As a teen welfare mother who dreamed of writing novels in lieu of holding a 9-to-5 job, Ariel Gore qualified as conservative America’s worst nightmare.
Gore is 26 now and she’s not on welfare. Not since launching her own magazine, Hip Mama. Not since signing an $80,000 book deal with Hyperion to write “The Hip Mama Survival Guide” (which Gore wryly predicts could saddle her with the label “The Gen-X Dr. Spock”).
But she still may be a nightmare to supporters of Gov. Pete Wilson’s welfare reform, because Gore through her work and growing national reputation is fast becoming a leading voice for welfare moms and twentysomething feminists.
A Bay Area native who now lives in Oakland, Gore went on welfare at 19 after giving birth to a daughter fathered by a man she met when they squatted in the same abandoned building in Amsterdam. She stayed on the dole for six years while she raised Maia and earned a bachelor’s degree at Mills College and a masters in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
It was for her senior project that Gore, a high school drop-out, started Hip Mama, a way-liberal, way-feminist, in-your-face parenting magazine that offers a potpourri of articles, poetry, recipes and essays such as “Stripper Mom” (in which the writer mused welfare reform might force her back to stripping before she earned her teaching credential).
Gore’s message is an outgrowth of her life experiences: Welfare reform should invest in mothers, not penalize them.
“When I was on welfare, I worked a million times harder than I am now,” said Gore, who relied on a combination of student loans, campus jobs and welfare assistance to get by. “Most people will get off welfare and work if you give them the chance.”
Wilson’s welfare proposal would cut cash benefits, give welfare mothers less time home after the birth of a child and require more hours of work. Gore said if that plan had been in effect when she had Maia, 7, “I’d be homeless and working in a minimum-wage job.”
Instead, Gore is becoming nationally known through media interviews (she has appeared on MTV opposite Newt Gingrich) and her involvement with such events as the “Week of Resistance to Stop the War on Mothers and Children,” a nationwide series of street-theater happenings earlier this month. She is the darling of activist, feminist and writing circles impressed with her politics, her product or, at least, her chutzpah.
“Our image of the welfare mom is shattered when we read (“Hip Mama”),” said Mary Kay Blakely, New York feminist author of “American Mom.” “Ariel speaks honestly about the issues of motherhood.”
Not everyone, however, is charmed by Gore’s alternative approach to families. Jomary Hilliard, a parent educator at the Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif., read two issues of Hip Mama at a reporter’s request and concluded that while she applauds efforts to break stereotypes, she’s concerned it may send some incorrect messages.
“People in this situation need dignity and support,” Hilliard said of single welfare mothers. “But I wouldn’t want anyone to be encouraged to become welfare families. In supporting single mothers, you don’t want to denigrate fathers.”
Gore said her generation of parents is different from boomer-era parents in that they are more flexible in defining family. And unlike boomer moms, she said, Gen-X moms seem to feel less guilty about their choices.
“There are a million ways to raise good kids,” Gore said. “And none of them are perfect.”
Gore said the focus of her quarterly is not so much parenting advice as attitude.
“It’s not really service-y, it’s a support-group-type thing,” she said. “I try to balance political stuff, solid parenting information and literature, so that it’s another voice.”
It’s a voice that quickly moved beyond the expected market of the 500-copy first edition printed with a $1,000 student loan three years ago.
“I realized I meant to speak to not just young, poor, single moms, but non-Republican, progressive families (as well),” explained Gore, who said circulation is about 5,000.
“It has to do with an attitude of parenting - feminist parenting.”
Gore hopes Hip Mama will continue to grow to the point where someone - not herself - can make a living off it.
To subscribe to Hip Mama, call (510) 658-4508.
The publication this month debuted online at www.hipmama.com
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