Trading in a Man for The Man: Welfare's Control of Sexuality From Past to Present
Haverford College. Department of Sociology
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In the 1960s, poor women receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) articulated a series of implicit and explicit constraints to their freedom of sexuality caused by program participation. Their complaints formed the basis of the Welfare Rights Movement, which led to the outlawing of AFDC's sexually regulatory policies. Amidst evolving public treatment of female sexuality and casual sexual engagements, and a rising backlash against welfare recipients, AFDC was replaced with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). TANF programming is stringent and regressive, but does not retain direct control over its recipients' sexual conduct. In this thesis, I report on eleven semi-structured interviews with recent TANF recipients, exploring how they understand their own freedom of sexuality and presenting the barriers they articulate to its successful pursuit. I argue that poor women in the present experience areas of continuity and progress compared to their 1960s counterparts. My respondents did not report explicit surveillance of their sexual engagements by TANF caseworkers. However, they did articulate an ongoing stigmatization of poverty and participation in welfare programming, as well as challenges to mothering and workforce participation. These experiences continue tostructure poor women's experience of sexuality. Furthermore, I argue that my respondents draw on strategies of dialogue and consciousness-raising, as promoted by Welfare Rights Activists, to articulate their challenges to and sources of pleasure. They present points of progress in the pursuit of the freedom of sexuality for poor women, constrained by ongoing inadequacies in welfare programming in the United States.