Feminism has a Class Problem
In a big way.
This goes to the heart of the “Not all poor white people are Budweiser-swilling NASCAR fans” and the “Feminism has let down WOC, and poor white women” posts.*
And I understand the why.
It’s because we, as human beings, have a tendency to assume that our experience is mirrored by other people, particularly by the other people around us, who happen to agree with us. The flip side of which is to assume that people not like us, don’t share our views or experiences.
There’s also a strong tendency to assume that people on the internet, especially those with liberal ideologies, are white and middle class or above. And for a while, that was probably true. Computers used to be really fucking expensive. I remember my Dad finally got one, because he’d been laid off and was doing contract engineering work at home to keep us from losing the house. So he got a loan to get a computer that he could work on to support us.
That 286 with the 5 1/4″ floppy cost nearly four thousand dollars when he bought it, some time in the early 1990’s. (No one but my father was ever allowed to touch that computer, and it was only connected to the internet to transmit electrical drawings to clients.)
So, yeah, in order to have a computer, especially to have one that you could just noodle around on the internet with, you had to be pretty far up there in economic class.
However, with the prices dropping constantly, and the accelerated obsolescence of technology, more and more people are able to access the web, of all classes. Libraries have computers, schools, coffee shops, there are places like PC Recycle where you can get one that won’t play the latest games, but you can still surf the web on it, or word process. Or, if you’re lucky, you hang out with people who game obsessively and can afford to constantly upgrade, and you get their castoffs. (So grateful for technophilic friends.)
Next, there’s also a tendency for shared experiences to further that illusion. Being college educated is a big one.
In spite of 40+ years of financial aid and the GI Bill, there is still a strong tendency to assume that people who went to college are and have always been middle class. And that they’ll also be liberal. If you went to a state school largely populated by the children of ranchers from the surrounding area, you know first hand that not everyone who goes to college is liberal.
Also, most (not all) activists tend to come from backgrounds that afford them the resources in time and money to be able to, oh, I don’t know, be activists. I can’t just take a day off and go haring down to the state capital to lobby or talk to senators and representatives, and I sure as shit can’t afford to fly off to Washington DC to do that either. And if I get arrested demonstrating, there is no one coming to bail my ass out or get me a lawyer.
So, yes, I understand WHY. However, now that the problem has been identified, the next step is figuring out how to fix it.
There doesn’t need to be a class or race schism in the Feminist movement. What there does need to be is a bunch of upper class white women listening to those of us who don’t have those same advantages. The first step is realizing that their experiences are not universal. Then they need to get past their ingrained racial and class **prejudices. As a Feminist Historian I am well aware that a lot of the good that the Feminist movements of the past have done has come from a “White Man’s Burden” ideology. Which doesn’t always translate like they want it to.***
Look, when someone says to you, “Hey, that isn’t what we want/need/are like,” listen to them. And while I generally try to take a “more flies with honey than vinegar” approach I understand why others don’t. One, they are frustrated as hell with your ignorance, and two, a lot of people WON’T listen to you until you lose your shit at them.
Yes, the Feminist movement as it stands has done a lot of good for women of all races and classes: Childcare, FMLA, voting, access to jobs and higher education, family planning and reproductive rights. But it could do more if it listened to WOC and other poor women, and took them seriously.
And it’s time it started to.
<i>*While WOC and poor white women do share a lot of problems, I am not lumping the two groups together as a monolith, just linking a shared experience. I do not pretend to speak for the problems WOC face.
**One of the biggest “myths” about America is that we don’t have class strata, and that anyone (you know, if we did have them and all) can overcome them.
***Well meaning upper class Suffragettes in London in the 1800s who decided that legalization of prostitution with mandatory health checks and licenses was demeaning to women, and who had prostitution declared illegal again, which penalized prostitutes by removing their access to medical care and marginalized them further, making it more difficult for them to report assault. </i>