Analysis Sexuality

Demystifying Latina Sexualities

Bianca I. Laureano

An overview of a presentation I provided for Semana de la Latina at the University of Maryland on Latina sexualities.

As an undergrad and graduate student at the University of Maryland (UM) there were often talks about creating a Latino Studies program. It was not until I left UM in 2006 that such conversations were leading to action. Today there is an undergraduate Latino Studies program at UM thanks to the activism of key faculty and students. Last year graduate students working in Latino Studies created Semana de la Latina (Week of the Latina or Latina Week) at the end of March. This year, I was asked to be a part of Semana de la Latina and return to my alma mater and present on Latina sexualities.

I was incredibly honored, excited and anxious to accept such an invitation. It has been a very long time since I was back on campus and my leaving wasn’t under the greatest circumstances. However, knowing that students were leading and creating the events for the week and they reached out to me made me all the more sure I had to do it and do it well!

We had two hours to discuss Latina sexualities, and although that may not sound like a lot of time, I like to think we got a lot covered! I’ve included my powerpoint presentation below for folks to check out as I won’t be providing a slide by slide discussion of what I presented; instead I’ll touch upon key themes and conversations we had during the presentation.

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The first slide I provided gave a definition of sexuality to introduce my presentation. I shared what many of us sexuality educator’s use and were trained to understand the complexity of sexuality: the circles of sexuality. I shared what each component means as many of us in the field understand them: sensuality, intimacy, identity, health and reproduction, and sexualization. I then shared with the 20+ people present that as I was learning these things about sexuality education, I wondered where race, class, ethnicity, ability, and citizenship status fit in. I asked those present where they would put each of these identities in these circles of sexuality. My decision a decade ago was that each of these identities fit into each of the circles of sexuality, so why don’t we ever talk about them when creating curriculums for youth and adults? Are we really doing “comprehensive” sexuality education when we omit these parts of our identities?

And that is where I began my presentation.

The main topics/themes I focused on included discussing and deconstructing the virgin/whore dichotomy; Latinas, abortion and contraceptive access; the Welfare Queen; criminalization of Latina sexualities; Trans Latinas how they are erased and/or attempts at inclusion; and media making and mentorship. For each of these topics I included artwork, films, data, and historical analysis for many of the topics presented in attempts to make this a multi-media, engaging, and interdisciplinary conversation.

The conversations we had about the virgin/whore dichotomy are not too far from what I have shared before about deconstructing ideas of Marianismo. An additional component to ideas of sex-positivity connected to Latinas in the US was how these ideologies come from an assimilationist space/framework. Recognizing that sex-positivity may exist in multiple experiences is important and often I’ve found that when discussing sex-positivity among Latinas and women of Color, folks argue that the more assimilated we become to US society the more sex-positive we become as well. I find this troubling (and plan to write more in depth about it soon) for multiple reasons, mainly because it ignores how ethnocentric and elitist such ideas are while ignoring lived experiences of people abroad. It creates a “us versus them” space where the “us” is the US and thus better and more liberating. “Them” continues to be seen as “other” and ideas of being “traditional” (which is code for so many things) becomes undesirable and a sign of oppression when it comes to sexuality.

Using the artwork of two unknown artists and Isis Rodriguez, I explored the idea of the Virgin and the Whore from Latina artists. The first two images are of La Vigen, one called “The Liberation of Mary” where she is showing her vulva to the viewer and the other an image of a fat Virgin Mary. I spoke about how body shape and size is important to deconstruct in these images, that often we imagine and see images of a slender Virgin Mary whereas she was a pregnant woman but we don’t see her in such a way. Also, why do we think the body parts of the woman who some believed to have birth a prophet off limits to discuss? What does this do to our ideas of our bodies?

A film I used to discuss our ideas of young Latinas (and some older ones) connected to the virgin/whore dichotomy was Raising Victor Vargas (yes I do use this film often when I can because there is so much to connect to various topics). You may find the clip to this film on YouTube. We discussed how Judy is present in the film and her decision to remain a virgin is one that challenges our ideas of what young women are expected to do/act/say upon making that choice. One participate noted that Judy is not naïve as is assumed of young women or women who are virgins, that instead she is astute, smart, remains desirable, and negotiates her own safety without giving up any power.

To finish the conversation on virgin/whore dichotomy I presented Isis Rodriguez’s artwork No More!, which I’ve connected to in many ways, and Dr. Juana María Rodríguez’s ideas of “cyber-slut.” This led into the second them of Latinas, abortion and contraception. I shared my own experiences of attempting to obtain an IUD, responses to my sharing of choosing to use the withdrawal method, and sharing my perspective on the birth control pill’s 50th anniversary (and responses to it). Then I included a discussion of sterilization, the history of it in the US among Latinas and differently able people, and how it remains one of the main contraceptive options for many Latinas in the US. I referenced Dr. Iris Ofelia Lopez’s longitudinal study she shared in her text Matters of Choice, which followed three generations of Puerto Rican women who have been sterilized (the first generation being ones who were forcibly sterilized and how that history impacted the choices of the women in their family: daughters and granddaughters). Dr. López’s idea of “agency within constraints” is one that is very useful to discussing and working with Latina populations.

A conversation about Latinas choosing abortion and what the rates are, as well as a focus on Rosie Jimenez was provided. It’s not often that I get choked up during presentations, but this time I teared up and my voice cracked as I talked about Rosie Jimenez, what her death represents still today, what her daughter has lost, and what we do when we easily for get the legacy she has given us. Discussing Rosie Jimenez’s inability to obtain and afford a legal abortion was a good transition to discussions of the Welfare Queen.

Prior to discussing ideas about the Welfare Queen as it is applied to Latinas, I shared a common belief that the people in the US who are seen to be socially acceptable recipients of Medicaid are veterans and people with visible disabilities. A good friend of mine, KB, shared this research with me, especially how it applied to veterans of Color. We explored how ideas of “invisible disabilities” especially mental illness have been applied to Latinas. For example, I’ve heard many people say to me and around me that Latinas are “crazy,” “unpredictable” and these are usually connected to ideas of mental illness, yet in such situations Latinas are seen as desirable, fetishized because of their “unpredicatablity” connected to disability. Thus, how are Latinas with different abilities seen as asexual while others are fetishized and what connections can we make to Isis Rodriguez’s artwork No More!?

As part of our conversation around the Welfare Queen, I shared artist, author and media maker Erika Lopez’s ideas of the Welfare Queen. She’s created a one-woman show discussing her experiences attempting to get books published, obtain Medicare and find health care. Part of her presentation is that when she was at the “welfare line” she did not see people with several children from multiple men, nor did she see people who did not take pride in their appearance. Instead, she saw beautiful and strong people who were experiencing hard times. They took pride in themselves and remained sexual people without shame or fear even if they found themselves in a space where their privacy was eliminated. Her two images of the Welfare Queen represent these ideas. The color image was her first and original image and the black and white one was a more recent representation that has aged the Welfare Queen, because older people also experience hard times.

The criminalization of Latina sexuality is one that I’ve thought about for several years. I’ve had the great fortune to examine this theme in multiple ways and the topics included were sex work, immigration and detention, violence, and gender identity and expression. Again, I used images from Isis Rodriguez and her series “My Life As A Comic Stripper” to highlight and discuss sex work in the US. As a group we discussed what we saw in her images and what messages she may be providing and sharing with viewers.

Conversations about violence I connected to reggeaton artist Ivy Queen, one of the only, if not THE only, woman in the male-dominated genre (who has been around for over two decades). One of her songs I used to discuss violence is “La Abusadora.” The song is in Spanish and I asked folks who do not understand or speak Spanish to listen to the production of the song, what they heard besides lyrics. The Spanish-speaking folks in the audience shared some of the terms they heard her mention in her lyrics. We had an important conversation around what it means when a Latina claims a certain level of violence. How is power connected to that violence, and what does it mean when that is the only form of power and agency some Latinas feel they possess?

I tied into this conversation to Lorena Gallo (formally Lorena Bobbitt), an Ecuadorian who still lives in Virginia (and for those of you familiar with the MD/VA/DC area you know how close those three areas are to one another.  Gallo made national headlines when she cut part of her partner’s penis off after years of experiencing spousal rape (which he was not found guilty of but remains with a history of violence). Gallo was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental health facility. Again the idea of mental illness and connections to Latina sexualities, disability, and violence intersect. I completed this section by discussing the Texas rape case and how the virgin/whore dichotomy becomes something we don’t discuss in such situations. Who are we to call a 11 year-old girl whose experiences of rape and abuse mean she is a “whore”? How is virginity and promiscuity connected to choice?

As part of the conversation around gender expression and identity and the connections to criminalization, I discussed the ways Latinas who represent/embrace/identify/perform masculinity are targeted. Again, the ideas of assimilation were present in that Latinas whose gender expression may be what some may consider masculine, this is seen as an outcome of living in the US, something either celebrated as liberating or seen as problematic because they are foreign. I have to thank Dr. Ziegler for pushing me towards including this topic in more depth for this presentation.

Using singer, author, and model Rita Indiana as an example, we discussed how gender expression is tied into this conversation. Rita Indiana and Los Misterios released an album last year that was very well received in the US and abroad. Indiana identifies as a Dominican lesbian and in the interview shares how folks are embracing her and sharing that they are happy she is true to herself and not hiding. Other interviews with Indiana demonstrate how much her gender expression, which many may see as masculine, is a topic of conversation when she does interviews. She has spoken of her androgynous appearance and her height of over 6 foot 2 inches has been a focus for many Latino interviewers.

The next theme discussed was how trans people are included, excluded and erased in conversations about Latina sexualities. I shared data from the UK organization Transgender Europe, which shared data on the murders of Trans people all over the world. Transgender Europe released data in the summer of 2010 that showed Central and South America as one of the most unsafe places for a trans person to live. Reports of murders for the first 6 months of 2010 were already exceeding the number of reported murders from 2009, and those only include the reported murders. Making it clear to participants that these murders are INTRAcultural and INTRAracial was important for me because often we assume “other” people are murdering members of our communities instead of holding our own communities responsible.

I encouraged Latino activists present to not ignore the Transgender Day of Remembrance, to remember this data, and that if we do nothing and are complacent with our community being murdered we are supporting the murders and allowing for them to continue in our communities. Also included in this section was the erasure of Latinas who identify as trans, how we have a rich history and legacy of activism that we choose to ignore which is an injustice for us all.

The final part of the presentation with a shameless plug for mentoring and media making by highlighting Sofia Quintero’s HomeGirl.TV. This is a project that author, activist, and media maker Sofia Quintero created and implemented as a social network and space for people to provide guidance, support, and advice on various topics many of us encounter. The first webisode of the first season answers the question: Should I put my boyfriend of 3 months of my cell phone plan? Part of this being a shameless plug is that I am one of the HomeGirls Sofia reached out to and included in the webisodes. HomeGirl.TV launched March 31, and if you’d like to see all of the webisodes, new ones are uploaded every Thursday, please join HomeGirl.TV. It is not just for people who identify as women, it is for everyone. Sofia wishes to begin a dialogue and is looking for HomeGirls for season 2! 

I ended the presentation with an advertisement that embodied many if not all of the themes and conversations we had that day: And Then There Was Salsa.

Many thanks to the Latino Studies program, Ana, Maria and Pamela did an amazing job, and coordinated two more events: an art exhibit and a film screening which received media attention. Thank you to the participants and to my two mentors who were present to support me: Dr. Ana Patricia Rodriguez and Anne Anderson-Sawyer. 

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

Commentary Politics

Democrats’ Latest Platform Silent on Discriminatory Welfare System

Lauren Rankin

The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

While the Republican Party has adopted one of the most regressive, punitive, and bigoted platforms in recent memory, the Democratic Party seems to be moving decisively in the opposite direction. The current draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform contains some of the most progressive positions that the party has taken in decades. It calls for a federal minimum wage of $15; a full repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortion care; and a federal nondiscrimination policy to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.

All three of these are in direct response to the work of grassroots activists and coalitions that have been shifting the conversation and pushing the party to the left.

But there is a critical issue—one that affects millions in the United States—that is missing entirely from the party platform draft: fixing our broken and discriminatory welfare system.

It’s been 20 years since President Bill Clinton proudly declared that “we are ending welfare as we know it” when he signed into law a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. welfare system. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 implemented dramatic changes to welfare payments and eligibility, putting in place the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In the two decades since its enactment, TANF has not only proved to be blatantly discriminatory, but it has done lasting damage.

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In one fell swoop, TANF ended the federal guarantee of support to low-income single mothers that existed under the now-defunct Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. AFDC had become markedly unpopular and an easy target by the time President Clinton signed welfare reform legislation into law, with the racist, mythic trope of the “welfare queen” becoming pervasive in the years leading up to AFDC’s demise.

Ronald Reagan popularized this phrase while running for president in 1976 and it caught fire, churning up public resentment against AFDC and welfare recipients, particularly Black women, who were painted as lazy and mooching off the government. This trope underwrote much of conservative opposition to AFDC; among other things, House Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America,” co-authored by Newt Gingrich, demanded an end to AFDC and vilified teen mothers and low-income mothers with multiple children.

TANF radically restructured qualifications for welfare assistance, required that recipients sustain a job in order to receive benefits, and ultimately eliminated the role of the federal state in assisting poor citizens. The promise of AFDC and welfare assistance more broadly, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps) benefits, is that the federal government has an inherent role of caring for and providing for its most vulnerable citizens. With the implementation of TANF, that promise was deliberately broken.

At the time of its passage, Republicans and many Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, touted TANF as a means of motivating those receiving assistance to lift themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps, meaning they would now have to work while receiving benefits. But the idea that those in poverty can escape poverty simply by working harder and longer evades the fact that poverty is cyclical and systemic. Yet, that is what TANF did: It put the onus for ending poverty on the individual, rather than dealing with the structural issues that perpetuate the state of being in poverty.

TANF also eliminated any federal standard of assistance, leaving it up to individual states to determine not only the amount of financial aid that they provide, but what further restrictions state lawmakers wish to place on recipients. Not only that, but the federal TANF program instituted a strict, lifetime limit of five years for families to receive aid and a two-year consecutive limit, which only allows an individual to receive two years of consecutive aid at a time. If after five total years they still require assistance to care for their family and themself, no matter their circumstances, they are simply out of luck.

That alone is an egregious violation of our inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Still, TANF went a step further: It also allowed states to institute more pernicious, discriminatory policies. In order to receive public assistance benefits through TANF, low-income single mothers are subjected to intense personal scrutiny, sexual and reproductive policing, and punitive retribution that does not exist for public assistance recipients in programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs, programs that Democrats not only continue to support, but use as a rallying cry. And yet, few if any Democrats are crying out for a more just welfare system.

There are so many aspects of TANF that should motivate progressives, but perhaps none more than the family cap and forced paternity identification policies.

Welfare benefits through the TANF program are most usually determined by individual states based on household size, and family caps allow a state to deny welfare recipients’ additional financial assistance after the birth of another child. At least 19 states currently have family cap laws on the books, which in some cases allow the state to deny additional assistance to recipients who give birth to another child. 

Ultimately, this means that if a woman on welfare becomes pregnant, she is essentially left with deciding between terminating her pregnancy or potentially losing her welfare benefits, depending on which state she lives in. This is not a free and valid choice, but is a forced state intervention into the private reproductive practices of the women on welfare that should appall and enrage progressive Democrats.

TANF’s “paternafare,” or forced paternity identification policy, is just as egregious. Single mothers receiving TANF benefits are forced to identify the father of their children so that the state may contact and demand financial payment from them. This differs from nonwelfare child support payments, in which the father provides assistance directly to the single mother of his child; this policy forces the fathers of low-income single women on welfare to give their money directly to the state rather than the mother of their child. For instance, Indiana requires TANF recipients to cooperate with their local county prosecutor’s child support program to establish paternity. Some states, like Utah, lack an exemption for survivors of domestic violence as well as children born of rape and incest, as Anna Marie Smith notes in her seminal work Welfare Reform and Sexual Regulation. This means that survivors of domestic violence may be forced to identify and maintain a relationship with their abusers, simply because they are enrolled in TANF.

The reproductive and sexual policing of women enrolled in TANF is a deeply discriminatory and unconstitutional intrusion. And what’s also disconcerting is that the program has failed those enrolled in it.

TANF was created to keep single mothers from remaining on welfare rolls for an indeterminate amount of time, but also with the express goal of ensuring that these young women end up in the labor force. It was touted by President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans as a realistic, work-based solution that could lift single mothers up out of poverty and provide opportunities for prosperity. In reality, it’s been a failure, with anywhere from 42 to 74 percent of those who exited the program remaining poor.

As Jordan Weissmann detailed over at Slate, while the number of women on welfare decreased significantly since 1996, TANF left in its wake a new reality: “As the rolls shrank, a new generation of so-called disconnected mothers emerged: single parents who weren’t working, in school, or receiving welfare to support themselves or their children. According to [the Urban Institute’s Pamela] Loprest, the number of these women rose from 800,000 in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2008.” Weissmann also noted that researchers have found an uptick in “deep or extreme poverty” since TANF went into effect.

Instead of a system that enables low-income single mothers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty, what we have is a racist system that denies aid to those who need it most, many of whom are people of color who have been and remain systemically impoverished.

The Democratic Party platform draft has an entire plank focused on how to “Raise Incomes and Restore Economic Security for the Middle Class,” but what about those in poverty? What about the discriminatory and broken welfare system we have in place that ensures not only that low-income single mothers feel stigmatized and demoralized, but that they lack the supportive structure to even get to the middle class at all? While the Democratic Party is developing strategies and potential policies to support the middle class, it is neglecting those who are in need the most, and who are suffering the most as a result of President Bill Clinton’s signature legislation.

While the national party has not budged on welfare reform since President Bill Clinton signed the landmark legislation in 1996, there has been some state-based movement. Just this month, New Jersey lawmakers, led by Democrats, passed a repeal of the state’s family cap law, which was ultimately vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California was more successful, though: The state recently repealed its Maximum Family Grant rule, which barred individuals on welfare from receiving additional aid when they had more children.

It’s time for the national Democratic Party to do the same. For starters, the 2016 platform should include a specific provision calling for an end to family cap laws and forced paternity identification. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of reproductive freedom—demonstrated by its call to repeal both the federal Hyde and Helms amendments—that must include women who receive welfare assistance. But the Democrats should go even further: They must embrace and advance a comprehensive overhaul of our welfare system, reinstating the federal guarantee of financial support. The state-based patchwork welfare system must be replaced with a federal welfare assistance program, one that provides educational incentives as well as a base living wage.

Even President Bill Clinton and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton both acknowledge that the original welfare reform bill had serious issues. Today, this bill and its discriminatory legacy remain a progressive thorn in the side of the Democratic Party—but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time for the party to admit that welfare reform was a failure, and a discriminatory one at that. It’s time to move from punishment and stigma to support and dignity for low-income single mothers and for all people living in poverty. It’s time to end TANF.