Negotiating Gender and Power: How Some Poor Mothers Employ Economic Survival Strategies After Welfare Reform

Marginalized Mothers, Mothering from the Margins

ISBN: 978-1-78756-400-8, eISBN: 978-1-78756-399-5

ISSN: 1529-2126

Publication date: 15 November 2018


Low-income mothers who use welfare benefits are frequently portrayed as “faces of dependency” in the prevailing public discourse on America’s poor. This discourse, often anchored in race, class, and gender stereotypes, perpetuates the assumption that mothers on welfare lack skills to employ constructive agency in securing family resources. Scholars, however, have suggested that their welfare program use is embedded in complex survival strategies to make ends meet. While such studies emphasize maternal inventiveness in garnering necessary resources and support, this literature devotes little attention to the costs of these strategies on maternal power as well as how mothers negotiate gender and the oppression that usually accompanies such support. Feminist scholars in particular point to the importance of exploring these issues in the contexts of mothers’ romantic unions and client–caseworker relationships. Guided by an interpersonal, institutional, and intersectional framework, the authors explored this issue using longitudinal ethnographic data on 19 Mexican-immigrant, low-income mothers from the Three-City Study. Results showed mothers negotiated gender and power by simultaneously “doing,” “undoing,” and/or “redoing” gender using three strategies that emerged from the data: symbolic reliance, selective reliance, and creative nondisclosure. Implications of these findings for the future research are discussed.



Medwinter, S. and Burton, L. (2018), "Negotiating Gender and Power: How Some Poor Mothers Employ Economic Survival Strategies After Welfare Reform", Taylor, T. and Bloch, K. (Ed.) Marginalized Mothers, Mothering from the Margins (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 25), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 107-124.

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