Internet Musings: Economic Class and Class Mobility

Welcome to what’s turning out to be a series:  Gender Goggles IM conversations.  Clearly thirsty for intense feminist real-time discourse, Eloriane and I will tend to have these really great discussions (we’ll also chat about casual stuff, but we’re not going to show you those – much less interesting!).  So this post is a little bit of  the IM’ing that she and I were doing during my lunch break yesterday. What follows is a kind of thinking aloud/processing that ended up being about economic class and other oppressions, and how they might intersect. Both Eloriane and I recognize that we might be missing something in this discussion – we are, after all, both white. While she may have grown up with more economic privilege than I, I still feel somewhat new to the analysis of economic oppression. Airing our musings can be problematic as it will show everyone our blind spots, but I think it’s a really valuable exercise as a form of consciousness raising.

Crowfoot: I had been reading some monster thread somewhere and had noticed that several people didn’t seem to understand what “being socialized” meant – they didn’t seem to understand that it’s not something we can escape? That we’re bathed in our culture every day since birth and it forms our world view in a really basic sort of way. Which is not to say that we can’t teach ourselves new things, just that there isn’t anyone who grew up in this culture and hasn’t been affected by it.

Eloriane: Yeah, yeah. I mean, just last night my mom offered to write a guest post (to keep me from whining) about how the patriarchy totally doesn’t apply to her. And I wanted to say, yes it does, you’ve just made things work anyway.

E: She is an aggressive leader in a male-dominated field but she still spends all the time she wants with her kids and wears pretty clothes.

E: So, win!

C: heeh

E: Except… people always assume that the “Dr. Lastname” who is head is my dad, not her.

C: Right!

E: I mean, she has to INSIST upon “Dr.” instead of “Mrs.”

C: She may have overcome things, but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist in the first place.

E: Yeah!

E: And the people who haven’t sort of had their minds changed by her, will still think about her the same way. Like, she’s proven herself to her current faculty, but that doesn’t mean visitors don’t assume things.

C: Exactly.

E: And even the fact that she HAD to prove herself is meaningful.

E: I’m still crazy proud of her, though. She’s getting exactly what she wants out of her life. Like, she’s always spent a lot of time with my brothers and I, but she still gets to do really cool stuff at work.

C: And you should be proud 🙂 and so should she.

E: But that’s kind of class privilege helping her out… we’ve always had someone working for us to do the cooking, cleaning, and household chores.

C: Ooooh. Indeed! Class privilege.

E: Like crazy!

E: But just because she has made it work doesn’t mean somehow she grew up in a different society.

C: Exactly! And as usual, money seems to solve a lot of problems for women :-/ (well, up to a point obviously)

E: Class privilege can compensate for most other forms of oppression…?

E: Like, historically, there have always been at least a few POC who get accepted into white society because of their insane wealth. But it doesn’t erase the racism, it just supersedes it.

C: Exactly!

C: Well, I meant that having money can help a woman escape an abusive situation, get a better education, be able to leave a toxic work environment etc. Though it doesn’t stop sexism in any way of course, or racism or homophobia.

E: I wonder why that is? Maybe because class is an even more constructed barrier…?

C: Why which is? We chatting over each other again! :p

E: It needs more reinforcement?

E: Oh, why class can supersedes other oppressions! Like, why you would accept someone you would usually exclude, based purely on their money?

C: With many accents not being tooo noticeable, it might be easier to move between economic classes?

E: I’m thinking of, like, Moorish traders in old Europe…

C: It’s an interesting question.

E: It doesn’t ultimately challenge white/male/straight superiority, because it’s still clear you’re only in because of your money. But it is interesting that the exception is made.

C: Do you think it supersedes other oppressions or rather… lubricates social interaction more so that the other oppressions can become easier to get around or evade (somewhat)?

E: That might be it?

E: It certainly avoids the more systemic ill effects– i.e., lack of resources. The stuff you mentioned, leaving abusive relationships, getting an education for your children, and so on.

C: It sounds like it ties into tokenism – ie a black lesbian might be accepted (sort of accepted?) if she has a lot of money because she’s proven that she’s different then “those other people” by having one thing that the Top Dogs in society have, money?

E: Maybe?

C: So having money is useful for personally navigating oppressions, but not revolutionary.

So what do you think? Is there something to what Eloriane and I were discussing? Moving between classes/groups is difficult, but with economic class it is the one group that’s not based or connected to a physical attribute. Except… whiteness? At least in the US/Canada/Northern Europe? Economic class is definitely completely socially constructed, as Eloriane pointed out, but I think there’s still genetic markers attached to it. As it gives rank to members of society in a white male supremacy that ranking gets associated with the ruling class: white people. So maybe this was a blind spot for us? That how wealth is coded as white wasn’t immediately apparent?

I think, too, that in Britain there is a physical marker of class: one’s accent. Even a super rich cockney is still from working class roots. New money and all that. While we have regional accents here in N. America it’s much less pronounced. But in Canada, like Britain, I don’t recall hearing anyone with a “regional” accent on the CBC or BBC. Everyone speaks either Toronto/Ottawa english or Queen’s english.

What do you think? Socialist Feminists speak up! 🙂

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2 Responses to Internet Musings: Economic Class and Class Mobility

  1. Eng says:

    Could it be because stereotypes tend to break down when examined on a case-by-case basis? From accounts I’ve read (and I’m Asian and new to America, so I’m really not qualified to talk about this) even back during the racial equality movement, many whites and blacks got along oookay on a personal basis – but there was just this general feeling of racism against the larger group of Black People.

    So class might allow someone who has other stereotypes against her to interact on a personal level with those in the upper class, who then decide that she isn’t “like the rest of them” because most stereotypes don’t hold up to examination of individuals?

    • Crowfoot says:

      That’s a really good point, Eng. I think you’re right. That may be the key – money can allow access to members of the ruling class who then continue on in their bigoted ways by not rethinking stereotypes but rather seeing the person in front of them as the exception that proves the rule.

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