The toxic tentacles of fundamentalism (as a culture, not a faith) are deeply rooted in U.S. institutions. An example of what I'm talking about is the feminization and racialization of poverty.
In 1996 (under Clinton and prompted by a Republican Congress), the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was passed, replacing our country's only federal legislation addressing family poverty (AFDC). PRWORA was hailed as a much needed reform of public welfare because it required women to work in order to receive benefits. It also set a time limit on lifetime benefits (3 years).
PRWORA is based on what's called the Male Bread-winner Model, an antiquated and patriarchal policy model that hasn't been used in other western countries in decades (most European countries use an egalitarian public welfare model, with universal health care and child care, because those issues are perceived as ones that the entire society is responsible for and benefits from).
Prior to the passage of PRWORA there was a ton of political hype about welfare fraud, including the recycling of Reagan's famous made up story about the "welfare queen" on the South Side of Chicago (intimating that she was black) who allegedly got benefits through various stolen social security cards (the story was later proven to be false, but the myth of the welfare queen was born). The truth is that welfare fraud was very low under AFDC, but that didn't matter to politicians. They wanted welfare reform and they got it.
Anyway, as most of you know, poverty is very complex, and the causes of poverty are equally complex. What research clearly shows is that poverty is caused for the most part by systemic issues, such as a poor economy, stagnant wages, poor school systems, illnesses and the cost of health care (including mental illness), domestic violence, the erosion of pensions, and racism and sexism within our institutions. Poverty is not caused by personal immorality, laziness and irresponsibility.
And yet, take a look at how our only public welfare law in the United States defines poverty. According to our legislators, poverty in the United States has ONE cause: young women having sex and having children out of wedlock.
And the solution? Abstinence training and marriage promotion.
So is it any wonder that we have laws being passed in many states that are criminalizing women for having sex and getting pregnant? No, of course not. Our laws are codified in such a way that women's sexuality is demonized and the policy response is to teach them how to close their legs and get married as quickly as possible (while sexually exploiting them throughout society).
Sexual abstinence and marriage promotion is the sole solution to poverty in the United States because that how our legislators decided was considered "the expected standard of human sexuality." That, and marriage between a "father and a mother."
So, according to PRWORA, women just need to abstain from sex until they're married, and poverty goes away (guess, what, poverty hasn't gone away). No discussion of sex education, no discussion of female empowerment training, and although domestic violence and mental health are referenced, there's no discussion of developing programs to address these two social problems as underlying factors of poverty. Just abstinence and marriage promotion.
So yes folks, we do have an ideology problem in the United States, and it impacts women most, and in particular, women of color.
Dr. Michelle Martin is a social worker, policy specialist and Assistant Professor at California State University, Fullerton in the Department of Social Work, where she teaches social welfare policy, and researches dynamics related to immigrants, political asylum-seekers, refugees and other displaced populations.