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Knowing the Body

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Governmental Gendering

by Sara Ansell, Bryn Beery, Marissa Chickara and Nancy Evans

While governmental policies affect all Americans, they tend to affect men and women in remarkably different ways. The following essays will examine gender differences in public policy and the private sector. Specifically looking at welfare policy since 1996, policies dealing with juggling work and family responsibilities, and women in the criminal justice system, we will present a multi-faceted view of governmental actions and the inconsistencies in which they apply to men and women.

For families receiving welfare, or TANF dollars (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), the 1996 Reform created a dramatically different welfare state. Changes included devolving power to states, funding through block-grant money for states, requiring work training and placement, and a five-year limit on TANF dollars. These policies had the most profound effect on women, largely because of their inherently family-focused nature. Since welfare is a program for needy families (and originally a program only for needy children), and since mothers generally care for children in the event of a parental separation, TANF is a program very focused on women. As TANF is up for reauthorization in the spring of this year, new (mainly women-friendly) changes are proposed, such as an increase in child care dollars. Reauthorization, while expanding the scope of the policy, seems to promise to make TANF all the more gendered. Unaddressed questions include what to do with men who do not provide direct care for families yet still qualify for welfare? Is the mandatory reveal of the paternity of the child necessary?

The average working woman also gets about an hour's less sleep each night than the average stay-at-home mom. And men spend more time than women both at their jobs and on leisure and sports." Working women, though having gained ground in the work place, have not budged in the home. The gender roles still hold true in the private spectrum despite women's growing stature in the career sphere. Women are still expected to be the primary care givers. Their new role of a working woman has not demanded a sharing of duty in the home between two parents, but simply a doubling of the work expected of women today. Have women therefore truly taken a step forward due to their growing numbers in the professional world, or have women inevitably been forced to bite off more than they can chew? Women will not be capable of stepping forward on the path of equality and respect without stepping out of their well defined footprints still in place today.

The United States Fair Labor Standards Act has not been revised since 1938. The composition of the American workforce has changed considerably from this time, and so have their needs. There need to be changes to accommodate the modern worker-both male and female. The government needs to implement policies to make the workplace a more flexible environment- not just so women can be better mothers, but also so men could be better fathers. There are a number of effective policies that already help workers in other nations. These policies will give men and women more time to spend at home, which gives the potential of both sexes sharing equally in "the second shift." It is also important for these policies to explicitly encourage men to work fewer hours, in order to relieve the burden on working women.

Much like the governmental policies concerning welfare and women in the workplace, the United States criminal justice system is just another form of social control. However, the affects of this control on both men and women differ greatly. Since 1980 the number of women in state and federal prisons has increased at nearly double the rate for men. There are now nearly seven times as many women in state and federal prisons as in 1980, yet there is still a common misconception that the criminal behavior of females is not a serious problem. Women have often been viewed as victims rather than 'criminals' and their crimes are often dismissed as 'survival crimes,' such as trafficking drugs, selling themselves for money or stealing. For example, if a male was caught trafficking drugs and explained it as a way to earn money for his family, his sentence would be much harsher than that of a female's, who has committed the same crime. This is because of the societal perception that women would and should do anything and everything to protect their home and family. This clarifies why in court, women who fulfill traditional gender roles are more likely than men to receive severe sentences. Therefore the criminal justice system is just another social control used to impose and strengthen traditional women's roles as well as cultivate a reliance and submissiveness of women to society. Like welfare and the workplace, women are caught in a cruel cycle between the public and private. If they try to break out of the private sphere of domesticity and into the public sphere of a patriarchal society, they are always, through governmental controls and policies, forced back into their private spheres of home and family, which is for some women, their own personal prison.

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