A friendly blog where feminists and their male allies can come together and discuss methods, tactics, and strategies for use in toppling White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.

9.04.2006

On Class

Sliding in just before the deadline; as usual. I been thinking about this all week. It's a mighty big topic.

As a radical feminist, my class-politics are interwoven with my experience as a woman. While women from every economic class are oppressed as women- that is, forced into opressive gender roles and contexts and sharing the potential to be raped and abused sexually, and reproductively- women from lower socioeconomic classes suffer more, their suffering is ignored more frequently. This is reflected within the movement for women's liberation; collective social consciousness of/commonly held misconceptions of tenets of feminism and radical feminism seem to reflect the ways that racism and classism have fucked up the works, for a long time. I hear women of color tell me, and more radically-political white women, too that feminism has become "whitewashed," that feminism promotes an "ivory-tower" mentality, it's hidden and confined in academia, and is crafted purely out of theory and not within the grasp of those working-class women of color, without much regard for how things would play out in "material reality."

I guess that's true. I mean, I don't necessarily have too much "cred" when it comes to the interconnectivity of oppressions. My degrees are not in Women's Studies, they are in Anthropology and Spanish. And I don't publish articles regularly. I am from a working-class or upper-lower class family background, I'm white (the Appalachian kinda white) and I am a woman. I have faced social hostility on both bases. I was a direct-care worker for eight years while I was in college, getting paid shit to do a job that's seen as "women's work." Both of my parents dropped out of high school, and both got decent-paying blue-collar jobs (my dad worked for Coke driving a route and delivering soda pop to grocery stores, mama still works at a unionized grocery store) after starting their life together and then had some kids, and plummetted into a monstrous debt spiral that became beyond their control (of course, the compulsive gambling addiction didn't help matters) and declared bankruptcy by the time I was five. They had to sell the house and we rental-hopped for the years that followed, until my mom bought a trailer when I was fifteen so that my dad could have a decent place to die in. She still lives there in a Faulknerian squalor that I'll have to write a book about to ever describe appropriately with all the people she still supports on her middle-class salary (just over 13/hr. after 25 years on the job.)

But I had a class-dysphoria as a child that my adulthood has forced me to come to grips with- and I DO have debt, demons, thousands in student loans, not to mention the smaller shit that gives me random stomach rumblings and pangs- I thought that we were "middle class" because we had shit (thanks to credit cards and that whole redneck, spend-while-you-have-it, bravado with money and laughter in the face of fiscal chainery that so many southern, working-class, white folks have) and I wasn't starving and because I didn't have to have a job while I was in high school and so on and so forth. Then when I was nineteen mama said I had to go live on my own and pay for college my damn self if I could figure it out, and so I did. Go out and live on my own, that is. I still haven't figured out how I'm gonna unravel all the knots I've got myself in to get me through college and to where I am now. I borrowed so much money, money that kept bills paid and kept me in a car and kept me with clothing and food while I was in college, that filled in gaps where my low-paid job couldn't stretch, and that got me 2 college diplomas and books and so forth.

So this is what it takes to lift oneself up, from below, in our country. A nosedive into debt. Of some sort. MOST FOLKS ARE IN SOME KINDA DEBT. Even folks who are well-off. Folks who have nice things and nice houses and nice cars. Folks with money, decent portions of money in the bank. Folks choose to go into debt freely and at will nowadays. Ahhhh, the multitudinous expressions of maladaptive cultural evolution. But I'm wandering away from my point, now.

The way that I see class influencing the women's movement has a lot to do with what I'm talking about. I promise.

I mean, I don't think we're really at a stage where the whitewashing and class oppression can be denied or refuted. All we have to do is ask a non-feminist what the first thing is when they think of the "women's movement" and the most likely answers will probably have something to do with voting and the "pro-choice" movement. I think this illustrates, in a figuratively phenotypic sort of way, where most resources have been pumped to fuel activism. I feel that a shortcoming among the women's movement is it's acceptance of the current governmental/electoral system and willingness to spend lots and lots and lots of resources attempting to "work" said system, or use "proper channels" to strive for some sort of abstract "equality" in a world system where that "equality" CANNOT exist.

In other words, some women took the name "feminist" and took their money and decided where that money would go- and left out a whole bunch of people in the process- political decisions have been made for us by the so-called "leaders" of our movement who, while valiantly struggling against the tide for their own lives and selves in a lot of cases, seemed to forget the rest of the crowd when they attained certain levels of economic/class privilege. "Opened it up for everybody," so to speak. So I have to say that there is NO political party out there for Gringolandia-dwelling women, especially working-class women, that fully encompasses our needs or our wishes or our interests. The Democratic Party is not the party that will exacerbate "equality" for women. The "democracy" we live in only happens to be democratic if you're bourgeois. According to the feminists with the most economic power, our biggest and most life-threatening problem is tied up with whether or not we can "choose" to have an abortion. But the lived existence of women from the working class shows us that, while the right to abortion is something that's definitely important, there's other pressing junk out there that we need to deal with right this minute, too. Like rape and how often it happens to us. Like abuse and molestation. Like the economic conditions that lead to us living in situations that make these things more likely.

It seems to me that if this feminism stuff is going to work, we have to be able to come together and agree on a more radical politics, on formulating a politics where we are all first fully human. We have to understand that it's not a free "choice" that makes us "unequal" to men. We have to start seeing where, in Gringo government and philosophy, the system we live under is not equipped to deal with, much less dole out liberation, and in fact is designed to keep the oppressed right where they are. I think that some of the bases for this new women's party, politically, economically, philosophically, are out there, but there hasn't been a model generated yet that takes radical politics to a level that would guarantee an end to patriarchy. And here in the USA, liberalism and libertarianism keep slipping into ALL the movements, somewhere, somehow, and to me that seems to be a determining factor of where the movements go.

One place where the influence of libertarian thought, with all it's "socially-liberal" ooze and individualist machismo, and financialy sociopathy, has become increasingly evident in our movement is with the growing popularity of fuck-me (a.k.a sex-positive) feminism. Women claiming to be feminists claiming that they don't have to put the needs of women as a whole before their own sexual "pleasure," women claiming that because they're relatively privileged enough to enjoy the sex work that they do that the sex industry doesn't keep us oppressed, even though it's a minority of women in the sex industry that they represent, and the many, many women out there who still think that liberation is synonymous with "equality" as we grow up thinking about it in this country, especially as white and rich males have constructed it for us.

I don't think that real "feminism," or any real movement toward's women's liberation, can afford any kind of classism. Currently, it's rife with it, in terms of "feminist" groups that have any actual political clout. Why the hell else could I NOT find any kind of paid internship when I went out looking for a "feminist" internship? We cannot step away from classism without stepping away from avant-guardist libertarianism, in all aspects of life. The fuck-me feminism that I've read about and heard defended seems to be most popular among really young women, and when I hear really young women defending this particular philosophical view I have to ask where they are in life, what kind of socioeconomic class do these women come from, how many of them have not YET been hit over the head hard enough by our economy to see what life is REALLY like for most of the folks in the sex industry. It's hard for women to see that it's really better to listen to other "women" when taking notes about constructing a sexuality that is not oppressive than it is to listen to what men construct as "non-oppressive." Hugh Heffner is not a real good guide to sexual liberation, if sexual liberation is to be part of a world where women have equal rights as human beings. It's hard for a woman to grow up and see sex as it's presented to her, in the media and in pornography, and from parents who (most of the time) constructed their own notions of sexuality from patriarchal resources- and understand that her own sex life can never be a truly free one, if she just does the "easy" thing and copy-pastes male-generated and replicated ideas and fantasies of "good sex" based on images and fucking archetypes that reflect this man-centric worldview into her own view of what's good or what's good for her. It's hard for a lot of us to come to grips with the fact that NO we are not equal, and therefore we can't construct a liberatory sexuality, yet, not until the dominant constructs of sexuality are thoroughly overturned and the institutional powers behind them destroyed.

To me, this kind of liberalism, when it manifests itself in feminist activism and feminist groups, is just as classist as, say, the white middle-class women running the women's movement. It denies the existence and the need of a majority of women. It bases sexual experience and rates and measures the quality of it in elitist terms.

I have to wonder how many of the women who support fuck-me feminism really see feminism as something revolutionary, and I have to wonder how they think they'll tear down the master's house using his own How-to manual for their destruction as a class of human beings.

I wonder this just as I wonder how the pro-choice movement and women's magazines can think that the very best candidates for internships are the ones who can afford to work for free. I wonder this as I wonder how the hell it is that a bourgeois white dude got to be the chair of a women's group at my old college. I wonder this as I wonder how women can look at the "reproductive rights" battle and think that protecting Roe v. Wade is the ONLY step forward, and not just a baby step in a bigger war.


What we fail to see is where our practice, daily, illustrates how classism has eaten away at feminism as activism and the women's liberation movement as a whole.

I think it will help radical feminists and men who support radical feminism to look at sexual oppression as another manifestation of classism; class male dominating class female- and not to automatically relegate manifestations of sexual oppression to the identity-politics dustbin.

Must stop. Head explosion imminent. Too much fun this weekend, must wake up early and have breakfast with my mother then get on a plane to Orlando. Sorry this wasn't put together better, but watcha gonna do?

4 comments:

Y. Carrington said...

At the end of her post, Witchy-Woo talked about how she primarily identifies as "Class Woman," which got me thinking. After reading your post, I recognize: without male supremacy, women wouldn't have ecomomic class distinctions. In societies that were/are traditionally run by women, there seem to be no economic hierarchies; of course I've never lived in a woman-run society, so I wouldn't know (damn).

But I do know that the conditions that we live under were built by white men. Without that fact of history, where would we be? If our parents never had to work for a boss man who paid them shit wages while he made bank, what would that mean for them and us? Wow, just when I thought I grasped it, out come more questions.

Laurelin said...

Amazing post! Thanks so much for sharing. You rock.

witchy-woo said...

Whaddya mean "sorry this wasn't put together better"?

Excellent, excellent post.

Thank you.
xx

mistermorgan said...

Yes, that whole "sorry this wasn't put together better" thing really threw me and all.

Are you implying that you can do better? I have no doubt we would like to see that.

I'm going to have to read through this a couple more times, when I'm not so damn tired.

One thing that did strike me, though, is that you're absolutely right about liberalism/ libertarianism trickling into everything. Not the most helpful thing in the world.

Hey and thanks for prodding me with comments. Nice to know somebody's visiting on occasion.