Begging and Choosing:
Critique of Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosers
When we look back to the antiquated policies of the past—slavery, women’s suffrage, etc.—it seems that the decisions made to advance equality and tolerance seem so obvious that we wonder how those particular issues could even be debated. We wonder why the right choice wasn’t self-evident. In Rickie Solinger’s Beggars and Choosers, her arguments have this quality about them. The stories of the mothers from the 1960s and 1970s in her book are appalling and can seem to the enlightened youth who did not live during these times like something from a bad movie, a story where the villains are so obviously villains it almost becomes unbelievable. The “characters” that remain noticeably absent in many of the stories are the fathers of the unborn, mentioned only in passing if at all. By examining the same sort of evidence that Solinger does—empirical and anecdotal—I argue that by removing the fathers from the discussion she undermines her own arguments.
As a polemic the book is close to perfect. However, since Solinger is a historian, her arguments remain unbalanced and thus may not serve to convince those who do not already agree with her. A number of studies have discovered that children from “two-parent” homes often perform better in school, are less likely to live in poverty, or commit a crime (Weinraub and Wolf, 1983. Simon, Lin, et. al. 1999. Lamb, Lewis, 2003). In Chapter 6 of her book, Solinger analyzes the problems inherent in both foster care—an almost inarguably broken system—and adoption, and determines that because the birth-mother lacks both the ability to truly “choose” one of these options or raise the child herself.
Solinger says, “This discussion is not meant to constitute a brief against foreign or inter-country adoption. It is meant to suggest what happens when choice entitles Americans to acquire poor children in other countries. (Solinger, 32).” It is in this argument that she could use the data about the two-parent family to serve her own ends, painting the same picture of a loving family but in the child’s native country rather than idyllic America. This could also contrast with other fathers in the book, such as Eleanor Whitmore’s father, a man who would have her sterilized if she did not give up her child for adoption (Solinger, p. 72). Dana, a married social-worker who has adopted two girls from China, says “I don’t care about the birth-parents, I care about the girls. Maybe their parents would have been good parents or maybe they would have killed them because they weren’t boys. I know [my husband] and I are their best parents.” Though what’s undeniable is that both birth-parents and adoptive parents are people, and people are fallible.
Like the Welfare Queen, there is another quasi-fictional figure that Solinger should have assailed: the Deadbeat Dad. One could argue that the Welfare Queen is only able to rule in her kingdom of misery because she made the “bad choice” to copulate with a Deadbeat. He travels the country impregnating women and then running forever from his children in a Ferrari (or some other sports car) simply repeating his lustful cycle. This fallacy is just as harmful and just as responsible for “justifying” the status quo. In the book the fathers that appear are at best unsupportive and at worst, like Whitmore’s father, monsters. Solinger never writes “deadbeat,” but instead allows the actions of the fathers, or lack thereof, speak for themselves. By not addressing this issue, she misses what I believe is a major part of why the subjects of her book are considered bad choice-makers.
Nonetheless, Solinger’s case about choice is made effectively. She is a magnificent storyteller and very trustworthy, but the work suffers from the omission of good fathers. It would not lessen the impact of her point, that single-women in poverty should have a legitimate choice in these matters, by including the presence of a father who was not a villain. Her message might have even found more receptive ears. By considering fathers and the children themselves, Solinger’s critique of the system might be seen as more complete and more realistic. However, I am left wondering if this was a conscious choice on her part or if accounts of good fathers were unfortunately left out of the records.
Dana X. Personal interview over the phone. 19 March 2013.
Lewis, Charlie. Lamb, Michael E. Fathers’ influences on children’s development: The evidence from two-parent families. European Journal of Psychology of Education, Vol. 18, Issue 2, pp 211-228. June 2003. Article Stable URL: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03173485#. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
Simons, Ronald L. Lin, Kuei-Hsiu. Gordon, Leslie C. Conger, Rand D. and Lorenz, Frederick O. Explaining the Higher Incidence of Adjustment Problems among Children of Divorce Compared with Those in Two-Parent Families. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 61, No. 4 Nov., 1999, pp. 1020-1033, Published by: National Council on Family Relations. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/354021. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
Solinger, Rickie. Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States. Hill and Wang. 2002. Kindle Edition.
Weinraub, Marsha. Wolf, Barbara. Effects of Stress and Social Supports on Mother-Child Interactions in Single- and Two-Parent Families. Child Development Vol. 54, No. 5, Infants at Risk. Oct., 1983. pp. 1297-131. Published by: Wiley. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1129683. Retrieved 22 March 2013.