The Single Mothers’ Commune

Around 1973 a group of single mothers set up a house share in New York. Working different hours, and covering each others’ childcare.

Later on, they found that women were choosing to come and live in the house, and choosing to have a child with a sperm donor or with a one night stand. They preferred the female only house, with the troupe of small children living as one family.

Gina and I arrived at the commune on a weekday morning. One of the mothers there was an artist, and we were making arrangements to move some of her work into the gallery. We rang the bell, and listened to the sound of children playing in the living room. A woman in loose linen trousers opened the door. She wore big glasses and had paint on her hands. “Are you the artist?” asked Gina, the woman laughed. “I don’t hide it well,” she said. We shook hands and she invited us in. “The children are just in lessons,” she said. We were in a long hall in a huge townhouse, I could see kids in one of the side rooms hunched over a desk, urgently writing.

The artist led us into a big kitchen and offered us homemade seed-cake and cups of coffee. A look of disapproval came across her face as she handed me the mug. She was looking at the magazine under my arm. One of the women’s glossies. I guessed this must be a feminist thing. “It’s a weakness,” said, guiltily shoving the magazine into my bag.

“Oh, it’s ok, it’s just that we don’t like the children to see things like that. You know, pictures of pretty girls, trying to sell you stuff. I mean, we can’t shelter them from it completely, but we don’t allow it in our house, that’s one of our rules,” she explained.

Gina was fascinated. It made sense. I mean, we all read magazines, and I enjoy them. But after a while, the depiction of women as dolls gets a bit sickly.

The artist continued, “Look at all the sexualisation in the media. Then look at how we treat young women who have sex and get pregnant.

I got pregnant very young, and with an on-off boyfriend. Yes, it was partly my own fault, but I was seventeen years old and surrounded by billboards of women with their tits hanging out. Every guy you dated expected sexual favours, gave you a hard time if you said no, and whined about having to use a condom.”

This rang true, and me and Gina nodded as we sipped our coffee. “I agree,” said Gina, “I mean look how crap support for single mums is, even in developed countries.”

So in the single mothers’ commune TV and magazines are not allowed. The children have lots of books, and can watch things like Studio Ghibli films. It’s not about christian style censorship. The library is well stocked, and includes classics such as Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and even the Kama Sutra. It’s just the the moms don’t want mindless sexualisation all over the place, influencing their kids. Once the kids reach eighteen, they, as adults are free to read and watch what they like.

“It’s not about preventing them from ever seeing this material,” explained one of the moms, “hell, I did my dissertation on Playboy Magazine. I just don’t want them to be exposed to things like advertising, pornography and news reels until they are old enough to ask what’s really going on here.”

“Wow, you censor the news?” Gina was shocked.

“We talk about current affairs, and I let them watch good documentary films, and there are plenty of biographies in the library. It’s just the mainstream news. It’s so mindless and sensationalist. There’s never an intelligent discussion on the events,” said the artist.

Looking at the bookshelf to my left, there was a huge stack of National Geographics and several academic books on Iraq, Syria, Vietnam, American Demographics.

I was really impressed with the commune. It felt like a eutopia. But. But. I noticed all the women, at that moment in time were single. Men weren’t banned. They were allowed to visit, and could even stay overnight. But it felt like a safe, female space. Women and their children. What would happen if one of them were to fall in love, with a man. Would the peace be shattered?

Image: This is a flyer we made to publicise the Artist’s work on Feminism

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8 thoughts on “The Single Mothers’ Commune

  1. Very good point, seems a bit escapist, which can be good for a time. Utimately though a person has to get back into the world to apply the new peace they’ve found, then the peace stops being so elusive. I also wonder how healthy it is for kids to be raised without a good, solid male influence. Just as I wonder how healthy it is for them to be raised without a good, solid female influence.

    • Kids need love and support, doesn’t matter if that comes in the form of 2 men, 2 women, 10 women, or whatever. And just because a child doesn’t live with someone doesn’t mean he/she isn’t a significant role model in their life.

      • If someone is a significant role model in their life, then they have them as an influence. Kids need balanced guidance too. There are perspectives on the world that only a man can give, and there are perspectives on the world that only a woman can give. Yin without yang, or yang without yin can’t make the world turn.

  2. I agree with Jester Who-ver. We need to experience the shit in order to know it’s shit and avoid it. I worry that children who are too “protected” become overly fascinated by it. Who knows? (One other note: it’s Kama Sutra not Karma Sutra. Thought you might want to edit that especially for those who may find you -or not- through a search engine.) Peace!

  3. I’m so glad you posted this! Even though it’s kind of the premise for my site I never knew there were contemporary examples of this type of lifestyle. It sounds ideal to me. I’ve always favored a female-centered environment.

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