Most of the policy claims made by Second-Wave feminists have emphasized women’s right to participate in men’s world and have made work outside the home a defining element for women’s full and equal citizenship. . . Now doubly taxed by the dual responsibilities of earning and caring, many feminists have demanded labor market policies to address the family needs that fall disproportionately on women (Mink, 2009, p. 541)
Mink’s The Lady and the Tramp (II) . . . shines a white-hot light on the issue of welfare politics and justice and the feminist struggle with poverty.
Mink’s opinion is that “most congressional feminists . . . have conflated their right to work outside the home with poor single mothers’ obligation to do so” by requiring welfare recipients “to work outside the home both as a condition of welfare and as a consequence of time limits” (2009, p. 541).
Mink is, of course, referring to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) which enacted many restrictions on welfare and “’devolved’ responsibility for assistance to the poor from the federal to the state level” (Adair, 2008, p. 4). This was a huge setback in the feminist fight for equality when
“throughout the fall of 1996, on the floor of the U.S. Congress, women on welfare were characterized as dirty, oversexed and dangerous. Senator Mica of Arizona compared welfare mothers to alligators who if allowed would eat their own young and U.S. Congressman Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania referred to recipients as ‘unfit parents who view their children as nothing more than increases in welfare checks’” (Adair, p. 5).
And just where were all the feminists while this bill spread through Capitol Hill? “Although the leaders of the NOW were keenly aware of the connections of poverty, race, and gender, this did not come intuitively to all NOW members. Due to its membership demographics — predominantly white, middle-class, well-educated women—welfare did not directly bear on the lives of these women” (Snyder, 2005, p. 9). Mink solidifies this notion, as well, saying: “Part of the problem, I think, is that white and middle-class feminists – who are the mainstream of the women’s movement – view mothers who need welfare as mothers who need feminism” (Mink, 2009, p. 540).
Clearly, the current state of welfare programs in our country needs to be addressed. It is time to hold feminist organizations accountable to their pledge to stand for all women, not just middle-class and white.
Adair, V. C. (2008). The missing story of Ourselves: Poor women, power, and the politics of feminist representation. The NWSA Journal, 20 (1): 1-25.
Mink, G. (2009). The lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist welfare politics, poor single mothers, and the challenge of welfare justice. In V. Taylor, N. Whittier & L. Rupp (Eds.) Feminist Frontiers (pp.389-399). New York, NY: McGraw Hill, p. 538-543.
Snyder, B. (2005). The Welfare of Feminism: Struggle in the Midst of Reform. (Unpublished doctoral case study). Center on Women and Public Policy Case Study Program, University of Minnesota.