A Feminist Perspective on the Welfare State
Gender, like race and class, structures the organization of social life. Its study only recently taken into account by students of the welfare state, is critical for it changes our perception of reality. Using a gender-lens uncovers previously ignored information, introduces new understandings of social interactions, and exposes how the construction of knowledge itself supports the status quo. 1 The two major political theories of modern times--liberalism and Marxism are gender-blind and uninformed by an understanding of patriarchy, and have consequently failed to explain women's experience. However, growing out of (and perhaps in spite of) these theories is a range of new and exciting feminist analyses which address women's oppression and begin to explore the relationship between women and the welfare state.
The first part of this chapter reviews the traditional political theories and the responses to them by liberal, radical, and socialist feminists. It gives special attention to the socialist-feminist perspective which informs this book. The second part the chapter moves from the theory of the welfare state to the ideology of women's roles, positing an important and largely unrecognized relationship between the two. It is argued that the ideology of women's roles, referred to here as the "family ethic," became encoded within the rules and regulations of the welfare state where it, along with the work ethic, has shaped public policy and regulated the lives of thousands of women who, from colonial times to the present, have turned to social welfare programs for support.