<-- Back to J388 Homepage

Feminist Criticism and Television

By E. Ann Kaplan

But first, doesn’t everyone know that feminism is no longer an issue… women have won, even worse they’re taking over everything.

War at the clinics:

Attacks against women:





K-- "The two parts of my title, "feminist criticism" and "television" require brief individual discussion before I link them together. I need to say something about the contexts in which television studies developed in order to account for the paucity of feminist approaches before the 1980s, and since feminism does not have a single meaning, I need to discuss the ways in which I define the term."


Feminist Criticism

K-- "By the 1980's, the word feminist had come to mean a variety of things in literary and film research…

"From a political perspective, one might isolate in the 1970's a bourgeois feminism (women's concern to obtain equal rights and freedoms within a capitalist system); a Marxist feminism (the linking of specific female oppressions to the larger structures of capitalism and to oppressions of other groups--- gays, minorities, the working classes, and so on); a radical feminism (the designation of women as different from men and the desire to establish separate female communities to forward women's specific needs and desires); and as the 1980's got underway, a post-structuralist feminism (the idea that we need to analyze the language order through which we learn what our culture calls 'women'--- distinct from a group called 'men--- as we attempt to bring about change beneficial to women….

Feminists were confronted by a new concept, postmodernism. The conjuncture of pomo and feminism has produced its own strand of theory and research… By briefly reviewing examples of these different kinds of feminist work on television, I will show that scholars have developed critical methods according to their political definitions of feminism."


Essentialist and Anti-essentialist

"BUT FIRST A WORD ABOUT THE PHILOSOPHICAL DEFINITION OF FEMINISM. In the 1980's the two main philosophical positions were, for good or ill, labeled 'essentialist' and 'anti-essentialist' and were much debated in relation to feminist research. Although the distinction was always seen as problematic, it was useful at the time. The first three political definitions of feminist were seen as falling under the category of 'essentialist' whereas the fourth, post-structuralist feminist was usually said to reflect an 'anti-essentialist' position."

"Essentialist feminism assumes there is a basic truth about women that patriarchal society has kept hidden. It argues that there is a particular group…. In terms of identity that precedes or is outside of culture and that ultimately has to have biological origins. The essential aspects of woman, repressed in patriarchy, are assumed to embody a more humane, moral mode of being that once brought to light, could help change society in beneficial directions. Few if any feminists now would argue for such a biologically essential view of women. Rather they would distinguish specifically female values from male values recognizing, however, that all values are socially constructed… Feminists who subscribe to this theory believe that female values, because of their essential humaneness, should be resurrected, celebrated, and revitalized. Marxists feminists would, in addition, focus on the way social structures and the profit motive have prevented humane female values from becoming dominant, and radical feminists would emphasize that silencing of the female voice results from male domination, forced heterosexuality, the insistent emphasis on the bourgeois nuclear family and so forth."

"Anti-essentialist feminists attempt to understand the processes through which female subjectivity is constituted in patriarchal culture, but they do not find any essential femininity behind the socially constructed subject. In this view the feminine is not something outside of or untouched by patriarchy, but integral to it. … If the goal is to get beyond the socially constructed definitions of man/woman or masculine/female, then anti-essentialists argue, we need to know precisely how those social constructions are inscribed in the process of becoming human."

"Although the essentialist/anti-essentialist polarity has been quite useful, it is now being replaced by a concentrated effort to understand the different versions of the 'self' and its relations with the world that the feminisms outlined about constructed and then relied on. Such an understanding entails a move into psychoanalytic terrain in an attempt to theorize the complex links between two different, but both socially constructed concepts of the 'self'.


Three Kinds of Feminist Work


"The first kind of feminist research implicitly demands equal access to the patriarchal symbolic order; the idea that women desire equality rather than subjugation…. Domestic feminism and liberal feminism…"


"The second kind of feminist work exemplifies what we might call pre-Althusserian Marxist feminism. It looks at how television's status as an explicitly capitalistic institution affects which images of women are portrayed. Such Marxist-feminist researchers stress the production of the woman-viewer as consumer, a process that emerges from television's need--- as a commercial, profit-making institution--- to sell objects along with providing entertainment. But television's reliance on constructing numbers of viewers as commodities involves reproducing female images that accommodate prevailing (and dominant) conceptions of 'woman' particularly as these satisfy certain economic needs."



"A third type of feminist research emerges from the politics I have called radical feminism. This position rejects the male symbolic order in the name of difference. Femininity is not just celebrated by radical feminism: it is seen as better and essentially different. This approach focuses on women-identified women and on striving for autonomy and wholeness through communities of women, or at least through intense relationships with other women. Radical feminist criticism might be concerned with…



The fourth kind of feminism: Post-structuralism

The fourth kind of feminism I noted, namely post-structuralist feminism, is that in which women reject the dichotomy between masculine and feminine as metaphysical or biological and aim at transcendence of the categories of sexual difference--- or at least recognition of their cultural construction…. In this stage, scholars analyze the symbolic systems--- including the filmic and televisual apparatuses-- through which we communicate and organize our lives in an attempt to understand how it is that we learn to be what our culture calls 'women' as opposed to what are called 'men'."


What is Poststructuralism?: Lacan's theories

"Especially important were Lacan's theories of the way in which the subject is constructed in a patriarchal language order (which Lacan calls 'the symbolic') and in which woman is normally relegated to the position of absence, or lack."

"… For Lacan the Imaginary proper lacks gender specificity--- or rather it brings both genders into the feminine through the illusory sense of being merged with the mother. What Lacan calls the "mirror phase" (the moment when the child first sets up a relationship to its image in the mirror) marks an awareness that the sense of oneness with the mother is illusory. The child begins to be aware of the mother as an object distinct from itself (the mirror contains an image of the mother holding the child); it also recognizes its 'mirror' self (which Lacan calls the Ideal Imago) as an entity distinct from itself. The subject is thus constituted as a split subject (that is, both mother and nonmother, this side of the mirror and within the mirror). …. "

"This recognition of the mother as Other is, according to Lacan, a universal experience and one that is essential in order for the human-to-be to in fact become human. The mother-child dyad must be interrupted by the language order (me/not me) if the child's development is to move beyond the level of the Imaginary. The Mirror Phase thus prepares the child for its subsequent entry into the realm of the Symbolic (by which Lacan means language and other signifying and representational systems such as images, gestures, and sound) in which the child takes up its position as a 'sexed' being (it recognizes the various subject positions such as 'he', 'she', 'you', 'it').

"Because signifying systems are organized around the phallus as the prime signifier, the woman occupies the place of lack or absence. The boy and girl, thus, find themselves in vastly different positions vis-a-vis the dominant order once they enter the realm of the symbolic. [Father is the third term that leads to separation of mother/child-- therefore phallic]

"The problem for the girls is in being positioned so as to identify with the mother; which means desiring what the mother desires: the phallus."


What is Poststructuralism?: Foucault

" Foucault's theories---first, of how objects of knowledge are constituted in the very processes of their articulation, and second of how knowledge is organized discursively--- have changed the face of television criticism."

"According to Foucault, discourse is power, or rather, power operates in culture through discourse. He understands the discursive construction of sexuality and the policing of desire through dominant discourses. Feminist television critics use this concept of the discursive constitution of cultural objects for analyzing the ways in which television is constructed as an object or the ways in which ads and other commercial products construct cultural discourses that become pervasive--- that function as power.


Other Psychoanalytic Influences: Voyeurism and Fetishism.


Film Influences: The apparatus

"This apparatus involves a complex of elements including the machine itself (its technological features-- the way it produces and presents images); its various texts--- ads, commentaries, and displays; the central relationship of programming to sponsors, whose own texts--- the ads--- are arguably the real TV texts; and now various sites of reception, from the living room to the bathroom." Issues of enunciation become of interest.


Return to the issue of to what degree does Film Theory apply to TV: Modeleski’s View

""Soaps, Modleski goes on to argue, at once rely upon woman's socialized skills in attending to the needs and desires of others and further develop those skills. They have an episodic, multiple narrative structure that accommodates women's need to be "interruptible". "

"Finally, in discussion the alternation between soap narratives and those of commercials, Modleski suggests that the two modes address woman's dual function as both 'moral and spiritual guides and household drudges'. Soaps both accommodate the nature of woman's work in the home and make distraction or interruption pleasurable. A woman's entertainment, unlike a man's, must be consumed on the job because he job is never-ending."

"Modleski claims that 'women's popular culture speaks to woman's pleasure at the same time that it puts it in the service of patriarchy, keeps it working for the good of the family."

"Her [Lewis-Flitterman] point is that 'far from disrupting the narrative flow of daytime soaps, commercials can be seen to continue it.' Commercials, that is, prolong and maintain the overall impulse for narrative that soaps fulfill while providing units of satisfying closure in an overall form that itself frustrates closure."

"In terms of social meanings, Flitterman-Lewis reveals the idealized family present in commercials, as opposed to the families in soaps who are overwhelmed with apparently unresolvable problems… it is in this interaction between social meanings in the two sets of narratives that results is commercials having an 'important function in shaping society's values.'"


"According to Brunsdon, Crossroads is 'in the business' of 'constructing moral consensus about the conduct of personal life. There is an endless unsettling, discussion and resettling of acceptable modes of behavior within the sphere of personal relationships."

"Brunsdon's essay is important because it focuses explicitly on the difference in narrative conventions between soaps and the classical Hollywood cinema, and on the ideological implications of those differences. The structure of the soap, an endless dialog about personal lives, inscribes the viewer in a particular ideological framework regarding the family. This positioning is quite different from that in the Hollywood film."


Madonna and the Televisual Apparatus

"Mulvey shows that the dominant Hollywood cinema is built on a series of three basic looks, all of which satisfy desire in the male unconscious. There is, first, the look of the camera in the filming situation (called the profilmic event); although technically neutral, this look is inherently voyeuristic and usually "male," in the sense that a man is generally doing the filming. Second there is the look of the male figures within the film narrative and these are organized through shot-countershot so as to make the woman the object of their gaze. Finally, there is the look of the spectator, which imitates (or is necessarily in the same position as) the first two looks. That is, the spectator is forced to identify with the look of the camera and see as it sees."



Conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation

Prepared by

Jennifer Jackman, Ph.D.

Christine Onyango, M.A.

Elizabeth Gavrilles, M.F.A.

Released January 21, 1999


*?Almost one-fourth of clinics faced severe anti-abortion violence in 1998. The percentage of clinics reporting one or more types of severe violence which included death threats, stalking, bomb threats, bombings, arson threats, arsons, and blockades, invasions, and chemical attacks dropped from 24.8% in 1997 to 22.2% in 1998.

*?The gap between the percentage of clinics experiencing high levels of violence and those without violence grew as anti-abortion attacks became even more concentrated on a smaller number of clinics in 1998. The percentage of clinics that experienced high violence decreased from 8.3% in 1997 to 4.3% in 1998. While fewer clinics experienced high violence, more faced moderate violence -- from 30.7% in 1997 to 32.2% in 1998 -- and no violence violence -- from 61.1% in 1997 to 63.5% in 1998. In 1998, 63.5% of clinics were free from violence, harassment or intimidation — twice as many as experienced violence.

*?Bomb threats and vandalism remained the most common types of violence reported by clinics although their levels were slightly lower in 1998 than in 1997. In 1998, 10.8% of clinics received bomb threats and 15.7% were vandalized. In 1997, 12.4% of clinics received bomb threats and 22.4% were vandalized.

*?The percentage of clinics reporting staff resignations as a result of anti-abortion violence declined. The 1998 survey found 4.9% of clinics lost staff as a result of anti-abortion violence, compared to 7.1% in 1997. Of the 17 clinics reporting violence-related staff resignations, 11.8% lost a physician, 52.9% lost nurses, 35.3% lost administrators, 11.8% lost counselors, and 5.9% had lab technicians resign.

*?One fourth of clinics (25.6%) were protected by buffer zones in 1998. Better enforcement of buffer zones correlated with reduced violence. Of clinics that reported no violence, 45.3% reported that their buffer zones were either strongly enforced or enforced, compared with 24.5% of clinics without violence which said their buffer zones were weakly enforced or not enforced at all. One in ten clinics (13.4%) in the survey were protected under a legal injunction other than a buffer zone.

*?Fewer clinics reported violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) to federal law enforcement officials during the first seven months of 1998 than ever before. Only 5.7% of clinics (20) in the 1998 survey brought FACE violations to the attention of federal officials. In 1997, 12.7% of clinics said that they had informed federal officials of FACE violations. Enforcement of FACE improved in 1998.

*?Clinics are less likely to turn to the courts for help than in previous years. The percentage of clinics seeking legal remedies from the courts for clinic violence such as retraining orders, temporary injunctions, and permanent injunctions continued to decline. During the first seven months of 1998, only 6.6% of clinics sought these remedies from the courts. Eight percent of clinics sought legal remedies in 1997, 10.9% in 1996, and 15.2% in 1995.

*?Local, state, and federal law enforcement response to clinic violence improved in 1998 which helped keep violence levels down. Clinics interacted most frequently with local law enforcement officials and rated the response of this level of law enforcement most highly. Levels of violence correlated with law enforcement response. Statistically significant relationships were found between local, state, and federal law enforcement response and various types of violence.

Facts About Domestic Violence

in the United States


A 1992 national survey by the Family Violence Prevention Fund found that 13% of women surveyed had been physically attacked by their partner.

According to the FBI, domestic violence claims the lives of four women each day.1

A Philadelphia study found that 20% of women presenting with injuries at emergency rooms were victims of domestic violence.2

A 1988 study by the National Women Abuse Prevention Project found that physical abuse of women resulted in more injuries to women than rape, muggings and automobile accidents combined.

In 1992, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported that 1 in 5 of all aggravated assaults reported to the police were aggravated assaults in the home.3

There exist 3 times more animal shelters than battered women's shelters in the United States4

The rate at which women separated from their spouses suffered violent victimization was 128 per 1,000, or over 12 times that of never-married women, approximately twice that of divorced women, and more than 6 times the rate of married women.5

In 1991 at least 21,000 domestic crimes were reported against women every week.6

Women are 10 times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate.7


1. "Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report." Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, January 1994.

2. Medical Therapy as Repression: The Case of the Battered Woman and Wife Abuse: The Facts. Washington, DC: Center for Women's Policy Studies, 1984.

Flitcraft, Ann and Stark, Evan. (1978) "Notes on the Social Construction of Battering." Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography Vol. 10, pp. 82-83.

3,4,6. Violence Against Women: A Week in the Life of America. Washington, DC: Majority Staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. Congress, 1992.

5. Sex Differences in Violent Victimization, 1994. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs and Bureau of Justice Statistics, September 1997, NCJ-164508

7. Violence Against Women in the United States. Washington, DC: NOW Web site.



Women must be particularly wary of proposals to "fix" Social Security.  After a lifetime of work, women often find themselves in dire economic straits during what were supposed to be their golden years. Women are a majority of all Social Security recipients, and roughly three out of four of the recipients over 85 are women. Older women are twice as likely as men to live in poverty and to depend on Social Security as their sole support.

Privatization of Social Security would be risky and expensive. (Administrative costs of Social Security are just 1% of benefits, compared to 12 to 14% for private insurers.) Most of the proposals offered would create private accounts by diverting Social Security taxes while cutting benefits and raising the retirement age to make up for lost revenues.

Many existing benefits important to women would not be available under privatization. For instance, Social Security replaces a higher proportion of low-wage workers' income when they retire. Under a private plan, this progressive aspect of Social Security that provides a buffer for the poor, who are disproportionately women, would be lost.

In addition, lifelong benefits under Social Security are especially important to women, who after reaching 65 have a life expectancy of 19.2 years compared to 15.6 for men. And without the protection of cost-of-living adjustments in benefits,  even a modest 3% inflation rate would mean cuts in the purchasing power of a $100 benefit to $74 over 10 years and to $55 after 20 years.  Inflation-adjusted private annuities are non-existent in this country, and lifetime annuities, if available, would be prohibitively expensive. What are older women supposed to do if they exhaust their assets before death?

And as the economy fluctuates, so will the yields of privatized plans. Between 1965 and 1978 the market lost 45% of its value. Seniors need a steady income they can count on, not the booms and falls of the market. The impact on women would be disastrous.

Welfare Reform Two Years Later:


Which Way is Up?



by Michele A. Tingling-Clemmons,

Founding Board Member, National Welfare Rights Union


A single parent who is also a college senior carrying a 17-hour class load applies for welfare in a small Midwestern college town. Although she is income-eligible, she knows she will be denied because to get assistance she would have to drop out of school in the final semester, make 10 job contacts a week and take a class on how to fill out applications and make it to work on time. This she refuses to do because she believes what the statistics show - that education is the best permanent path out of poverty. She fills out the 10 pages of forms as a required step to extend medical coverage for her small child (one of the principal reasons families seek welfare) and awaits her appointment.

Another young woman enters the public assistance office, dripping from the pouring rain, holding a baby in one hand and a fistful of papers in the other. Despite her assertion that she does not know where to locate her child's father and that she has done all that she has been asked, she has been dropped from the welfare rolls for "noncompliance" with the state office in establishing paternity.  She is sent back into the rain to another office to argue her case again.

The New York Times reports that an epileptic mother of two in Idaho who lost her welfare benefits sometimes goes without food for days so her kids can eat. (Idaho's welfare caseload has dropped 76 percent in the past year, more than any other state.)

Each of these situations counts equally on the welfare reform success ledger as one less household on the welfare roll. Yet, the declining number of welfare recipients fails to reveal the desperate situation of families in a disposable society, a society that has deemed certain people - poor parents and their children, the disabled, new immigrants, unemployed adults without children - expendable.

Decline in Welfare Recipients Touted As Success

In a recent article, (Washington Post, "Welfare Reform's Unprecedented Success," Aug. 10, 1998), the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee Bill Archer, R-Texas, trumpeted the falling welfare caseload, equating the fact that fewer families are receiving income support with proof that "welfare reform is working."  Archer cites as a guiding principle of the Welfare Reform Act "fight[ing] poverty by helping families escape the dead end of welfare dependency."

The Department of Health and Human Services reported earlier this year, however, that it could not determine how many clients were no longer on the welfare rolls due to actually finding work because the states are not keeping data on why people have moved off the rolls.

Not that work is any protection against poverty:  the U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 per hour is so low that earnings for 52 weeks a year, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day provide just $10,712-less than the poverty level of $13,330 for a family of three and just $100 above the poverty level of $10,613 for a family of two.

Playing Politics With Poverty

On August 22, 1996, President William Jefferson Clinton joined his conservative congressional cronies and ensured his place in history by signing into law the Personal Responsibility and Welfare Reform Act of 1996, the most brutal abdication of U.S. government responsibility for the poor in our nation's history. With one stroke of the pen, Clinton ripped the safety net of income support from our nation's poorest people, snatching assistance from poor single parents (mostly mothers) with children, Hmong veterans (who had been promised support in return for their war service in the Vietnam Conflict), legal immigrants, able-bodied adults without dependents and disabled children.


The Welfare Reform Act was a politically expedient act, which blames the victims, offers them few tools and ensures that while some families may survive its brutality, many will not. The added bonus of the legislation's construction is that most of us will not even know the depths of despair to which it will subject many of our next generation, simply because they had the bad luck to be born poor.

 The legislation's elements included an end to entitlement to cash welfare, work requirements for able-bodied adults, a lifetime limit of five years and severe penalties on clients "refusing to comply."  Administration of this vast human experiment was "devolved" to the states-hence the term devolution-ending federal standards and client protections, and giving wide latitude to state governments to set eligibility guidelines.


The welfare reform legislation did not contain funding for jobs to employ the poorest of our nation's families; provisions for adequate levels of safe, affordable, quality child care to meet the needs of working families; nor even tools to evaluate the reform's success or failure.

The act was funded in large part by cuts to the Food Stamp Program (this nation's primary defense against domestic hunger) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (the greatest source of government support to child care).


Individual entitlement to cash assistance was eliminated under the pretext that the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program (AFDC) fostered a culture of dependency instead of putting people to work. AFDC operated by providing families who needed more economic resources with monetary assistance that was nevertheless lower than the standard of need, or what the state determined was necessary to survive.

The Welfare Reform Act emphasizes punitive measures to foster work in the belief that clients receiving welfare need to be forced to work. Legislators included this component on a political rather than factual basis, relying on a racist media campaign to convince supporters and detractors that public assistance was primarily a vehicle for people of color (despite the fact that the majority of households participating in AFDC were white) to live well, "whether they deserved to or not"-the unspoken but ever-present inference. The act requires work for the poorest sector of our population regardless of the fact that a significant portion of workers' jobs already fail to raise them and their families out of poverty. To pay for the program, Congress decided to further undermine the availability of affordable quality child care, a necessary support for clients' returning to work.

In the absence of child care programs, the government has opted to put poor families between a rock and a hard place:  a parent loses the family's benefits if the parent does not go to work, or loses his or her children when child care arrangements (if any) are not deemed "suitable" by the state. The People's Tribune reported the story of a young woman in Georgia who was working two jobs to support her family. Unable to afford child care, she left her children ages 11 and 10 months in the care of her 14-year-old to go to her second job. Police and social workers came and took her children, refusing to call her at work even though her 14-year-old told police she was there. After spending 36 hours to find her children's whereabouts, but unable to get them back, she fell into depression, lost both jobs and her home and, at last report, still did not have her children back. This is our country's nightmare, and it is too real for many of us.

Welfare Rights Activists Speak Out

From June 1 through 29, 1998, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union spearheaded a New Freedom Bus Tour, part of the National Welfare Rights Union's (NWRU) Economic Human Rights Campaign. The bus toured the U.S., visiting urban, suburban and rural areas, testifying at forums organized by local activists about the economic human rights abuses they have incurred from U.S. government policies that drive our most vulnerable residents into homelessness, hunger, abuse and hopelessness in this, the world's wealthiest economy. The bus ride was timely in this year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is also the first attempt to draw international attention to economic human rights violations.


The NWRU has long recognized that welfare policy affects more than just the people who can negotiate their way onto the welfare rolls, even in the best of times.  NWRU has renewed the welfare rights activist call for a guaranteed adequate annual income for all, understanding that work alone is not a cure for poverty.  Even the Labor Party's campaign for a constitutional amendment for Jobs at a Living Wage, which the NWRU supports, falls short of addressing the needs of all workers. When the Labor Party adopted NWRU's call for a guaranteed income, it was in recognition of the fact that as long as any worker could be forced to work for less than was required to survive, it compromised the ability of all workers to obtain just wages and working conditions.


The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 is not just a blot on the morality of the U.S.  It is an attack on all workers and on all families.  In one congressional session, our policy makers determined that families of individuals are not entitled to Food Stamps and thus must go hungry except for three months of every three years if they are not working; that many disabled children are no longer entitled to assistance; that it is more important to our society that a poor mother leave her children and care for another's than stay at home and care for her own - only then is she considered a "working" mother.

At a time when more of our jobs are being relegated to automation [hear that voice-mail?] and the stock market is steadily dropping, reports of a vigorous economy ring hollow, especially when we know that they are based on the profits of large corporations that realize revenue increases when they lay-off employees (oops, did I mean downsize?)  This is happening at the same time that the federal government is withdrawing even its half-hearted commitment to affordable housing, phasing out Section Eight.

In this current state, we would do well to remember Pastor Martin Niemoller's chilling warning:  "In Nazi Germany, first they came for the Communists but I was not a Communist so I did nothing.  Next they came for the labor leaders.... the Jews.... By the time they came for the Protestants, there was no one left to speak up."  Wake up, my sisters (and brothers)!  The time to speak up is now.  Tomorrow may be too late.

Please visit the NOW web site at http://www.now.org to read about our work with the National Welfare Rights Union and other organizations on economic and welfare rights. If you would like a welfare rights activist to speak to your group, please e-mail cbaker8953@aol.com or call 313-868-3660.






Feminist Majority Opposes Reforms that Disadvantage Women, Urges Improvements in Treatment of Women

December 2, 1998


Washington DC -- Joining with other leaders of the National Council of Women's Organizations, Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal called upon the Clinton Administration and Congress to move women and women's issues to the center stage of the social security debate.

"Women cannot be a side issue in the social security debate. Women are the main issue. Our concerns must be at center stage. The majority of social security recipients are women. Social security is the major source of retirement income for the majority of women. Women's advocacy organizations, experts on women and social security, and feminist think tanks must be well-represented at the table as reforms and the future of the social security system are debated," stated Smeal.

In addition to women's advocates being at the table, Smeal urged the consideration of improvements to the social security system which would strengthen the system for women and eliminate inequities. "As absolutely crucial as the social security system is to women's economic security, the system is based on demographics of marriage and work patterns which have changed. As a result, there is a substantial benefit gap between male and female social security recipients. Retired women workers receive an average of $621 in monthly benefits compared with retired men workers who receive an average of $810 per month.

"Women are penalized for their traditional care-taking roles. For example, leaving the labor force to provide care to children or elderly parents dramatically lowers women's lifetime average earnings and, in turn, their social security benefit payouts. And women are penalized as wage earners. Social Security taxes lower income workers, who are disproportionately women, at a higher average rate because the tax is levied currently on only the first $68,400 of income. Moreover, wage discrimination against women in the labor market not only keeps most women as lower income earners, but also results in lower social security benefits," said Smeal.

Smeal continued, "In adopting reforms, every reform must be assessed for its impact on women. For example, increasing the number of work years used as a base for the calculation of benefits from 35 to 38 disadvantages women who take time out of the workforce to take care of family members. We must use this opportunity of reforming social security to strengthen it for women." Among the possible reforms which Smeal said merited consideration to improve the treatment of women were:

*?Establishing earning sharing allocating 50% of both spouses' earnings to each spouse so that each individual pays into the social security system and collects benefits in her or his own right.

*?Crediting, rather than penalizing, individuals providing child care or elderly care for their families.

*?Changing distribution of spousal and primary earner benefit to 75% of total benefit for spouse and 75% of total benefit for primary earner. Currently, the primary earner receives 100% and the spouse 50%.

*?Raising the cap on social security taxes in order to remove the additional tax burden on secondary wage earners.

For more information or to schedule interviews, contact Justine Andronici or Harriet Trudell at 703-522-2214.



October 28, 1997


Washington DC -- The Feminist Majority joined the National Organization for Women and other women's organizations in deploring Nike's use of overseas sweatshops which exploit women workers, paying them as little as 20 cents per hour or $1.60 a day in Vietnam - hardly enough to eat on, let alone pay rent, clothing, health care and more. Nike women's empowerment ads aimed at the US market are in sharp contrast to the treatment of women workers in these sweatshops. Eighty to ninety percent of the workers in these sweatshops of Vietnam, Indonesia, and China are women.

Women's groups have applauded the women's empowerment messages of Nike ads. However, young women in Nike subcontracted factories in Southeast Asia also have a right both to self-empowerment and a decent wage.

"The message in Nike's women's empowerment ads are strong," said Feminist Majority President, Eleanor Smeal, "but there's a disconnect between that message and the way Nike pays and treats its workers, especially its women workers. Sweatshops, which all of us thought were a thing of the past, are back again. And just like the feminists at the turn of the century fought sweatshops, it's incumbent on us to do the same."

Just 10% of Nike's annual $978 million a year advertising budget would lift Nike's subcontracted workers' wages to a livable level. "The treatment and pay of women workers in Southeast Asia must be higher on Nike's priority list," said Smeal. "Like the economy is global, the women's movement is global. Women in the United States must leverage our consumer power for these exploited women. We cannot tolerate inhumane wages or sexual harassment in the United States or abroad."

Women's groups are calling for an increase in wages for Nike subcontracted workers and for local independent monitors to ensure compliance with local labor laws and Nike's code of conduct.

The Feminist Majority, a non-profit organization, works toward achieving political, social, and economic equality for all women. The Feminist Majority is in the forefront of creating innovative feminist research, education, and training programs for women's equality and empowerment both in the United States and abroad.




NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund

120 Maryland Ave., NE.

Washington, DC 20002

(202) 544-4470

546-8605 (fax)


July 17, 1996




*?Loss Of Entitlement

*?Lifetime Time Limits

*?Work Requirements

*?Child Exclusion Policies

*?Additional Provisions



Loss of entitlement

Under the block grant format, with the elimination of the federal AFDC entitlement, battered women will have no guaranteed "safety net" to rely on if a state's welfare funds are depleted. Without the state or federal guarantees of economic assistance, women will be unable to flee violence and may suffer continuing and potentially life-threatening abuse. "Like it or not, Aid to Families with Dependent Children plays a key role in saving battered women's lives." 1

Welfare block grants will restrict eligibility for AFDC assistance and therefore Medicaid, even if the bills are not linked. This will result in the loss of crucial health care coverage for millions of poor women and older children. For battered women, who desperately need medical services, loss of access to primary care could result in increased visits to emergency rooms and serious injuries that go untreated.

Lifetime time limits

Most battered women, like most poor women, require AFDC for much less time than the specified limits. BUT, the creation of lifetime time limits on welfare eligibility, whether 2 or 5 years, ignore the numerous barriers and struggles that battered and poor women face as they attempt to provide for themselves and their children.

Time limits fail to take into account the traumatic effects that domestic violence inflicts, and neglect to consider the time that physical and emotional injuries need to heal.

Limits do not acknowledge the continuing threats that abusers often pose to battered women and their children. Such harassment, often repeated and long-term, affects the battered woman's chance of finding and keeping employment.

Overly narrow hardship and battering exception

Most battered women, like most poor women, do not want to return to welfare once they have gotten "off," but the circumstances of victims of domestic violence sometimes necessitate a longer periods of cycling "in and out" of the system for safety and survival reasons. In the current bills, the hardship exception for victims of battering or extreme cruelty applies only to the 60 month lifetime limit for AFDC recipients. It should also apply to the 24-month limit after which work is required. In addition, the participation rates required by states should be altered to allow for these exceptions.

The hardship exception is only available for 20% of the average monthly caseload, which is extremely low. Data from the Chicago-based Taylor Institute indicates that 50-60% of participants in welfare-to-work programs are past domestic violence victims and 25-60% are current domestic violence victims. A better approach is to create a 20% limit for hardship and additional exemptions for battering cases only.

Work requirements

Most battered women, like most poor women, want to work in order to avoid or leave welfare. But, battered women face multiple obstacles in finding employment, and work requirements fail to take into account these difficulties. State programs may provide little or no job assistance or skills training, and restrict or deny medical coverage or child care assistance. In these situations, work requirements further constrain women's choices.

Work requirements should be more flexible, including specifying that exemptions for hardship or domestic violence are available. Domestic violence exemptions should not be subsumed within the 15 or 20% of cases which may be exempt for hardship.

Victims of domestic violence often do not have the time to pursue the necessary counseling, safety planning, and legal activities necessary to escape violence while also trying to work. Time spent in "required work activities" should be satisfied by domestic violence victims participating in necessary supportive services.

Child exclusion policies


Family Cap

The GOP welfare bills create a child exclusion policy (or "family cap") that denies any incremental grant increase for a new child for an AFDC family. This policy wrongly assumes that poor women have children to increase their benefits, when in fact most families receiving assistance have only 1 or 2 children. States with higher benefits do not have larger families.

For battered women and survivors of sexual violence, the policy could be even more harmful because the exemption for rape and incest is very narrow. Domestic violence often includes rape and incest, and under this bill, states can define rape and incest without any guidance. How can we be sure that the definition of rape will include acquaintance rape and marital rape?

Victims of violence deserve privacy when discussing their personal life stories and tragedies. Will states require rape and incest survivors to disclose their stories to an overworked caseworker who must be more concerned with decreasing the numbers receiving assistance than protecting individual confidentiality?

Will states give recipients adequate notice of the rape and incest exemption? Without notice to their mothers, how can children born from rape and incest possibly receive benefits?

Rape is the most underreported violent crime in America. Many women, especially in domestic violence and intimate situations, do not seek immediate medical or police assistance. The statute should permit women to use a variety of materials such as legal petitions or complaints, medical or police records, and/or affidavits by the recipient and other witnesses of the violence and abuse. In the absence of other evidence, a woman's testimony must be enough. Otherwise, states may place a greater burden on AFDC recipients to prove rape or incest than is required by that state's criminal laws to convict the perpetrator.

Illegitimacy Ratio

The illegitimacy ratio, which gives states incentives if the rate of out-of-wedlock births decreases, creates a direct conflict between the economic interests and the safety of battered women. Under this provision, battered women could be forced to stay with their abuser because no funding would be available for children born out-of-wedlock. State caseworkers would have an incentive to hide the existence of these mothers and children.

If the illegitimacy ratio language is allowed in the bill, there would be no safeguards or guidelines as to how states can decrease "illegitimacy" under the proposed formula. To receive the bonuses, states will be more inclined to use coercive means to either restrict access to abortion services or encourage undocumented abortions to reduce out-of-wedlock births.

Paternity disclosure requirements

Most battered women, like most poor women, would prefer an intact family, free of violence and poverty. Women do not conceal paternity without a very good reason. The requirement for a battered woman to reveal the batterer as the father of her child, without a good cause exception for victims of domestic violence, fails to acknowledge the potentially fatal danger this disclosure may pose to a battered woman and her family.

Conducting a paternity search or filing for child support could reveal the location of battered women and their children to the batterer, thus jeopardizing the lives of the mother and children.

The consequences of establishing paternity are often unknown to domestic violence victims, and could be highly dangerous. Establishing paternity means that fathers can seek visitation or even custody, putting mothers and children into physical danger. In-hospital paternity acknowledgments do not provide necessary safeguards for battered women because domestic violence victims often do not have full information in a highly charged hospital setting.

Teen Provisions

Unmarried minor parents would be required to live with an adult or in an adult-supervised setting and participate in educational and training activities. Unless a teen complies with these regulations, she and her children can be cut off of welfare entirely. Although many teens would like to live in a family setting, they often leave their families in order to escape physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by family members. This provision would result in more teens being subjected to abuse and violence in order to receive assistance for their children.

Battered immigrant women are placed in further danger

Legal immigrants who are not citizens are denied access to SSI, food stamps, AFDC, SSI block grants, and Medicaid. Without eligibility for these life-saving programs, battered immigrant women may be forced to rely on their abuser for financial support and cannot flee the violence they face.

Unlike the immigration bill, under the welfare bill, battered immigrant women do not have an exemption from the "deeming requirement." "Deeming" counts the income of the sponsor as available to the immigrant, which may force battered immigrant women to rely on their sponsor even when he is abusive. The presumption that a victim of domestic violence has access to the income of her sponsor is wrong and potentially fatal to the battered immigrant woman.

Additional Provisions


Right to travel

The bills restrict the right of a woman to travel because states can set eligibility rules that deny or restrict assistance for women who have lived in a state for less than 12 months. Domestic violence victims often need to cross state lines to escape their abuser and this bill increases the economic hardship and physical danger faced by women who are fleeing violence.

Limited definition of battering

The current definition of battering in the GOP welfare bills' provisions would exclude women who need protection. The definition of battering should include: (i) physical acts resulting in or threatening to result in physical injury, (ii) sexual abuse, including: sexual activity involving a dependent child, forcing the caretaker relative of a dependent child to engage in nonconsensual sexual acts or activities, or threats of or attempts at physical or sexual abuse, (iii) mental abuse, including psychological coercion, threats, intimidation, acts designed to induce terror, or restraints to liberty, (iv) neglect or deprivation of medical care, housing, food, or other necessities of life, and (v) any other acts which are used to abuse, control, or coerce women.

There is no definition of the level or types of proof necessary for victims of domestic violence. The statute should permit women to use a variety of materials such as legal petitions or complaints, medical or police records, and/or affidavits by the recipient and other witnesses of the violence and abuse.

Reduction of domestic violence not recognized as national goal

The welfare bills' goals do not recognize the nation's pressing need to reduce the epidemic of violence against women. The bills should specifically include the reduction of domestic violence as a goal for the legislation.

Research and data collection do not include the relationship of domestic violence and welfare receipt

Further research needs include: individual state number studies, impact of domestic violence services on welfare, waiver evaluations, qualitative studies on welfare-to-work programs, and "best practices" information.

Data collection efforts do not include information about the family history of past and current domestic violence.

Inadequate legal procedures available for domestic violence victims

Due process measures for all recipients who are denied assistance, including victims of domestic violence, are left to the states. The federal government should specify the need for a face-to-face hearing.

With the dramatic cuts in funding for Legal Services, battered women are often unable to afford legal advocacy and cannot obtain the protective court measures that they so desperately need.

For more details or suggested language, contact Pamela Coukos, Jennifer Goldberg, Lisa Lewis, or Pat Reuss at NOW LDEF, (202) 544-4470. 1 Wendy Pollack, Twice Victimized: Domestic Violence and Welfare "Reform" 30 Clearinghouse Review 329, 330 (July 1996).





Nearly 2 in 3 female victims of violence were related to or knew their attacker. (Ronet Bachman Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report," January 1994, p. iii)

Over two-thirds of violent victimizations against women were committed by someone known to them: 31% of female victims reported that the offender was a stranger. Approximately 28% were intimates such as husbands or boyfriends, 35% were acquaintances, and the remaining 5% were other relatives. (In contrast, victimizations by intimates and other relatives accounted for only 5% of all violent victimizations against men. Men were significantly more likely to have been victimized by acquaintances (50%) or strangers (44%) than by intimates or other relatives.) (Ronet Bachman Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report," January 1994, p. 1)

Almost 6 times as many women victimized by intimates (18%) as those victimized by strangers (3%) did not report their violent victimization to police because they feared reprisal from the offender. (Ronet Bachman Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report," January 1994, p. 1)

Annually, compared to males, females experienced over 10 times as many incidents of violence by an intimate. On average each year, women experienced 572,032 violent victimizations at the hands of an intimate, compared to 48,983 incidents committed against men. (Ronet Bachman Ph.D., U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Violence Against Women: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report," January 1994, p. 6)

Battered women seek medical attention for injuries sustained as a consequence of domestic violence significantly more often after separation than during cohabitation; about 75% of the visits to emergency rooms by battered women occur after separation (Stark and Flitcraft, 1988). About 75% of the calls to law enforcement for intervention and assistance in domestic violence occur after separation from batterers. One study revealed that half of the homicides of female spouses and partners were committed by men after separation from batterers (Barbara Hart, Remarks to the Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, April 1992)

Twenty years ago, the first battered women's shelter in the United States, Women's Advocates, was opened in St. Paul, Minnesota. This program is still in existence today. (NCADV VOICE Spring, 1994)

There are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. There are 3,800 animal shelters (Schneider, 1990).

Each year, medical expenses from domestic violence total at least $3 to $5 billion. Businesses forfeit another $100 million in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism and non-productivity. (Domestic Violence for Health Care Providers, 3rd Edition, Colorado Domestic Violence Coalition, 1991.)

It is estimated that 25% of workplace problems such as absenteeism, lower productivity, turnover and excessive use of medical benefits are due to family violence. (Employee Assistance Providers/MN)

Violence is the reason stated for divorce in 22% of middle-class marriages. (EAP Digest November/December 1991)

From 1983 to 1991, the number of domestic violence reports received increased by almost 117%. (NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, 1983 and 1991)


Back to DV Statistics Page


Back to SafetyNet Home Page

*Disclaimer: The content of the SafetyNet site was originally published online in 1995. We are not a domestic violence agency, support network, or shelter. We published this information in 1995 as a pro bono service but no longer maintain this site. Please note credits for statistics and contact sources directly for answers to your questions, resources, permissions, etc. We are unable to respond to your emails regarding any information on this site. Cybergrrl, Inc. does not endorse any resources listed in this section. Thank you.

**NOTE:Statistics have come from a book compiled by:

National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women

125 S. 9th Street

Suite 302

Philadelphia, PA 19107

Please contact them directly regarding statistics.

General Statistics | Pregnancy | Children | Teen Relationships | Elder Abuse | Women Killed | Women Who Kill | Criminal Justice System | Health Issues

Links | Stats | Handbook | Home |

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) September 27, 1999, Monday, Metro Editio

A 1998 U.N. Development Program report on worldwide poverty concludes

that, relative to the poverty of men:

Women have a much higher incidence of poverty.

Women's poverty is more severe.

The incidence of poverty among women is increasing dramatically.

There is an education gap as well. Of the 900 million illiterate adults

in the world, two-thirds are women.

<-- Back to J388 Homepage