In The War Against Welfare Mothers, Douglas describes the stereotype of the Welfare Mother; an overweight, lazy, immoral, promiscuous African American woman (or minority woman) with an attitude, who demands support from the government (176). In addition, welfare mothers are often represented as young women, who have more than two children for the sake of receiving more benefits (Douglas 178; 177). According to Douglas, statics reveal that this is not accurate. Statics showed that only 10 percent of women had four or more children and that only 1 percent of the welfare mothers were 17 or younger (qtd. in 178). Statics from 1993 uncovered that 75 percent of adults left the program within two years, and researchers studying the individuals on welfare could not find evidence that mothers wanted to have children in order to join the welfare program or receive more benefits (qtd. in. Douglas 177). Furthermore, studies revealed that one-half of single mothers worked while on welfare in order to provide for their families ( qtd. in Douglas 177), debunking the myth that mothers on welfare are lazy. The stereotype of the welfare mother dehumanizes poor women by creating an inaccurate image of their lives.
The stereotype of the welfare mother was perpetuated through media (especially news media). In 1990,NBC reported a story about welfare and the camera repeatedly cut to an image of a black mother and her child (qtd. in Douglas 180). News stories, like “The Shocking Truth About the Aid to Dependent Children on Welfare Program” in Reader’s Digest, that exposed how certain individuals exploited the welfare system, spread the idea that the majority of women were exploiting the system (Douglas 184). According to Douglas, “ The news may not succeed in telling us what to think, but it does succeed in telling us what to think about: This is called agenda setting” (179).
So why was the stereotype of the welfare mother perpetuated? Apparently for political gain; during 1988, 1994 and 1996, welfare reform bills were introduced into Congress and many politicians used the issue to advance their own interests. According to Douglas, “nearly 60 percent of the sources on the news were government officials” (qtd. in 180).
The media has often misrepresented minority women. One example of this misrepresentation is present in reality television shows such as the Bad Girls Club, where women are shown to be violent, immoral, and manipulative. On the show, the women in house form cliques and bully each other; Bad Girls Club (Atlanta) Episode 3 starts off with the girls throwing a liquid mixture of food (corn chips, salsa, leftovers, etc.) at Janae, a girl who was kicked off of the show and getting ready to leave (Lyfe). Young women in the house often engage in physical fights; in Season 2, episode 17, Tanisha engaged in a physical fight against Jennavecia. The show creates the stereotype that minority women (and women in general) are violent (TeamBadGirlsClub).
While I found it difficult to find positive representations of women in United States media, the Haitian Women’s Community Radio Network (REFRAKA) in Haiti, founded in 2001, provides a space where women can express their opinions about social, political, and economic issues involving Haiti. REFRAKA has produced shows that address women’s political advocacy, gender relations, violence, and HIV-AIDS (Bell). In addition, REFRAKA produces a 30-minute show called Own Your Body, Care for Your Body for 11-15 year old girls, which revolves around health and relationships between boys and girls (Bell). The Haitian Women’s Community Radio Network consists of 25 stations across Haiti and has trained around 150 women as journalists, program hosts, and production technicians (Bell).
Bell, Beverly. “Broadcasting Women’s Voices in Haiti’s Reconstruction: Women’s Community Radio” The World Post.The World Post, 22 Apr. 2010. Web. 5 Apr. 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/beverly-bell/broadcasting-womens-voice_b_547686.html
Douglas, Susan J. “The War Against Welfare Mothers.” The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women. N.p.: Free, 2004. 176-202. Print.
Lyfe, Motno. “Bad Girls Club 10 Episode 3.” Online video clip.
Vimeo. Vimeo, 1 year ago. Web. 5 Apr. 2014. <http://http://vimeo.com/58533448>
TeamBadGirls Club. “BGC2-Jenevicia Vs Tanisha (unedited).” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 28 May 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDz2zQQIBzk>