An elegantly written study of poor women in the US. After conducting years of observation of and conversation with women and girls in such settings as health clinics, schools, and sheltering programs, Dodson, a fellow at the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute, presents a thoroughly sympathetic profile of American women and female children who live below the federal poverty line. Poor young girls, she contends, are often unable to imagine themselves in any other role than mother, largely because they have been obliged to help their own mothers raise children and keep house from an early age. Lacking parental support for any other sort of life, low-income daughters see no other option for themselves besides the very same grind of early parenthood, domestic servitude, and habitual fatigue (as well as welfare dependency and depression). Although many of the females interviewed here are eager to sustain an ongoing relationship with a man, that likelihood is small; most male partners, Dodson establishes, disappear before or soon after their children are born. Those who do hang around are typically abusive, whether sexually, physically, or both. "The risk of sexual abuse," she notes, "was seen as an inherent part of a girl's sexual development." Some poor women are able to move on with their lives once their children grow up. But the skill required to navigate out of the welfare system into self-sufficiency is inordinate, and the women who succeed are rare models of endurance and fortitude. While Dodson's portrait of the present crisis is disheartening, she is not bleak about the future. The women she has interviewed suggest "scores of alternatives to welfare's current policy." A challenge to current American thinking about the poor and poverty.
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