Monday 01 March 2021

For every unmarried mother there is usually an unmarried father

This column first appeared in Malta Today

A PQ this week by Nationalist MP Ivan Bartolo asked for information about the number of unmarried mothers who are receiving children’s allowances, how many are in employment and how many are at risk of poverty. While the Family Minister Michael Falzon provided the statistics requested, he pointed out that the ‘at risk of poverty’ part of the question has to be referred to the National Office of Statistics. 

Basically, there are 5,408 unmarried mothers who receive the children’s allowance, out of which 3,068 are employed. There are 3,774 unmarried mothers who have a child each, while 1,266 mothers have two children each. Two mothers have seven children each.

The problem with these type of PQs is that we are not given any context about why the question was asked, so the figures which are published are often left hanging in mid-air, quite understandably leading many, in turn, to ask…and your point is, what?

If the point is for society to pass self-righteous judgement on these single mothers, surely, we have more than enough of that already.  The knee-jerk reaction by many women was also inevitable: how come we never point the finger at unmarried fathers?  For, it should be obvious that if there are over 5000 women raising children on their own, there are just as many men who have fathered the said children. One also has to acknowledge that being unmarried does not necessarily mean there is no father in the picture, but simply that the woman has not ticked the ‘married’ box when filling out a form, and for the purpose of statistics, that is what counts. 

If the above information, however, did take into account the cohabiting couples who have children together, then this should have been explained.  As it is, we were given all these numbers which may mean a lot or may not mean that much, because we simply do not know.  I would think that the point of Parliamentary Questions is to enlighten us with information which is in the public interest, so that where necessary, pressure can be made in order to formulate the right policies.  

The only message I got from that PQ, however, is that a lot of mothers are doing their best to raise their children single-handedly, while too many fathers are blithely bringing children into the world but are then conveniently let off the hook.

Just eight years for ruining a boy’s life

The most horrifying story this week was undoubtedly about a man who was anything but a father.  When he was 60 years old, he forced his young seven-year-old son to have sex with prostitutes for fear the child would turn out gay.  It was two of the prostitutes themselves who reported the case to the child protection agency Appoġġ.

It has taken five years for this case to be concluded, the man is now 65, and has been sentenced to eight years in prison. The boy is now 12 and was taken into care. I pray that he is being given all the psychological help he needs, although I don’t know how any child can overcome such abuse and trauma.  

The testimony given in court was mind numbing, and as always makes me wonder what kind of monster one has to be to do these things to children.  Usually, those who abuse were abused themselves, which is why it is so crucial for the cycle to be broken. Meanwhile, a boy’s life is in tatters so I really cannot see how eight years in prison is a just sentence for such despicable acts.  A lot has been said recently about how prison should be a place for rehabilitation, but in a case like this, where a child has been emotionally and mentally scarred for life, I’m sorry, but my instinctive, visceral reaction is that only the most severe punishment will do. 

She could be your girlfriend, your sister, your niece

Whenever I read about sex tapes which are leaked without consent and shared as a ‘joke’, my first thought is always the same: what if the person in the video were someone related to you?  

According to investigations by the cyber crime unit, the X-rated videos which were leaked recently were never shared with anyone, and were believed to have been hacked from the woman’s phone.  One of them was then widely shared, until it finally ended up being shown at a restaurant, when members of a football team connected their phone to the TV screen at the premises.  

The restaurant took immediate action by dropping its sponsorship of the team, Siggiewi FC. The coach, Trevor Thomas explained that he tried to stop the video from being played, but while disassociating himself from what happening and expressing his solidarity with the young woman, he still decided to shoulder responsibility and has resigned from his post.  Meanwhile, the club has also disassociated itself from what was a team dinner and is carrying out its own internal investigation. 

However, this still leaves the players themselves. Do these footballers have girlfriends, sisters, nieces? If they do they should pause to think how they would feel to see her displayed on a large flat screen for everyone to gawk at and ridicule. Unless men start looking at this type of behaviour in this light, things will never change.  As long as the young girl or woman remains a faceless stranger for whom they feel no compassion, to them it will continue to be just a raucous, hilarious ‘bit of fun’, and they will remain oblivious to the fact that they have humiliated her in the worst way possible.

I also cannot stress enough how careful girls and women have to be. While I believe that what is done in private is one’s own business, the cyber world is just too evil and malicious these days, and there are just too many ways in which what you thought was just on your phone can end up becoming public. It has happened too many times over these last few years, and while it is a crime and compensation has been awarded, the lasting effects of having your privacy invaded can have long-lasting consequences on your psyche. Leaks and revenge porn have become too common, and even if you are with a loving boyfriend or husband now, who knows what dark, vengeful thoughts might consume them should things go haywire? When it comes to such things I always think of the worst case scenario, and frankly, the risks are just too high. 

When will we stop sexualising young girls?

A new documentary called Framing Britney Spears has just been released, which delves into how the singer was treated by the media, and especially the dispute over who controls her career.   

I have only managed to watch snippets so far, but from press reports and talk shows, it is clear that everyone is now falling over themselves to apologise for the way they treated the pop star.  There was the intense security on her private life and sexuality, especially after she became a mother, and the vicious mockery when she seemed to have had a nervous breakdown and went to a salon and shaved her head in full view of the paparazzi (she was in fact suffering from postpartum depression). After that her father took over her finances and became her legal guardian over concerns over her mental health.   

Many are also blaming her ‘team’ of people around her, including managers and her parents, who failed to protect her enough as a teenager who shot to fame with her sexy, raunchy videos.  What I found ironic is that while journalists were talking about a 2003 interview which brought her to tears as if it were some distant past, and that the type of intimate questions Britney was asked would not be asked now, I really beg to differ. 

The sexualisation and objectification of female celebrities, especially singers who feel they need to bare more and more skin with each music video, has never changed.  With Instagram and Twitter and gossip websites always on the prowl for juicy titbits, the line between what is private and public keeps getting more and more blurred. Because fame has become an end in itself, some celebrities feel the need to share everything in order to remain relevant and in the spotlight.  It is a slippery slope, especially for women, who on the one hand are adulated for their sexiness and hardcore fitness bodies even at the age of 50, like JLo, and on the other hand are sneered at for ‘trying too hard’ because they do not have real talent.

This obsession with sexualisation is what filters down to impressionable young girls who are glued to their phones so I understand why the media is always blamed when (as happened with the above leaked video) some schoolgirl in Malta makes a bad judgement call and records something intimate and private.  And it is also this same obsession which led those footballers to think nothing of streaming that same video in a public place.  

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