Thursday, January 12, 2012

Women And Social Class

"People Like Us" and "The Center for Working Class Studies"

Within both of these websites, the part that struck a chord with me was the stories of real (and sometimes fictional) women dealing with class issues. The stories were not always about poverty or the fight for survival, but in each account, the woman was in some way struggling to come to terms with her place in the system of social class.

On the "People Like Us" website, I found two stories (possibly fictional) of women dealing with class if different ways. The first was about a woman named Val, who came from a working class family but married a man whose immigrant family had invested in land and become very wealthy. Val was now able to pay her family back for all of the hard work and support they had given her when she was growing up. However, her father strongly valued working hard to earn his own living, and he refused to take her money. The new difference in their social classes made Val's interactions with her family very uncomfortable.

The second story was about a woman named Karen, who moved around a lot due to her father's job. Karen became aware of social class when she noticed that in some places her family was considered high in rank, but in other places, where everyone was of higher class, her family was considered low class. This highly affected her experiences in each place, especially when she was seen as lower class and felt as though she didn't have the same opportunities as other women her age.

Within the Resources section on the "People Like Us" website, I found an excerpt, titled "Working Poor," from Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich tells the story of a woman who is part of a maid service where she works on a team with several other women to clean houses. The author of the story closely observes the difficulties that each of the women on her team is experiencing: one girl does not have enough money to buy a soda, another woman struggles to support her child, another woman cannot afford dental care for her impacted wisdom tooth. All of the woman are concerned about whether their male supervisor will pay them on time and how to manage the cheap and insufficient cleaning equipment they are given to do their job. Social class has a powerful effect on each of the women in this maid service.

On the "Center For Working Class Studies" website, I found a blog called Working-Class Perspectives. I found one post that, for me, really represented women's struggles with social class, called "A Visit to the Food Pantry." The post is a story written by Jeanne Bryner, a poet, former emergency room nurse, and community affiliate of the Center for Working-Class Studies. She describes her trip to a local food pantry with her daughter, who frequents the pantry and asked her mother to join her. As Bryner stands in line waiting to get her food, she contemplates the others waiting with her. One thing that sticks out to her is the number of mothers, either with their children or picking out diapers and food for the ones at home. She also notices the fact that a large majority of the people there are elderly women, which causes her much concern: "Oh Lord, I think, who will carry their food inside when they get home?"

These stories all together made me think of several ways in which economic inequity is a feminist issue. First, I thought of the male advantage in our society and how a man is more likely to get a higher-paying or higher-esteemed job, or to receive higher pay at the same job as a woman. Therefore, it is easier for a woman to end up with a lower income than a man. As more and more women work at low-paying jobs while men work the higher-paying jobs, it becomes normal and almost necessary for women to make up the lower class. This also makes it harder for women to work their way up, when they are starting from a lower point than men.

In reading these stories, I also thought of how child-rearing plays into women's experiences of social class. It is easy for a man to leave a woman who is pregnant to raise the child on her own. Being a single mother makes it harder for women to work or go to school because they need to be watching the child. A woman who already does not have much money often cannot afford to pay for daycare or a babysitter. Even if she is able to work, it is hard to make enough money on one's own to support oneself and a child. Being a single mother can become a vicious cycle that keeps the woman perpetually within the lower class.

The stories on these websites also reminded me of intersectionality in feminism and how many groups of women (black, lesbian, lower class) are excluded from the fight. If women are going to fight for women's rights, they cannot leave out the poor, working class women who are struggling to survive. In a way, the middle and upper class feminists are responsible for including working class women in their arguments because women living in poverty often lack the resources needed to participate in activism. They have more basic needs that they have to attend to first. This reminded me of some of the other articles we've read, which assert the fact that the privileged groups are the ones who are responsible for taking action and making change.

Point to Share:
There is a game that I played on the "People Like Us" website called Chintz or Shag. The game lets you pick out different objects to create your fantasy living room. Each object represents either working-class, middle-class, or high-class taste. In the end, the game tells you which social class you fit into based on your preferences. I found this to be a very interesting way of explaining how each social class experiences life in an entirely different way, down to the things that look visually pleasing to us. The game really points out the importance of recognizing social class as part of what makes us who we are.


  1. I found Val's story interesting because the morale is not what the media wants you to believe. Nickled and Dimed sounds like an interesting read. I played Chintz or Shag too, I wasn't crazy about the options though.

  2. Nice post Jean! I found it very helpful! Now I have to go back and play Chintz or Shag too lol

  3. Our social and economic class has such a substancial influence on our personalities. Through what we might be born into and take for granted, as well as through the struggles or ease in which we obtain what we want and need, our priorities, taste, and behavior are all influenced.

  4. Nice point about intersectionality. From these stories you realize how multifaceted life is and how to understand and solve problems within our society, one must examine a variety of factors.

  5. It is important that you note women creating their own class. I don't know where I found this statistic but I found out that women are the largest growing demographic for homeless people. What makes matters worse is that if they are homeless, and they are also women which puts them in a double negative stereotype nearly making it impossible to make a change in their lifestyle.

  6. I really enjoyed your post but the first paragraph really caught my attention the most. The idea that there were women on the documentary who were talking but they were not all talking about struggle and you are right. It is not that they are struggling as a middle class worker but they are struggling with their place. What a great observation!

  7. I definately just played Chintz or Shag because of your post x) anyway I loved how you talked about working women and how some single mothers can't afford daycare. I'd like to throw in a tap on the glass. Rhode Island has a daycare plan for low income single mothers, (My friend currently uses it & it has been the biggest life saver in her life). She now can work full time at work, and make sure her child is being taken care of by a safe day care. She also finds it easier to find time to go back to school now. Great Post! :)

  8. I like how you mentioned the part about intersectional in feminism. I agree that in a way the middle and upper class feminists are responsible for including the working class women in their fights for equal rights, because like you said a lot of the time it is much harder for the working class and poor women to fight for equality.

  9. I really liked your blog when doing mine, made me go play the games. Thanks!!

  10. Thanks for mentioned that game in your post. Somehow I missed that when I was on the website. I'm also glad you mentioned the issues that lesbians, black and lower class people were missing in action. I couldn't help but notice that in retrospect.

  11. Nice Post! Your post also helped me understand more of the topic. Thanksss :)