Women, Work, Welfare, and the Preservation of Patriarchy

Sylvia A. Law
1983 University of Pennsylvania law review  
dominance; if women support themselves and their children through wagework, family stability will be undermined. The line of thought leads to the conclusion that to preserve the family unit and forestall the man from walking out, federal policy should ensure that the man is the dominant economic support of his family. Female dependency is, further, essential so that wagework may continue to be organized in a way that assumes each worker has a wife. This Article affirms the value of both work
more » ... lue of both work and family, while, at the same time arguing that the assumption that the promotion of these values requires the preservation of patriarchy is both empirically wrong and squarely inconsistent with ideals of individual equality. This Article was undertaken for the purpose of understanding sexbased classification in federal welfare and labor programs and comes to the not-surprising conclusion that attitudes towards women and their proper social role have a profound influence on federal policy. The assertion that a primary function of federal welfare and labor policy is to preserve patriarchy, should not be taken as a denial of the existence or the importance of other factors. Race, for example, also matters.' The desire to limit public expenditures is important, as is the desire to preserve incentives for wagework. 2 The tradition of erecting "precautionary measures against the moral pestilence of paupers"' runs deep, as does the presumption that the poor, irrespective of race or sex, are incompetent and irresponsible. The existence of other factors, however, in no way impairs the thesis that the desire to preserve and reinforce male dominance is central to the formation and structure of federal welfare and labor policy.
doi:10.2307/3311870 fatcat:7zfmxphqovgfxi2wyaefadzjey