Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Whose body is it, anyway—when you’re on welfare?

Some years back, the governments of Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Georgia floated the idea that women on welfare should be denied benefits unless they agreed to contraceptive implants. There was the usual flurry of polarized for or against articles and speeches, mostly grounded in either feminist or right-wing ideology. I am a radical feminist (by Webster’s primary definition of each word) who came down on the side of enforced contraception. This was not a popular position within most of my social circle (I believe the term Anti-Christ may have been bandied about).

If, for whatever reason, a person goes on welfare, he or she gives over the responsibility of caring for their basic needs to another. The last time most of us were in that position, we were children. It is pretty commonly agreed (in wealthier societies that have the luxury of not needing children as economic resources) that adolescents should not become parents. The practical reason behind this is that children are dependant on their parents, and lack the financial and emotional resources to effectively care for offspring (if anyone reading this article is the happy parent of a thirteen-year-old mother or father, I can only assume that drugs or a fundamentalist sect form your worldview).

When on welfare, you involuntarily surrender some of your status as an adult. You’ve declared to society, “I can’t provide for myself; please feed me and house me.” The government becomes the de facto parent of the welfare recipient, albeit the kind whose neglect would probably lose the kids to foster care. Society provides some form of food and housing, no matter how grudgingly, by sharing the products of other’s labour. It’s the upside of taxation—at least if you are a knee-jerk left-leaner like me. While I’m happy to make sure that you don’t starve or freeze to death, I don’t want you bringing new lives into the world that I am also expected to pay for, because my taxes are already high enough—I enjoy my Starbucks’ habit and frivolous spending on unnecessary décor items.

Because of my selfishness, I’m in absolute agreement with the idea that if a woman applies for welfare it is fair to require that she be given a contraceptive implant for the duration of her time on social assistance. Just to be equally offensive to both genders, I think men wanting welfare should also have to use hormone implants or sperm duct plugs, as they are patently unable to support any offspring they father during this period.

This is not a misogynistic or anti-poverty position. It is a fair, economic practicality. Some of the aforementioned state governments also decided that they would deny financial support to any children that were born while a woman was on social assistance. Now that IS child abuse, coming from legislators who, even if they have the heart of a pre-visitation Scrooge, should be able to see the long-term medical and jail costs of malnourished, uneducated, uncared-for children. In fact, along with mandatory contraception, I’d also like to see a major increase in the funding that goes towards health, nutritional support, and education for children within the welfare system.

To those who scream that it is a human right to bear children, I ask, why? Simply because we can, biologically? Most of us have the physical strength to overpower and kill a child—does that mean we have the right to do so? Of course not. Do men have the right to rape women, simply because most of them are stronger than their victims? No. As one feminist slogan says, “Biology is not destiny.”

(For a well-reasoned, practical argument against my position, visit


Catnapping said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catnapping said...

a couple of points if i may...

1. Adolescent whelping is a relatively new development in human evolution. Even as recently as the 1800s, girls' menarche timed around their 17th to 18th years...

2. If I have paid (and/or will certainly be paying future) taxes into a community's kitty, then the monies gifted back to me in the form of government mine.

To follow your reasoning, women who do not work outside the home (thus producing an income) belong to their husbands. That's a rather odd position for a "radical feminist."

KarenOh said...

a reply to points 1, 2, & 3:

1. There is quite a bit of evidence in the graveyards (death from childbirth) that women started families in their early teens. So menarche would have commenced, for some, anyway, earlier than 17 or 18.

2. The reality is that bearing children when you lack the circumstances to support yourself is going to raise that many more barriers to being self-supporting, given the needs of the child(ren).

3. It does not logically follow from my position that women who do not work outside the home belong to their husbands. They have mutually agreed that one of them will work for cash, while the other works to give advantages to their offspring. These parents have the capacity to care for the needs of their children without making a tax-payer an involuntary contributor.
And, yes, I am fully aware that I am in involuntary contributor to the education of other people's children, to the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan, to the Quebec sponsorship scandal and so much more...