I’ve been thinking about some posts over at Brownfemipower (here and here) about welfare. BfP recently signed up for PA and is dismal about it. She can’t get past the idea that she must have failed somehow to need such assistance.
Nonsense, many of us assured her. Do what it takes to take care of your family—and hold your head up.
But like many, I know how BfP feels. In my case, there is a healthy dose of hypocrisy, however. I am an avid supporter of welfare rights. A small part of my dissertation discusses the history of the creation of the system, how it was fashioned in a way to assure that men and later, women who’d been legally connected to men, benefited from the more “noble” programs of social insurance, while never married women and women who worked jobs like domestic service and agriculture (i.e. women of color) were left out of social insurance and thus, had to turn to the “welfare” programs. I know that. I fully support historians who assert that the Social Security Act created a two-tier system of social provision, with welfare on the bottom.
And, still, I’ve never considered welfare a viable option for me. Too much prying, too much stigma. On the surface. But deep down, there are more hateful, hypocritical, elitist reasons. Welfare, part of me thinks, is not for me. I’ve never been that poor. I’m too educated. I have so many other sources of support. And the worst—I’m different. Only, I fear my different comes with connotations of better.
I discovered that when I was a pregnant grad student waiting for my health insurance to kick in. I had spotting with my pregnancy and, lacking insurance, I went first to a parish health unit. They sent me to a state hospital. I felt so isolated from the other OB patients there. Their’s was not the graduate-school-induced poverty I had. I saw the results of grinding, unending poverty. And my immediate thought was, “God, get me out of here. I don’t belong here!”
As if they did. As if any woman, and especially a woman in this country, did. So, like BfP (though she in no way suggests her feelings ran the same course as mine), I’m trying to do the work to overcome that feeling, that stigma. It’s hard work.