October 18, 2005

Feminism and Class

I will start by saying I am no doubt a dated feminist. I was a Women's Studies major in college many moons ago. I will gloat for a moment here and say that my father was wrong when he said I could never get a job that used a women's studies major. I did. I think this makes up for the fact that he made me take typing despite my claim that I would never have a job where I had to type. I do.

Social class has been a hot topic since Katrina; at least among a group of my friends spread far and wide. There was a lot of dancing around it. Feminists don't really like to talk about such things and all these folks were feminists in one shape or form. The plight of the Southern black person was suddenly front and center everywhere. How could this be? Up north they don't have this problem or it isn't like this or that. (uh huh right.) Class shouldn't matter. Race shouldn't matter. Gender shouldn't matter. Gender identity shouldn't matter. Sexual orientation shouldn't matter. We are all the same; the plight of these groups is all because of white male patriarchy, particularly the government. This is an ongoing explanation that makes me growl.

Why? Because I believe it does matter. I am who I am not because of white male patriarchy. (though I can get a good rant going if tempted.) Just because I am a woman doesn't mean you can expect me to be this or that. You can expect that I have had some similar experiences...maybe...or maybe not.

As feminists who care about women, their rights, equality, we need to stop pretending that class doesn't exist in this society. We need to stop saying "I don't see her as...."

You do. I do. It is a matter of embracing that which makes each woman. It is a matter of acknowledging that what makes her tick is not necessarily the same as what makes you tick.It even means if you know someone that has been "in the exact same situation"; the exact same "solution" may not be the same.

I tend to think of it this way. I had a lot of experience with children before I had the ones I gave birth to and the ones that came to me. I expected when I had my first child that I knew everything there was to know about raising children. I had read all the books. (and I mean ALL) I had "practiced" on other children. I had taken child development and parenting classes.

I had my first child. Things went fairly well. He slept through the night early. He was happy to be on the floor or next to me. He talked early. He was fairly well mannered as kids that small go. This clearly was a reflection of my excellent preparation. ;-)


I had my second child. She was a screamer, though relatively easily satisfied. She was opinionated before talking. She talked late. But she slept through the night at about six weeks, behaved well in public (as long as the car ride to get to public was not counted). Etc. A few adjustments in my theories but still went ok.

I had my third child. I am still not convinced she sleeps through the night at 7 years old. She was a high-maintenance baby from before I left the hospital. (I remember the second night in the hospital the nurse came and was not amused that she hadn't slept between the times the nurse made her rounds. She nursed constantly, for almost two years. She lived in the baby sling on my chest/hip/stomach/lap for more than two years. She was our family bed baby. None of that great advice for mommies I had so long handed out worked for this baby. I suddenly had this huge realization that while I had been there/done that with other children and with my own...that didn't mean that whatever was the magic bullet was really universally magic.

None of this meant they were anything less than good babies. I didn't get less prepared for my third child. They were different children.

I am not talking the big theories of raising kids. I never have given up on the love them to death and treat them how you want them to treat you part. I am talking about the little every day things parents do. This is the diaper, this is how you get them to sleep through the night, this is how you deal with a tantrum.

How this relates to feminism and class',it is the same deal: what works for one woman, even more than one woman, doesn't work for all women, or even the same woman at a different time. Everyone believes each child should be treated individually, but we tend to make assumptions that some things should work for every child. (don't believe this? Go somewhere with a bunch of moms and watch what happens when a child falls and gets hurt.) We shouldn't do it with children and we definitely shouldn't do it with women.

Class matters. Race matters. Everything matters. Stop saying it doesn't matter to you. Deal with being uncomfortable and poking holes in what you believe it means to be a woman. Blame it on patriarchy and you are denying yourself and women in general power. Embrace the differences, don't sweep them away because it seems un-feminist to point them out.

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3 comments:

Melinda said...

Nice piece on class and pretending it doesn't exist in America.

The thing is, most middle-class people have very little interaction with poor folk, due to geographical segregation, so it's easy to remain ignorant of what it's really like to struggle in this country. (See "Nickle and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich, which you're probably aware of). Having money means not only security, but being able to be physically removed from those poorer than you.

"what works for one woman, even more than one woman, doesn't work for all women, or even the same woman at a different time."

(Nice part.)

A few recommendations:

Kirsten Anderberg has written extensively on class and feminism, she's a great writer whom you might be interested in.

I believe Melanie McBride has also written on class at her blog, Chandrasutra, although she has no search facility at her blog and I don't see "class" listed under her categories. She may categorize her class-related pieces under "culture"...

Finally, this last bit:

"Embrace the differences, don't sweep them away because it seems un-feminist to point them out."

Nice ending.

TW said...

Wow thanks. Definitely aware of Nickle and Dimed, helped get it used for a textbook last spring.

Thanks for the feedback and the links. Definitely will take a look.

The physically removed is a problem definitely but even in close proximity some people, seem to miss it all.

ding said...

i got here through the feminist carnival...great post. and a really good way of exploring privilege without freaking anyone out. (tried that on my blog and got some blow back.)

thanks!