Women in the American Welfare Trap

By Catherine Pélissier Kingfisher | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Them

...they ((legislators)) ARE an aggressive kind of GROUP, they will -- you'll be AMAZED at the kind of things they will SAY, I mean they will come out with ALL of the myths that you think that only ignorant people have about welfare. ( Louise Black, MWRO meeting)

The women in MWRO and LIFE resisted their stigmatized social positions by contesting not only negative stereotypes of welfare recipients but also what they saw as the privileged social positions of particular "others" in their lives. In so doing, they constructed these others as specific types of people -- most often as individuals who did not evince integrity or principled behavior. The "them" in these constructions sometimes referred to a particular category of person (such as AP workers or politicians), and sometimes to an amorphous group that shared certain characteristics, such as extreme self-interest, or ignorance.

The women's constructions of others were part and parcel of their constructions of themselves; in other words, the "us" explored in the previous chapter and the "them" explored in this chapter are relational categories, mutually constitutive and interdependent. Moreover, in constructing "us" as "good" and "them" as "bad," MWRO and LIFE members reversed the deserving/undeserving distinction, elevating themselves to deserving status while lowering the supposedly worthy to the category of the undeserving.


Assistance Payments Workers

The women's characterizations of Assistance Payments workers were overwhelmingly negative. Attributes they assigned to workers, listed in order of frequency, included the following: workers are arbitrary; they don't explain things; they are nice and helpful; they punish you if you confront them; they are lazy; they are concerned with their own status; and they are inaccessible, ignorant, and always say no. Workers as nice

-72-

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Women in the American Welfare Trap
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chapter 1 - Producing the World in Everyday Talk 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Welfare Trap I: Recipients 16
  • Chapter 3 - A Tenuous Advocacy 43
  • Chapter 4 - Us 56
  • Chapter 5 - Them 72
  • Chapter 6 - The Welfare Trap II: Workers 82
  • Chapter 7 - Good and (Mostly) Bad Clients 98
  • Chapter 8 - Further Productions: Attitudes and Policy 117
  • Chapter 9 - Trapped as They Are 131
  • Chapter 10 - Conclusions 157
  • Appendix A: Transcripts 163
  • Appendix B 189
  • Bibliography 195
  • Index 203
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