. Perhaps, I would open a letter from the feminist nonprofit Legal Momentum about their new “Single Parent Policy Advocate Network” and laugh out loud at the folly. Giving support, resources, and understanding to single parents now seemed about as useful as job training for prison inmates. “These feminists think they can provide something for us single moms, but wait until I tell them about your solution,” I’d say, chortling. “It’s like magic!”

Maybe I would quote from the report: “Most single parents are single mothers. Half or more of the women who become mothers today will likely spend some time as a single mother. Single mother families now account for a majority of all poor families with children….”

“Rick,” I’d say, “You really have your job cut out for you.” As he looked up from kicking my butt, I’d glimpse the deep exhaustion in his body. “Take a break,” I’d murmur. “You don’t have to kick my ass tonight.”

Now I’m a married mother of two, exactly in the position that Santorum advocates as good for society. (Although I do still work full-time. Old habits die hard.) Knowing that I could hardly ask him to kick my butt today, I would like to invite him to kiss my ass instead.

Jennifer Baumgardner is hosting the URGENT! conference about abortion and birth control at the New School in New York City on March 17. More information on the URGENT! conference here.

She is the co-author of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism and the Future and Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism, with Amy Richards, and the author of Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics, Abortion and Life, and F’em! Goo Goo, Gaga and Some Thoughts On Balls.  She is the co-owner of Soapbox, Inc., a speaker’s bureau for feminist speakers that also hosts Feminist Boot Camp and a professor at the New School. Read more about Jennifer here.

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