Economic Equality as a Feminist Issue
As we have discussed in class, feminism covers more than the struggle of any one independent group or structure. The balance, or imbalance might be a better phrasing, of privilege and oppression, power and for all intents and purposes the powerless, fits in among topics of feminism. The system of capitalism is an area which I had spent a significant portion of focus in my Classical Theories coursework this past fall semester. I chose to study and write on the conceptual theories of Thorstein Veblen, famous for such books as The Theory of the Leisure Class, and The Vested Interests and The Common Man. The general focus of such works surrounded the observed tendencies of people who fell within socio-economic class catagories as well as the responsibilies and cultural expectations that come with class distinction. A society based on the system of capitalism has no possibility of existence without class distinction. One might say that a premise of capitalism is the possibility to better one's financial standing and lifestyle given the resources to make it happen. The consequent effect of having the ability to elevate one's economic status is of course that there be a measure of inequality as a result.
The question of how or why economic inequity is a feminist issue is answered in the struggle for some sense of morality within the divergence of class identities. Class is closely related to gender, race and ethnicity, religion, and other social categories and distinctions which fall prey to segregation or exclusion, oppression, stereotyping, and labeling. Class diversity is a matter of power, privilege, oppression, and identity. The Center for Working Class Studies website explains the need to recognize the distinctions in our social and economic culture for what they are and how we as a society are responsible for how they are addressed. A quote that I found relavent to this states; “our belief that class doesn’t exist keeps us from understanding how much it matters.” I've heard the problem of ignorance to class in America before. To me, it's not so much an issue of believing that class doesn't exist in our country, but rather that it just is what it is. The idea that the struggle for some...or most, is only natural seems to be common enough a perception that it is simply ignored by many. It is clear also that any personal topic speaking on issues of what one has and another does not often seems easier to ignore or distance yourself from. I would expect that the issue of class status and economic privilege is one which would invite some varying personal opinions and emotions depending on who's doing the talking (not unlike issues of gender, race, and sexuality).
One thing that I find interesting is that while this topic can be so closely associated with our previously discussed topics in class, it also seems one which is so much easier to collectively or openly assign stereotypes to without as great a risk of coming across as narrow minded or being confronted for a negative comment. Perhaps I feel this because I identify most with middle and working class people, and there is never a penalty in bad mouthing the wealthy....there's rarely one in speaking light of the poor either for that matter.
I found the People Like Us website entertaining while identifying the reality of public perception and identification through things like employment, consumerism, and attitude. I played the games available and see how common it is everyday to assign class distinction to people and items. As a result these distinctions can affect choices in what we do, what we buy, and how we live relative to what resources we have and how we wish to be, and not to be perceived. In playing the livingroom decorating game I found that I was perceived to be associated to working-middle-class with some hints toward upper-class taste (chose a Hi-def TV). I find that in choosing between the items available, my taste seems to reflect what I have become accustomed to over time. I didn't grow up with money...believe me. And I find that I was proud to be associated as working or middle class. I believe that such a sense of pride is also a product of identifying yourself with hard work and other people you respect within similar circles.
I'm sure most can relate to Joe Queenan speaking on “permanent high school” saying that now we always feel the need to be cool. We always feel the need to fit in and impress our friends. This is basically the concept of keeping up with the Jones’…or better yet, staying one step ahead of them.
The story revolving around Burlington VT and the debate over choice of grocery store clearly depicts the topic of class characteristics and perceived classification. Shaw’s represents the middle and working class resident who values mainstream products and reasonable prices vs. Onion River which in a way represents a more image conscious culture, who have the funds to pay typically higher prices for a selection focused more toward organic and pricey health food items. Speaking as a tourist who recently visited Burlington during their busy warmer months, I was able to see the distinction that exists in the community. What I noticed was a well populated middle-class town which surrounded a busy health concious, college town with an upper-middle class focused town center. With this imbalance in a town that earned the distinction of one of the healthiest in America, I can see how class and cultural distinctions might continue to intensify.
Questions/Comments/Points to Share:
I also focused on a phrase writen on the site which said “enshrined in national legend” referring to the idea that all people are created equal. I found this phrasing well suited, when considering the U.S. a land of equality, with such a multitude of people having experiences which would say otherwise. I think it's interesting how class identification can present both a sense of pride, as well as a sense of powerlessness which unlike some of the other topics discussed, doesn't seem quite so easy to rectify simply by recognition of inequality and a change in mentality.