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THE WOMEN OUTSIDE by Stephanie Golden


Meanings and Myths of Homelessness

by Stephanie Golden

Pub Date: May 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-520-07158-1
Publisher: Univ. of California

A freelance journalist and medical writer examines homelessness among women from a wide variety of anecdotal, historical, literary, and cultural perspectives. Reaching far beyond the usual straightforward journalistic approach to homelessness, Golden, who has volunteered in women's shelters since the late 1970's, offers a multifaceted look at what is, she points out, a centuries-old phenomena. Central to her thesis is the image of the contemporary homeless woman as a modern witch. ``To the mystery of the outsider,'' she writes, ``...the homeless woman adds the subtle aura of unsavory sexuality and secret power that attaches to a woman who exists apart from a defined social context.'' Golden describes her experiences working at a Manhattan women's shelter, while at the same time examining the many causes of homelessness among women (including the expected, such as loss of housing, and the unexpected, such as the detrimental effects of women's traditional dependent/passive societal role). She goes on to interpret a Grimms' fairy tale in which a witch/bag-lady appears; to describe the history of homeless women in Western culture from ancient times to present day; to examine the mental illness—real or illusory—that is often assumed to be the cause of homelessness; and to offer insights into the meaning of female marginality. Throughout, the author draws on an intriguing hodgepodge of sources, including (to cite but a few) writer George Orwell, photographer Jacob Riis, memoirist Mary Saxby (homeless during the mid-1700's), and sociologist William Sanger (who studied prostitution in the mid-1800's). An ambitious and fascinating work, laced with much solid scholarship, that often transcends its subject matter to tackle issues of concern to all women.