For Crying out Loud: Women's Poverty in the United States

By Diane Dujon; Ann Withorn | Go to book overview


WOMEN AND THE STATE
Ideology, Power, and Welfare

Frances Fox Piven

MUCH OF THE FEMINIST LITERATURE OVER THE YEARS EVINCES an almost categorical antipathy to the state. Among socialist feminists, the antipathy is signaled by the use of such terms as "social patriarchy" or "public patriarchy" to describe state policies that bear on the lives of women. 1 And among cultural feminists, it takes form in the nostalgic evocation of the private world of women in an era before state programs intruded on the family. 2

There is some irony in this situation. While women intellectuals characterize relationships with the state as "dependence," women activists turn increasingly to the state as the arena for political organization and influence. At least as important, the intellectual animus toward the state flies in the face of the attitudes of the mass of American women evident in survey data. Although the data show that most women are opposed to a defense build-up and presumably, therefore, are hostile to the military aspects of state power, in areas of domestic policy they evidently believe in a large measure of state responsibility for economic and social well-being, suggesting a belief in the strong and interventionist state that some feminist intellectuals abjure. 3

Of course, activist women may be erring "liberals," and popular attitudes, including the attitudes of women, can be wrong. But in this instance, I think it is an undiscriminating antipathy to the state that

____________________
An earlier version of this essay was prepared for the Research Planning Group on Women and the Welfare State, sponsored by the Council for European studies. The author would like to thank Richard A. Cloward, Barbara Ehrenreich, Temma Kaplan, Evelyn Fox Keller, Joel Rogers, and Alice Rossi for their comments.

-183-

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