Monday, December 14, 2009

An Observation

Often, when people are discussing the poverty of postgraduate students, special mention is always made of how particularly difficult it is for those with families to support.

I don't want to deny this. Yes, it would be difficult, impossible, to support a family of even one child, with only a scholarship for income.

But what maddens me about this often-repeated assertion is that it imposes a hierarchy of need, where single people are apparently less in need of financial support, any other special consideration or, indeed, compassion, than those who have children and partners.

I'm entering difficult territory here. It's not my intention to contribute to the op-ed-fuelled battle between parents and single women (for it is always single women who are problematic). I am not against children or the desire to have children or those who choose to have children. One of my favourite persons is, in fact, a child, for whom I would do almost anything. ☺

What upsets me, however, is the assumption that it's easier for single people to get by in conditions of poverty or with a low income. Actually, it's difficult for me to know whether it is easier or not for single people, since I've never been a parent. Let me attempt then, to step outside of what seems to be a particularly unhelpful binary opposition between those who are coupled (with children) and those who are not, and tell you about my experience of postgraduate poverty.

The first thing is that poverty is not simply about money, it's as much about isolation and a lack of social support. In fact, this might be the only item I go into right now, for I am consumed with it.

I have a family into which I was born, but it's a difficult one. Sometimes I've had the opportunity to witness the various kindness that friends' families do for them and I'm astonished at such generous, unreserved giving. It's not simply material gifts I'm thinking of here but a generosity of spirit which reassures my friends that if they were in any trouble they could call on their family and be guaranteed support in all its forms.

I don't have this grounding and so it should scarcely be surprising that I haven't been able to create such a family for myself.

There are many people who strive for the myth of self-reliance and although I am clearly not self-reliant in terms of growing food in order to feed myself, I am self-reliant to the extent that anyone in a liberal democratic society can be. Again, this is more than financial self-reliance, although that is great, it is also emotional self-reliance. It is self-reliance from which there is never any respite. It is self-reliance that must be the basis for achieving the same things that those who don't have to worry about shelter and food on a daily basis are achieving with the love and support of others who are in this life with them.

This is my observation: it's hard to do a postgraduate degree when you don't have anyone to share the burdens, financial and emotional, of everyday life.


oanh said...

Not that I am suggesting you do this; however, here is an interesting article about a young man's approach to the financial problems; interestingly he still cites the emotional problems.

I wish I had some help to offer you. But I'm reading and listening, if that counts.

Meredith said...

I did it as a single mother, and it was hard. But I think your situation is harder because it's loneliness you describe. Hang in there.

Kirsty said...

Thanks for your comments Oanh and Meredith, they do help enormously.