A Cultural Critique of Women's Poverty
Margaret Cerullo and Marla Erlien★
We live in and with a bourgeois society, its history, its traditions and
prejudices, its confrontations and wicked laughter. Anyone who tries to
behave well and play by what seem for the moment to be the rules of
the game passes judgment on others who are outside the mainstream
because they break the rules or don't bother to acknowledge them.
-- Hans Mayer, Outsiders1
TO THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT THE CAUSES OF POVERTY AND to respond politically to it, a perspective is needed that includes, but goes beyond, an economic understanding of the welfare state. Poverty, welfare, and "dependency" are never simple social facts or economic realities. Consciousness, culture, and politics play a crucial role in defining their meanings -- for poor people and their friends as well as their antagonists.
Poor people's movements in the 1960s achieved two related goals. First, they increased benefit levels. But, second, and as a crucial part of the first process, they also transformed the meaning of poverty from a personal shame to a national responsibility; they shifted welfare from an insult to a right. And it is poor people's expanded sense of entitlement and dignity that the New Right has targeted as much as benefits and services. In its cultural war on the poor, the Right is attempting to re-establish poverty as a mark of sin, a character flaw.
Cultural assumptions, as well as political-economic structures, block the poor from claiming their rights and their humanity. The____________________