Two Recent Works by Michele Gilman

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Michele Gilman (Baltimore) has published two recent pieces that may be of interest to blog readers:

Michele Gilman, Feminism, Democracy, and the “War on Women,” 32 J. of Law & Inequality 1 (2014).

This article analyzes the social conservative attacks on women preceding the 2012 election cycle, known as the War on Women, and the ensuing feminist response. Combat was waged on many fronts, including abortion restrictions, access to contraception, funding for Planned Parenthood, welfare programs, and workplace fairness. The article discusses what this “war” means for the complex relationship between feminism and democracy. American democracy has had both liberating and oppressive effects for women, while feminism has sometimes struggled internally to appropriate the values of democracy and externally to harness its potential. Accordingly, the article explains the major political theories regarding feminism and democracy and reflects on how the War on Women and its after effects impact those theories. The Article concludes that the War on Women reconfigured the relationship between feminism and democracy by reinvigorating the feminist political movement, redefining the scope of women’s issues, realigning women voters across interest groups, and spurring a surge of women into office. Still, the War on Women kept feminism on the defensive, thereby draining the movement of the ability to fashion a feminist offensive. Thus, the feminist movement needs to generate an agenda that will wage a war for women.

Michele Gilman, The Return of the Welfare Queen, 22 J. of Gender, Social Policy, & the Law 247 (2014) (symposium).

After welfare reform was passed in 1996, there was every reason to hope that the welfare queen was dead. The “welfare queen” was shorthand for a lazy woman of color, with numerous children she cannot support, who is cheating taxpayers by abusing the system to collect government assistance. For years, this long-standing racist and gendered stereotype was used to attack the poor and the cash assistance programs that support them. In 1996, TANF capped welfare receipt to five years and required work as a condition of eligibility, thus stripping the welfare queen of her throne of dependency. Nevertheless, during the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney resurrected the welfare queen. In a barrage of television campaign ads, Romney inaccurately accused President Obama of gutting TANF work requirements, while President Obama responded by touting his own tough-on-welfare credentials. In the subsequent battle over which candidate was toughest on the poor, there was no mention that TANF is largely a failure. While TANF enrollment has plunged since 1996, it has not reduced poverty. Instead, it pushed many poor mothers into the low-wage workforce, where they struggle to survive on meager wages. In addition, many families have slipped out of the safety net altogether, sanctioned by TANF caseworkers or discouraged by TANF’s onerous application requirements, privacy-stripping processes, and stingy grants. As a result, only 4.5 million people receive cash assistance through TANF, amounting to 0.47% of the federal 2012 budget. In other words, the political salience of the welfare queen far outstrips her numbers. The good news is that Romney’s dependency rhetoric did not work and may have backfired. The bad news is that the welfare queen still lurks behind repeated calls to cut government benefits and to criminalize poverty. This article explores the legacy of the welfare queen, her return in the 2012 presidential campaign, and the current inadequacies of TANF. The article concludes with suggestions to reform TANF in the hopes of burying the welfare queen once and for all.

Worth a read!

-Bridget Crawford

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