Gender & Society
This article discusses recent revisions in child support and paternity establishment legislation enacted under the 1996 welfare reform effort, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). It critically reviews recent studies on child support collection and literature from social service programs that focus on fathers whose children receive welfare. In doing so, it illuminates the ways in which the contemporary U.S. welfare state defines men's fathering. Many scholars of the U.S. welfare state have described the state's role in the (re)production of women's mothering. Although there is substantial investigation into state support of male wage labor, less thought has been given to the state's construction of men's fathering. We argue that PRWORA actively constructs male fatherhood not only through state policies that maintain male "breadwinning" but also through state-supported social service programs that seek to shape men's identities as fathers. The discussion builds on feminist state theory and recent work in masculinity studies to elucidate the ways in which PRWORA's policies articulate a complex notion of fatherhood. We contend that PRWORA's interventions into men's fathering hold paradoxical implications for equitable gender relations. Recognizing that gender relations cannot be examined outside of the nexus of race and class relations in which they occur, we also illustrate how PRWORA's fathering policies use feminist and gender claims to advance dominant race and class interests. Finally, we suggest that although programmatic interventions may be individually empowering for men marginalized along the axes of race and class, they do little to challenge larger structural power relations. (Author abstract)
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