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The Feminization and Criminalization of Poverty.docx

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Social Science
SOSC 1350
Julie Dowsett

March 7, 2012 T HE F EMINIZATION AND C RIMINALIZATION OF P OVERTY  There’s some controversy about how the feminization of poverty is understood  In a nutshell, some feminists argue that this is a new problem created with the advent of neoliberalism.  Some argue that this is an issue as old as capitalism 1. The Feminization of Poverty and Neoliberalism  Neoliberalism has contributed to the feminization of poverty  Since the advent in the late 70s and early 80s, women’s’ poverty has increased  2 reasons: 1. The retrenchment of the state 2. The reorganization of labor a. Why neoliberal retrenchment of the state adversely affects the socio-economic position of women more than men  Retrenchment of the state: involves the state taking steps back. The various social programs that were created in the post WWII era have been systematically been dismantled under neoliberalism; and women depend on these programs, much more than men, therefore the retrenchment of the state is linked to the feminization of poverty o E.g., heath care: Canadians as part of the nationalistic myth like to claim that we have a wonderful system of universal healthcare. However, health care has been under attack as a result of neoliberalism in the past decade. Women tend to be less likely to have jobs with benefits (i.e., health benefits) than men. As such, cutbacks in healthcare seem to disproportionately affect women o Restructuring of employment insurance (EI) – In 1996 the EI system was massively revamped and the eligibility criteria made it inaccessible to a large portion that paid into it. If you’re unemployed you’ll have access to the insurance, but since the changes in 96, increasingly number of people haven’t had access to EI who under the previous law would have. This disproportionately affect women because they are much more likely to have temporary or contractual work and other interruptions in their work than men (i.e., child rearing and sexual harassment), and thus, women tend to be more dependent on EI than men  Recall: because of the way in which the law deals with sexual harassment, it’s a lot easier for women to just leave their jobs than pursue legal channels. As a result, women tend to change jobs more often than men  As a result, women are left far more vulnerable by these cutbacks to EI than men are b. Why the neoliberal reorganization of labor disproportionately affects the employment and earning rates of women  Neoliberalism also involves a fundamental reorganization of labor  Recall: women’s employment patterns contribute to poverty (i.e., education does not eliminate this wage gap or guarantee freedom from poverty, women especially women of of color are much more likely to be able to secure part-time positions/temporary positions)  Under neoliberalism, there’s been a huge change in how people work in Canada  A lot of work has been done particularly in the field of feminist political economy to chart these changes in the labor market and how they affect women 1  The way people work in the last 25 years ago is very different than before the advent of neoliberalism. Government policies have contributed to creating more “flexible” labor forces  People used to expect that going to university will provide them with a good paying job, have job security and financial security etc. But you cannot make this assumption anymore  Instead of permanent jobs, there’s been an increase in lower-paid temporary jobs  “Flexible” tends to be represented as something good. The media often represents flexible labor as being good for women as it allows them to have more time with their family.  Scholarly literature points out that flexible tends to mean lower wages, less secure contractual and temporary jobs  Some higher end earners might find it easier to control the flexibility of their work and make it fit their schedule, but the vast majority of “flexible” workers deal with unpredictability and constant rescheduling rather than flexibility. Therefore, neoliberalism has contributed to women’s poverty in that this flexibility means less pay, less security and more difficulty in day-to-day jobs  Labor market strategies are changing the way we work  Immigrant women and women of color are particularly likely to be stuck in this type of labor. Overall, when we think about this retrenchment of the state, and the way in which labor is being reorganized, both of these things play a huge role in contributing to the feminization of poverty  Under neoliberalism, the gap between the rich and the poor is expanding (recall neoliberalism water balloon video) – the middle class is shrinking, and poor class is increasing  Neoliberalism does exacerbate the poverty of women, and it shuffles them into jobs that men, particularly white men, don’t want to take c. Some feminists argue that the feminization of poverty is not new  There’s been debate in the feminist community about this term “feminization of poverty”  Some argue that that it should be a problem that’s though about in terms of contemporary neoliberalism because of how much the feminization of poverty has increased under neoliberalism  Some feminists argue that it’s an old problem that has been given a new name; it is as old as capitalism itself. It’s been given a new shape under neoliberalism 2. The Feminization of Poverty: An Old Problem with a New Name a. Women have always been poor; their poverty has been concealed  Feminists who argue that this is an old problem would say that women have always been poor, it’ simply through their dependent roles of wives and daughters that their poverty has been concealed  In the last 25-30 years, as many women live without men, either by choice or incisively, women’s poverty becomes more visible and their dependency has transferred from the male dependency to the state  At every stage in their lives, women are more likely to be poor, and are more likely to be trapped in a life of poverty b. The “feminization of poverty” ought to be defined as such: without the support of a man, a woman is likely to be poor  As such, some feminists argue that the feminization of poverty should be abstracted from neoliberalism and demined at such: without the support of a man, a woman is likely to be poor 2  E.g., lesbian women– whether single or in a partnership – are far more likely than gay single men or partnered men to be poor because their women and make less money than men o It can be incredibly expensive to have children – for example, adoption, in vitro fertilization o Heterosexism or homophobia in the workforce that might force lesbian women to change jobs more frequently than heterosexual women/men  E.g., disable women – much less likely to be married than are disabled men or able-bodied women. In other words, married disabled men are more likely to have a spouse helping them than disabled women. o We see here again that without the support of a man, women are more likely to be poor. o They’re also more likely to be underemployed or unemployed o Inaccessible/unaffordable housing for these women in Toronto  E.g., growing phenomenon of homelessness amongst women. It’s often seen as a plight that happens to men because the more visible homeless people that you would run into tend to be men. o But the poverty and the homelessness of women are often invisible. Only a small minority to panhandle in the streets, and those that do tend to be men therefore they have more visibility. o Young homeless women are more likely to be recruited as sex-trade workers – although you may not see them on the streets during the day, you might see them on the streets at night o In fact, more homeless people you don’t see at all o Under neoliberalism there have been cutbacks to homeless shelters and women shelters which has only made matters worse c. Regardless of whether the term “feminization of poverty” is understood to describe an old or new (neoliberal) phenomenon, women today form the majority of the poor in Canada  Women do form the majority of the poor in Canada, whether they are part of the working poor or the homeless 3. The Feminization of Poverty in Canada: A Snapshot  Men’s standard of living tends to stay the same or go up, and women’s standard of living tends to go down substantially, sometimes putting women into poverty  “Middle class women are one man away from the welfare line”  In 2005, over half of single-parent families headed by women are poor  Jean Chretien said he would eradicate child poverty by 2000. Not only did he NOT do this, but he actually increased child poverty, and that was increased under the leadership of Harper  Neoliberalism is incompatible with the goal of eradicating child poverty o Why are children poor? Because their parents are poor. We can’t separate child poverty from the feminization of poverty a. 2.4 million Canadian women live in poverty b. This has been tied to the divorce rate  You can’t separate what happens to women after divorce from child poverty c. 70 percent of minimum wage workers are women (particularly immigrant women and women of color 3  You can’t have a job and make minimum wage, especially if you have children, and stay above the poverty line d. The poverty rate for older women is twice what it is for older men  The poverty rate for women over 65 is over twice of what it is for men over 65 4. A Socialist-Feminist Understanding of Women’s Poverty  Socialist feminists have spent far more time theorizing female poverty and connecting it to environmental conditions a. Poverty as crucial to capitalism  Socialist feminists would contend that when we’re talking about poverty, it’s important to differentiate between two types of poverty: i. The working poor ii. The unemployed  Contrary to popular belief, most poor people do work, and it’s not enough to have a job to keep you out of poverty  Socialist feminists would argue that both of these types of poverty are not an accident or a form of capitalism that has yet to be perfected. Instead, both the working and the unemployed, rather than being a drain on the system as neoliberal economists contend, they play a crucial role in the workings of capitalism  It is with the unemployed poor people with which poor laws have been primarily concerned b. The importance of unemployment to capitalist economies  From the perspective of the capitalist, there should always be unemployment  If you don’t want to take this minimum wage job for reasons such as sexual harassment, job security, lack of benefits etc., there are 100s, 1000s, of people who would be more than willing to take the job  It works in the interest of capitalists  Without unemployment, workers are put in a better position and tends to result in wage increases c. Women as a disproportionate share of the working poor and unemployed  While it’s clear that women are part of the working poor and the unemployed, the specific poverty of women does relate to the organization of families and households under capitalist economies 5. A Brief History of Poverty Law: The “Deserving” Versus the “Undeserving” Poor  Poverty law is very much constructed with capitalist views in mind  The law has to justify the existence of poverty – how does it do that? o Socialist feminists would argue that the law legitimates the social relations of the capitalist class and justifies the existence of poverty, by drawing a distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” poor  The history of poverty law is very much a history of writing and re-writing this distinction between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor a. The Poor Law (England, 1601)  Generally, the transition to capitalism in England is seen to have happened in the 1500s o E.g., Peasants were pushed off their land and into the city  With this early shift to capitalism, we see a huge mass of poor people 4  Prior to that, in feudal hierarchical society, there were relations of obligations between feudal lords and peasants  A social structure was in place in that if you were sick, disabled, widowed etc. there was a responsibly of the larger community to take care of you. From an anti-poverty perspective, it had it’s certain advantages; you can make the argument that it’s better to be poor in feudal England than homeless in downtown Toronto  With the shift to enclosure of previously common land, (i.e., the pushing of peasants off their land), there’s starting to be an increase in number of poor people, and the shifting ideology here is that they no longer went to community responsibility, urban centers started to grow, and peasants became waged earners; poverty grew exponentially  Poor laws are sometimes called the Elizabethan Poor Laws because these laws were brought about during the reign of Elizabeth I  Several laws which aimed at dealing with the poverty  In the 1500s, there were a number of laws passed to deal with the increasingly number of poverty that were consolidated by the 1601 Poor Laws o In 1563, for example, justices of the peace were and for the first time, the poor were placed into 2 categories: 1. Able bodied (deserving poor) – those who wanted to work but couldn’t. They were given help through outdoor relief, or being given work in exchange for a wage. Those who were too old, too ill, or too young to work – these were the impotent or deserving poor. They were looked after in orphanages – orphans
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