Lawrence Mead believes that the current welfare system is more than fair to women and that women free-ride on men as much as men free-ride on women. He misses the central point of the feminist critique: virtually all of men’s work is recognized and compensated in wages and social insurance benefits; much of women’s work, in contrast, is not. Mead also claims that my “Integration” model would be unfair to men because it would deprive them of any distinctively masculine activities “other than impregnat[ing] women.” In fact, my approach would increase men’s options — by giving them the freedom to reject or reinvent masculinity.
I am delighted that Frances Piven shares my vision of a just, humane, feminist welfare state. I in turn share her concern about formulating a strategy that can help us get from here to there. A strategy focused exclusively on defending AFDC in its present form is unlikely to succeed today, in my view, given the intense scapegoating of “welfare mothers.” The strategy I prefer is aimed at breaking down the “us” versus “them” mentality that currently stigmatizes and isolates the poor. That is in part why my article redescribed the welfare crisis as a crisis that jeopardizes the well-being of all working people. I prefer to stress that virtually every woman is at risk of becoming a single mother, and virtually every wage-earner is at risk of unemployment. So we all need new postindustrial social protections. In this climate, it may prove more strategic to think big than to think small.