Narrative Change: A Vital Component of Advancing Gender Equity

By: Diane Cornman-Levy

She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

At a campaign rally in 1976, Ronald Reagan spoke those very words and introduced the Welfare Queen into the public conversation on poverty. The narrative of the forementioned woman became a favorite example of welfare abuse at the expense of working Americans. Welfare Queen became a national archetype and Reagan’s administration flourished on a policy of regulating and reducing welfare. Since 1976, the narrative of the myth of the welfare queen has been perpetrated by anti-welfare coalitions and has caused prejudice against the poor that persists to this day, consequently shaping policies that have made it more difficult for poor women to access resources.

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