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Feminist Discusses Welfare

Says Language of Social Policy Leads to Discrimination

By Stephen E. Frank

Women need to analyze the language used to debate America's social welfare policy, University of Wisconsin historian Linda Gordon said yesterday in a lecture sponsored by the Committee on Degrees in Women's Studies.

In the speech, titled "Gendered Readings of Dependency: Thinking Critically About the Language of Welfare," Gordon told an audience of about 50 women and three men that the word "dependence" has become discriminatory against women.

In order to challenge the establishment's power, it is important to examine the connotations of its language, Gordon said.

"Words have influence," she said.

Gordon said that women, especially those who are Black, have been increasingly stigmatized as "dependent."

"Gradually between the 1940s and the 1960s, the word 'dependent' went from defining the children to their poor mothers," she said. "Today, although Blacks are a minority of welfare recipients, the Black woman has become a symbol of dependency."

Gordon said it is difficult for women to free themselves of the stigma associated with the language of hegemony.

"When the subject is teen pregnancy," she said, "the mothers are children. When the subject is welfare dependency, they become adults who should work to support themselves."

A former Bunting fellow, Gordon is the author of several books on women's issues, including America's Working Woman and Woman's Body, Woman's Right.

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