Don't Call Us Out of Name: The Untold Lives of Women and Girls in Poor America

Overview

A radically new vision of women and girls living below the poverty line; Lisa Dodson makes a frontal assault on conventional attitudes and stereotypes of women in poor America and the seriously misguided "welfare reform" policies of the end of the century.

"I hear Odessa, a thirty-two-year-old woman, speak at a forum on welfare reform. I ask her about the phrase she used, 'Don't call me out of name,' for it seemed to speak for a whole nation of people. Odessa tells me that women who have no money and no one to ...

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Overview

A radically new vision of women and girls living below the poverty line; Lisa Dodson makes a frontal assault on conventional attitudes and stereotypes of women in poor America and the seriously misguided "welfare reform" policies of the end of the century.

"I hear Odessa, a thirty-two-year-old woman, speak at a forum on welfare reform. I ask her about the phrase she used, 'Don't call me out of name,' for it seemed to speak for a whole nation of people. Odessa tells me that women who have no money and no one to stand up for them get put into a bad position and they get misnamed. Most often they get called 'welfare mothers' or 'recipients,' words she will no longer acknowledge. With millions alongside her, Odessa has emerged by her own strength and some opportunity, and now she insists upon naming herself."

While Lisa Dodson was working in a Charlestown factory twenty years ago, the stories of the women she worked with daily captivated her; she listened to them speak about harsh lives and their deep commitment to family and community. It was the beginning of Dodson's desire to learn the truth and write it down.

For over eight years, Dodson has been documenting the lives of girls and women-hundreds of white, African-American, Latino, Haitian, Irish, and other women in personal interviews, focus groups, surveys, and Life-History Studies. This book is a crossing--a class crossing--taking readers into fellowship with people who are seldom invited to speak but who have powerful stories to tell and who force us to abandon common myths that have been fed to us by the media about school dropouts, teen pregnancy, and welfare "cheats." Don't Call Us Out of Name delves deeply into the realities of their lives, often with surprising and uplifting stories of commonplace courage, unimaginable strength, and resourcefulness.

Lisa Dodson does not simply give us the truth about women living in poverty but offers realistic hope for meaningful policy reform based on the experience and analysis of the women we have seen so far only in stereotype and whose voices we have not truly heard. These women emerge as critical contributors to the creation of sound, humane public policy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Dodson's book is a formidable deconstruction of the rhetoric behind the widely believed myth that poor young women and girls enjoy their plight as denizens of the nation's economic underbelly. She allows the women and girls to show, sometimes in profane vernacular, that they are less abusers of the system they find themselves trying to navigate than the victims of its failings. --Zachary R. Dowdy, The Boston Globe

"The powerful stories of the poor women in this book brilliantly convey the experiences and challenges of living in and coping with poverty." --William Julius Wilson

"Don't Call Us Out of Name is absolutely required reading for anyone concerned about the lives of poor women in post-welfare America. Fortunately, it is also deeply absorbing reading-wise, compassionate, and glowing with the dramas of real women's struggles and lives." --Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War and Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness

"Lisa Dodson's penetrating probe of the everyday realities of girls' and women's lives in poor America reveals new pathways of understanding that will be vital in helping us to rethink our societal approaches to strengthening family life in the 21st century." --Melissa Ludtke, author of On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America

"Wisely and deftly, Lisa Dodson helps these women to tell their own stories. We learn about the lives of people struggling against the odds to be caring and capable, at moments despairing, but with enormous reservoirs of endurance, courage and defiance. This book is a welcome antidote to the vilification of poor women that has characterized American politics." --Frances Fox Piven, author of Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
During school, Dodson worked in a candy and an electronics factory; later, she served as an ob/gyn nurse in a poor and violent neighborhood. Now that she's a fellow at the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute, she has melded those experiences into an account that addresses frequent stereotypes of women on welfare. Dodson used focus groups, interviews and surveys, offering money in exchange for cooperation. Many bravely managed to pull themselves up, seeking education or work to raise their standard of living, but with many, familial history repeated itself with disheartening inevitability. The subordinate position of women is nowhere clearer than in these women's lives. Children are their only allies, and the only thing they can control, so they continue to give birth to future generations who face the same conditions. What cuts across all lines of culture and class is a sense of frustration, of people trying to survive physically and psychologically in a structured institution. Dodson's work is riveting, a true wake-up call for those who view the problem as laziness and corruption among the poor, rather than a system that has failed. A well-written and eye-opening salvo in one of America's most crucial debates. Oct.
Library Journal
In the robust economy of the 1990s, it is easy to forget the 37 million people, mostly women and children, living below the federal poverty level. Dodson, a policy fellow at the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute, brings this issue to the forefront of the national debate. After all, she points out, poor women are raising a large part of the nation. Dodson bases her research on years of observation and working relationships with poor women in community organizations. She chronicles the path of poverty in terms of life stages: from youth, where daughters help raise younger siblings; to adolescence, where girls become mothers themselves; to middle age, where the fortunate women rise above their situation, often by networking with one another. The strengths of this work are its clear analysis and its recommendations for concrete changes in public policy. This book provides an excellent complement to Ruth Sidel's Keeping Women and Children Last (Penguin, 1996). Recommended for all public libraries.--Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ
Melissa Ludtke
Lisa Dodson's penetrating probe of the everyday realities of girls and women's lives in poor America reveals new pathways of understanding that will be vital in helping us to rethink our societal approaches to strengthening family life in the 21st century.
-- Author of On Our Own
Kirkus Reviews
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 girlþs 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." Achallenge to current American thinking about the poor and poverty.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807042090
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisa Dodson is a principal investigator of Welfare in Transition, a collaborative research project of Radcliffe College and the cities of Cambridge and Boston; a fellow at the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute; and teaches at Harvard University on women and poverty. She lives in Auburndale, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 Daughters' Work 14
Ch. 2 Boyfriends, Love, and Sex 50
Ch. 3 Choice and Motherhood in Poor America 83
Ch. 4 Losses and Loathing in the Welfare Years 114
Ch. 5 Moving On: "Don't Call Me Out of Name" 147
Ch. 6 A Common Woman's Resistance 186
Coda 212
Notes 223
Methodology 241
Selected Bibliography 250
Acknowledgments 255
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