Feminists, as well as other social theorists and activists, have long faced the dilemma of choosing between social policies that favor state involvement in private life and those that foster individual autonomy. Nowhere has this dilemma been more vexing than in the area of family policy. On the one hand, social workers and welfare bureaucracies have all too often represented an unwelcome, hostile, and intrusive force in the lives of families struggling for survival and dignity. On the other hand, the recent devastations wrought in welfare programs under the Reagan administration have highlighted how important those programs were to the people they once served.
The first two essays in this issue, Linda Gordon’s “Family Violence, Feminism, and Social Control” and Emily K. Abel’s “Adult Daughters and Care for the Elderly,” offer important insights into these issues. Gordon, in a fine-grained study of child abuse case records from the early twentieth century, argues that the view of the state as an agency of social control over the poor and disadvantaged is, from a feminist perspective, problematic. Rather, she shows that the creation of the modern welfare state has been historically inseparable from the efforts of women – and sometimes children – to advance their own interests through their contacts with welfare bureaucrats and caseworkers. Abel, in a careful analysis of the growing problems women face in caring for aging parents, points out the ways in which the state could support rather than hamper family-centered caregiving. Both scholars take note of women’s need for autonomy from obligations to children and kin but also stress the profound involvement that women incur in their families and the importance of empowering women within that context. The task of imagining a feminist family policy, these writers suggest, is no easy matter.
Family Violence, Feminism, and Social Control
Emily K. Abel
Adult Daughters and Care for the Elderly
Over the phone I am brave enough to ask, “Why’d you go back?” (Fiction)
From the Women’s Prison: Third World Women’s Narratives of Prison
B. Ruby Rich
Feminism and Sexuality in the 1980s (Review Essay)
Mine Shaft (Poetry)
Secrets of Success (Fiction)
Work and Modesty: The Dilemma of Women Traders in South India
Report from SSS, a Women’s Group in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India (Commentary)