Poverty is Violence

Stephanie Lemmer

Physical safety. This is an issue of gender. Because I am a woman, my physical safety is threatened every moment -- rape, sexual harassment, sexual terrorism, battering, incest, sexual abuse, poverty -- these are everyday realities for the female gender. My experience of life is altered because of my genitalia and the "gender" that society has created out of my physical being. This same physical being which defines my gender by society is sought out to be destroyed by society. As a woman, I have experienced physical abuse. Because I am a woman, I have suffered this physical abuse.

Perhaps the most unrecognised of these physical abuses of women is poverty. Because of the traditional mother/wife roles imposed upon women, women have historically been physically oppressed by pregnancy and motherly/household duties. When a woman exits this traditional role, by choice or by force, she faces poverty. A working woman is paid seventy cents to the working man's dollar, not to mention that if a married couple divorces, a majority of the time, this seventy cent paid parent will be supporting the children and holding a second job as the primary caregiver, at no pay. Because of the experience of gender, women are being held in poverty -- a physical abuse.

I am not a divorced woman who earns seventy cents to my counterpart's dollar and cares for "our" children as the primary parent, but I am all too familiar with the abuse of poverty and maybe even more so than divorced mothers. My experience itself is becoming all too familiar in our society: never married, only caregiver of child/ren with absent parent, supported in poverty by a political system of oppression -- welfare.

At seventeen, I became pregnant. I was forced out of my middle-class home into a single room in a home for pregnant women which was run off the donations of the church that the home was connected to. I was no longer supported by my parents, and my minimum wage job did not provide health insurance or economic stability for my child and me if I were to parent my child. Being a young, unmarried, pregnant woman immediately put me at the mercy of our government; if I wanted adequate health care during my pregnancy, it was Medical Assistance --welfare health insurance-- that I was to turn to. The father of this child I was carrying did not suffer this economic stress. He was able to continue at his living quarters and his job without concern about health insurance; he was not responsible for this unborn child I was carrying. He was not living in poverty as I now was, and this was solely because of his gender.

The poverty I was experiencing was a means for the government to physically oppress me. The message I received from the government was: In the event that you chose you to keep this child and parent as a young, single mother, we have created a political system that will make it near impossible for you to escape poverty. When we discuss "choice," we are usually referring to the reproductive right of women to choose abortion if they so decide. The taking away of this right is a way that the government has been able to keep women in traditional roles which enforce oppression of women. We readily recognise the abortion issue and what it entails. What we, as a society, are failing to recognise are the underlying consequences that result from the "choice" to parent as a young single mother. As my experience has taught me, the "choice" to parent in this situation results in the mother and child being forced into poverty. A political system exists which controls women's right to reproduce; to bear children or not to bear children carries heavy consequences if the women is not married. This is another way that the white male government oppresses women who deviate from the traditional roles, and this is violence. Poverty is violence.

I took the government's threat of poverty and am now living the reality. I have a four-year-old son, and we are living below the poverty level. I attend school full-time, work full-time, and have another part-time job of parenting my son. I am caught in government loopholes which force me to work but do not allow me to see monetary benefits. I am experiencing the political system that is designed to keep single mothers in poverty. This experience is dramatically different from the experience of the male gender. My child's absent father does not parent, does not pay child support on any regular basis, does not need to provide health insurance for his child, does not buy the snowsuit with the last few nickels. The only cause of this situation is gender. My child's father is biologically an equal parent. It is society that has created an inequality in the reality of parenting. My child's father is not living in poverty. He is not living in poverty because of his penis; he is the male gender. Our government is not so different from a dysfunctional family; it thrives off shame and physical punishment. When a young, unmarried woman becomes pregnant and decides to make the unprotected choice to parent, she carries a scarlet letter of shame. This shame is enacted with physical abuse from the government. This abuse is poverty. I am a victim of physical abuse because I am a woman; one of my abusers is my government.

Copyright 1995 Kaleidoscope. Write Place. Volume 6.
Contributors retain all rights to their work.
URL: http://leo.stcloud.msus.edu/kaleidoscope/volume6/page16.html