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In the dialogues regarding reducing poverty among women, especially mothers, the inextricably linked issues surrounding low-income men must be simultaneously considered. In social policy addressing women’s poverty, poor fathers have too often been considered primarily as an enemy to be pursued rather than a fellow victim of poverty’s wrath, and potential partner towards the cure. We want someone to blame, and many assume that poor single mothers are best served by always being encouraged — and even forced — to pursue the noncustodial fathers for financial support through adversarial means. Mothers applying for public assistance are forced to sue the fathers for child support, with payments often owed to the government to reimburse the cost of the public assistance provided. Choices available to middle class and wealthy women are stolen from poor mothers, and dignity stripped from the fathers. The long outdated notions of bastardy acts, when single mothers were criminalized and forced into court to protect society from the burden of their illegitimate children, still exist. The potential for collaboration between low-income mothers and fathers can be severely hampered by the forced child support and paternity requirements, and polarization can result. This article considers how the harmful practices of the outdated bastardy acts still largely exist in today’s paternity and child support requirements, describes the development of the feminization of poverty construct, and how the gendered poverty discussion was unfortunately partly co-opted by the conservative anti-welfare movement and accompanying racialized stereotypes of the 1980s and 90s into an essentialist and often harmful response to women’s poverty. The Article concludes with a call for ending these harmful practices and embracing anti-essentialist approaches that recognize the linkages between poor mothers and fathers, value autonomy and self-determination, support coalition building, and provide opportunities for low-income parents to collaborate as partners in the struggle against poverty.



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