The paper Expanding the Subject: Violence, Care, and (In)Active Male Citizenship by Sylvia Fuller, Paul Kershaw, and Jane Pulkingham discusses the proposed policy reorientation of active citizenship. The authors argued that the current social policy orientation is too focused on employment and dismisses violence against women as well as disregards men’s neglect of child-caring responsibilities. Their paper calls for the re-conceptualization of active citizenship to address and take into account these male dysfunctions (183-185).
Using qualitative data from semi-annual open-ended interviews of seventeen mothers receiving income assistance in Vancouver, Canada, the study determined that unemployment may just be a symptom of other circumstances and not a result of personal and professional incompetence and failure to act as it is commonly viewed. Through the study, the authors found that male violence, both in the home and the workplace, as well as male neglect and irresponsibility in caring for their children, limits mothers’ ability, time, and energy to find and maintain paid jobs and increases need for welfare (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 187-192).
The study also stated that the current practice of granting shared custody to divorced couples provides opportunities for abusive partners to further abuse women through the children. Coupled with welfare cuts and rising prices, women’s options become more limited and they are sometimes forced into choosing one of two options: the first option is being able to eat but living with a violent man, and the second option is being free from violence but being hungry (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 192-193).
The authors’ stress that active citizenship must be redefined to challenge male violence against women and irresponsibility in caring for their children. Active citizenship must, on the systemic level, challenge these dysfunctions and provide programs that would help transform men disposed to these dysfunctions into solid family members without necessarily requiring marriage or parental custody of the children (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 199).
The paper proposes that policy change, or expansion as they call it, should see that active citizenship should not only focus on dispensing social responsibilities through employment but to also take into account the situations that limit women from getting and retaining stable employment and therefore not receiving much-needed welfare. They stated these situations to specifically be the harmful effects of male violence and irresponsibility (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 202).
2. Liberal Feminism Theory
The paper used the Liberal Feminism Theory in approaching the policy changes they are proposing. Liberal Feminism claims that men and women are not very different and that “their common humanity supersedes their procreative differences.” It is because of this that the liberal feminism theory maintains that men and women should not be treated differently; women should have the same legal rights, same educational opportunities, and same work opportunities as men (Eisenstein 27).
The liberal feminist theory acknowledges and works with the gender system and focuses on abolishing its discriminatory effects on the women or what is known today as “undoing gender.” Parallel to that is its goal “mainstreaming gender,” which is ensuring that organizational and governmental policies address women’s needs.” (Eisenstein 28)
The paper started with a description of the current state of active citizenship welfare regime. It discusses that the social responsibilities of the current welfare regime is primarily through employment; the social entitlements are organized through labor market activity of the citizens (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 183).
The paper then discussed the implications of too much focus on employment; hardships that women encounter are disregarded. Though the current policy tries to address women’s vulnerabilities – need for protection from violent partners, income assistance for lone mothers, and child-care assistance for working mothers, it does not address the root cause or the role of men in these problems (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 184).
Using the liberal feminism theory approach, the authors discussed how male violence and neglect of child-caring responsibilities limit women’s options and fuel women’s needs for income assistance. Using qualitative data – the responses of seventeen women who participated in the semi-annual series of interviews over the course of three years, the authors showed how the policy’s lack of attention on men’s dysfunctions can become the cause of oppression of the women, especially mothers.
The interview, consisting of open-ended questions designed to capture specific thoughts and experiences of the participants over the course of the study, focused on the reasons the participants need welfare, their past experiences, the effect of welfare policy changes in their lives, and the impact of the current welfare regime in their and their children’s lives. The authors’ used the data extensively to establish the foundation of their argument that men’s dysfunctional activities are one of the main causes of women’s need for welfare, even quoting directly from the answers of some of the women (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 186-192).
Throughout the paper, works of several other researchers are also analyzed and compared to establish how the current welfare regime oppresses women. This is specifically seen in the section where the authors discuss autonomous households. The authors used studies made by other people to explain how current practices of shared custody and welfare cuts affect women’s need for welfare and support. For example, they analyzed the work of several authors who stated that welfare cuts are made because policy makers presume that these cuts would be an additional motivation for lone mothers to find employment. They then looked into their qualitative data to analyze the answers of the participants regarding the effect of welfare cuts in their lives and their children’s lives (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 186-192).
Using both the literature and data, they found that these welfare cuts, coupled with rising prices, actually limits the options of the women; between caring for their children and working to support their family’s basic needs, the added strain of welfare cuts and rising prices proves too much for the women. Caring for their children as well as working exhaust women’s time and energy and if their income assistance is cut back or lessened, their earnings become insufficient to support their family. Some women even resort to returning to violent and volatile relationships just so that they and their children would have a house to live in and food to eat (Fuller, Kershaw, and Pulkingham 193).
For liberal feminism, such situation is not acceptable. The paper proposes that women be given the opportunity to support their family by themselves especially if their male partners are violent or irresponsible. The paper pushed for action on the systemic level to make the men accountable for their actions so that the women can enjoy the same work and welfare opportunities provided by the state.
Perhaps the most prominent indication of the liberal feminism approach is the idea that men should spend some time in caring for their children and not just providing for them. Caring for the children usually entails spending time as well as doing some of the housework that are usually relegated to women. The paper proposes that men should be enforced to attend parenting classes to challenge the apparent male dysfunction of neglect of their children (Coltrane 32).
However, the paper rejected the idea that marriage is the solution to the problem of men’s neglect of their children. Especially in the case of violent men, marriage is actually detrimental and harmful the women’s development, both socially and professionally. The paper is proposing a policy change that would include development of programs that would address child-rearing irresponsibility issues of men without the necessity of marriage.
The paper Expanding the Subject: Violence, Care, and (In)Active Male Citizenship aims to propose a change in policy by expanding the active citizenship welfare regime to include taking into account the role of the men in the current status of women in need of income assistance and professional development. The paper seeks to show that policies do not protect women from the harmful effect of male dysfunctions.
Using the liberal feminism theory, the paper seeks to eradicate oppression of women by proposing a systemic level re-conceptualization of the welfare regime to provide the women with the same opportunities as the men. This is done by proposing that men be held accountable for their actions and not just merely providing support for the women in the event that men’s actions cause them to seek assistance from the government.
Coltrane, Scott. Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework, and Gender Equity. New York: Oxford University Press. 1996
Eisentsein, Zillah. The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism. New York: Longman. 1981
Fuller, Sylvia, Paul Kershaw, and Jane Pulkingham. “Expanding the Subject: Violence, Care, and (In)Active Male Citizenship.” Oxford Journals. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 182-206. Print