I have to admit, I feel very uncomfortable with the word “bastard.” Mainly because it originated as a derogatory term used for children born out of wedlock and I feel strongly that any form of discrimination against a person due to their circumstances of birth is reprehensible. Even if the term “bastard” has come to mean “jerk” or “impolite/rude/inconsiderate [male] person” — or even sometimes serving as a humorous term of endearment/admiration for someone who has managed to come out ahead of the game (“Hey, you know Bob? He won the lottery last week — that bastard!”) — I still refrain from using it even in casual conversation. And if I do “slip up” and say it, I feel a small pang of something (guilt?).
Having said, that, I have a huge amount of respect for adoptees such members of Bastard Nation, and bloggers such as Bastardette and Bastard Granny Annie and Ungrateful Little Bastard, for proudly taking ownership of the term and using it for their own purposes, and in doing so are removing some of the stigma from it. Good for them!
But this post is not about the term, it is about the stigma that is still attached to the birth of children outside of marriage. You can see this in figures quoted in newspapers, about how it is a measurement of the “social ills” in society. You can hear it in the derogatory words thrown at single, young mothers on buses, at least where I live. And the “campaign against teen pregnancy” that assumes that all young mothers are not only irresponsible monsters but are unwed.
I personally knew the shock when I met a woman in 1990 who had also given birth at age 17 in Canada, but had been allowed to keep her baby — the hospital did not abduct her baby at birth — the difference was that she was married!!
… And having to wear my grandma’s wedding ring whenever I left the wage home to go anywhere.
… and when I found out 24 years after the fact that my father had phoned my son’s father around the time of the birth of my son and asked him if he would do the right thing and marry me (Grandma Maxwell told my son about this one). I guess, that was the condition on which they would allow me to keep my baby.
… and being a single mother giving birth in a hospital in many places in Canada will still prompt a social worker visit while you are still in hospital, questioning your motherhood and your right to raise your baby, giving you adoption pamphlets and asking “How do you intend to support this child?”
But getting back to the stigma that in many places still surrounds having a baby outside of marriage, it is interesting about the double-standard that surrounds adoption.
Question: Given that it is such a social crime to give birth to a baby outside of marriage that the child is termed a “bastard”: What about a child who was born to a married couple, surrendered (perhaps due to poverty — this is happening all the time) then adopted by a single person (male or female)? That person was not born “illegitimate. ” The modern child adoption system that was invented in 1851 makes a child “As If Born To” the person who has adopted them. So, does that child become “illegitimate,” and hence a “bastard”? If not, then why not?
Only in adoption is there a paradox that a single mother “deserves” to adopt a child — but a child *born* outside of marriage is “illegitimate” and the mother is deemed not to deserve her own child.
Why is it is okay to adopt as a single mother, BUT if you dare to give birth to a child outside of marriage, that child is called a “bastard” and the mother vilified??? The woman who adopts is put onto a pedestal while the mother who has given birth is considered by the same people to be inherently irresponsible and potentially unfit? Being unwed is still considered to be “just reason” to surrender a child, or imply to a mother that she should surrender her child (“Have you considered adoption?”). Books on “how to adopt” advise prospective adopters to, in public places, approach pregnant women who do not have wedding rings, to hand them “adoption cards.” To imply that the people who want to adopt deserve her baby more than she does.
An interesting double standard.
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Postscript: I want to recommend a related blog post, about how some mothers are condemned while others are honoured: “The Right Kind of Mother: Intersections of Race and Class and Choice“