Photo: Mo Riza

Women We Read This Week

Jessica Pishko’s “Unemployment Is a Full-Time Job” in Takepart

Journalist Jessica Pishko does an amazing job at painting humanizing portraits of welfare recipients and explaining the bureaucratic, logistical, and emotional struggles they face on a daily basis. The piece is filled with highly detailed scenes of how people actually live: snapshots of a “day-in-the-life” of a family on welfare. Among these portraits, Pishko weaves tons of data: such as information on the number of people eligible for welfare versus how few of them actually apply for it and how small the benefits are in comparison to the actual costs of living. I learned a lot from this piece, especially about the many seemingly arbitrary welfare rules and their unintended consequences. The focus of the piece is how time-consuming it is to maintain benefits.

“The roughly 85 hours per week Karen spends taking care of her youngest, who is still at home (caring for one’s children does not count as an approved work activity); the two to three hours she estimates she spends on average each month meeting CalWORKs’ constant demands for updated information; and scrambling for loans and gifts to make up the difference between what the benefits provide and what it costs to survive doesn’t leave a lot of time for Karen to earn enough money to get off CalWORKs, which was supposed to be the whole idea behind TANF. Then there are the expenses associated with transportation, computer access, and other things necessary to the search for work. She argues that the system ‘is supposed to help people, but now that we are trying to become self-sufficient they make us suffer.’”

We need as many articles like this as possible to be published, in order to counter the “welfare queen” narrative of lazy moochers seeking handouts. Politicians throughout the country are proposing or have already passed legislation requiring welfare recipients to be tested for drugs. Nearly all of these programs have uncovered little to no drug abuse. If only they had used the money it took to perform these drug tests on programs that would actually have benefited recipients.

Elizabeth Winkler’s “The Invention of Female Adulthood” in The New Republic

I was just on Amazon reading the synopsis of Rebecca Traister’s new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, and it sounds truly fascinating. Then I found this great in-depth review of the book and its topic. Apparently the idea of women choosing not to marry has slowly morphed from radical to perfectly normal. It’s about time.

“Instead of lamenting the absence of a wedding ring, they are embracing and enjoying their single status. It’s a seismic shift in attitudes from the obsessive husband-hunting of a Carrie Bradshaw or Bridget Jones. For most of history, unmarried women have been looked on as tragic and weird—at best, pitied as incomplete creatures doomed to die alone with their cats; at worst, reviled and targeted, Salem-witch-style, as dangers to the social order. The stigma surrounding unmarried women has finally begun to fall away for the simple reason that there are so many of them. In 2009, for the first time in American history, unmarried women outnumbered married women. By 2012, they made up almost a quarter (23%) of the electorate. They occupy every class, region, and racial group in America, and their numbers are rising every year. In 2014, there were 3.9 million more single adult women than in 2010. ‘We are a new republic, with a new category of citizen,’ Traister declares.”

Singledom for women may be a growing trend, but changes to this status quo often lead to further pushback, especially among conservatives and males. My theory is that women’s independence makes men feel disposable and somehow threatened. Despite the great strides we’ve made in debunking the persistent caricatures of the “crazy cat lady” or otherwise suspicious or eccentric spinsters, our cultural narrative still tends toward heterosexual coupledom, if not marriage, as the norm. In what is essentially a social history of changing gender roles, Traister makes the grand conclusion that by speaking with their votes and values, unmarried women are remaking America. We can only hope.

Meghan Moravcik Walbert’s “To Love, and Maybe Lose, a Foster Child” in The New York Times

On most Tuesdays, the New York Times features a “Foster Parent Diary” on their parenting essay blog, Motherlode. I found this piece from the end of January to be particularly moving. The author is about to lose the 4-year-old foster son she has been caring for for nearly a year. Relatives, which she says have barely spent any time with the boy, have offered him a permanent home. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to parent with the full force of your love and dedication knowing that this child may not be under your care for more than a few short months. We see this temporary mother saying goodbye—learning to let go—through a series of lists she makes: things that she needs to pack for the boy, things she wants to buy to help him remember his time with her. Some things, though, she can’t bring herself to list.

There are other lists. Lists I’ll never write down. Lists I allow to form in my head for only a few moments at a time before I have to blink them away. Lists of “last” things I want to do with BlueJay. Lists of the most important things to try to teach him before he leaves. Lists of how I might make this easier on my 5-year-old biological son, Ryan, who considers BlueJay to be his brother. Lists of worries about BlueJay’s future. A future I cannot impact. A future I most likely will not know.

Olivia

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