The welfare state began in Europe in the late 19th century, but reached its climax after World War II. Europe was devastated and needed to be rebuilt, and at the time, the guarantees of social security, employment, and retirement were real human progress. The population had also declined, and in France, a country of pro-natalist tradition, policies that encouraged having children were more of a priority than ever. Financial support for mothers and other family benefits were introduced, and these pro-natalist policies still exist in France today.
Generally motherhood is glorified, to the detriment of women that don’t have children. Glorifying motherhood to this point, and to the point that it can seem to be an obligation, can also be considered in attitudes that victimize women and demonize men. The persistence of beliefs such as women are weaker than men, can put women into defenseless roles that are reinforced by other, equally damaging beliefs, like women are kindness incarnate because they can give birth. Such obstinate views like women are incomplete without kids, or men are always the bad guys, can contribute to a perception that women that make different choices are abnormal or bad, and therefore are easier for society to reject.
You’re not a real woman
A friend of mine who works in international trade explained to me the two main challenges she faces. On the one hand, there’s the gender gap: she followed the required studies for a good job, but in all the companies where she applied, the position was reserved for men. On the other hand, she had difficulty fitting into her current company because she has no children. Indeed, my friend has made so many concessions to find a job that she currently works in an office where the majority of the staff is female. When my friend requests days off, she rarely has the upper hand, because her colleagues feel that she has no obligations:
“You cannot understand our problems, you’re not a real woman because you don’t have children”
“Uh … I’m not a man either. So, what am I? “
This conversation is somewhat absurd, and reveals the social constructions of patriarchy and glorification of mothers in society. And, what about the father? Is he a hero, a fugitive, or just a sperm donor? In France, maternal financial aid helps single mothers, and this can financially fill the void of the father. From a psychological point of view, the welfare state can be associated with the father figure, but of course in a very incomplete way. In fact, this motherhood-centric society has not been able to find a balance: it had banned the man as an equal parent. Traditionally, and according to psychoanalytic theories, the father is supposed to be involved in the child’s autonomy process by establishing a balance within the parental couple. Beyond that, one can consider the parental couple just as the need of duality and otherness (whether heterosexual or homosexual) to reach this balance. There are women – and men –who choose to become parents through adoption. But, broadly speaking, and given the obstacle course of the adoption process, these single parents don’t need welfare to raise their children (just like other biological single parents who manage to raise their children on their own). The point here is the central tendency of the state to become a parent and thus the questioning about responsibility and irresponsibility.
The social and political consequences of the motherhood-centric society, its exclusion of paternity, and the non-existence of women as individuals in their own right has led the government to become the parent of children, and therefore of adults. The money is there, but where are the marks and limits?
But you’re not a man
The welfare state is based on a wonderful ideal: people could access health care, have unemployment insurance, receive a pension for disability, etc. This is humanism. But are these goals reached, or is the government trying to split the population by organizing hierarchy with unfounded standards and thus widening inequality? Is this a process of infantilizing and disempowering the population?
Of course, when I was unemployed, I was and will be forever grateful for the unemployment insurance that allowed me to survive. But now I realize there is also something wrong with the system. I have currently a precarious job and I’m looking for an apartment. I knocked on all doors: flat-sharing, real estate, and as a last resort social workers, because theoretically I am allowed to ask for help. But I eventually abandoned this last option because 90% of the time, I had this kind of discussion with (female) social workers:
“Your situation is not an emergency. If you had come with a pregnancy certificate, for example, you would have been registered as a priority for the provision of housing.”
“But I am not concerned by this situation at all! My problem is that I am required to leave my apartment very soon and I am looking for an alternative housing, even if it is temporary.”
The pregnancy certificate is a document provided by the doctor, which the future mother may give in the frame of her social processes. It generally gives her priority over the rest of the population (including, for example, elderly people), especially for the provision of housing. I’m just an employee in a precarious situation, looking for a home like many other young, child-free men and women in this country).
So I asked these social workers, “If I was a man, what would you have told me?” And their response was, “But you’re not a man. Fill out and send this form. Then, wait just like the others. That’s all.”
Apparently, somehow or other, to be a human is not enough.