working women / working class
July 30, 2002 12:36 PM

My first thought on reading Trinity's We Have Brains question this week [which is, by the way To be better feminists, must we be better consumers?] was that I'd already answered it recently. And that, of course, better consumption was key.

But that's just one take on "good consumers" - that good consumerism equals responsible buying. Voting with your dollar, so to speak.

The other question, the one she was actually asking, is whether buying power equals power. And how important participation in the working world is to feminism. I don't think it's important at all - meaning, I don't think a woman's career choices or the amount of money she earns should have any impact on her acceptance as a feminist. You don't have to be successful at anything to be a feminist - be it mothering, sex, work. It shouldn't matter.

That said. Because feminism is still frequently a middle-class movement, because there is still a gap between the "working woman" (implying successful career) and the "working class" (implying, essentially, working poor), because what a woman does for money still isn't one hundred percent her choice - because of all these things, I think career choices are still very much an issue for feminism.

The "better consumer" [the woman with more buying power] is only one of these choices. But economic freedom [ultimately, buying power] is one thing that enables making choices, particularly for women with children. A "working class" job, or mothering as a primary job, can mean dependence on a man. Fine, if you decide to go that route deliberately. But there are also women for whom educational and economic limitations dictate dependence; the reason working as a grocery store clerk seems boring and demeaning to some women is that it's not a job that seems like a choice, just as working outside the home wasn't a matter of feminist empowerment for many early factory-working women (it was a matter of feeding a family, particularly for immigrants who owned no land).

[I'm sick, and not feeling particularly plucky, so I'll ask you all to imagine a very inspiring rant about the need to increase the minimum wage to a living wage, and to at least revert the welfare system back to the education rules from a year ago.]

There's another issue that Trinity touched on in her post (which was such a rich question): the two incomes required to support families. Not just the working poor ones (who often need three, even four minimum wage jobs for two people to support themselves and children), but the middle class. The people who could have the option to spend less money and more time. Many people have talked about rampant consumerism as a societal sickness.

I'm not so sure about that. Yes, we buy more than we need. More importantly, we think we need more than we need. But I think the drive to work in middle class America is never as simple as that.

Work is important. Work can be very satisfying. Even work that seems detached from a real product or meaning still uses your mind and/or body. Money, and the things that come with it, are a tangible representation of the value of your work and your time. Consumerism can be relevant to feminism in this way, too. Work doesn't just give you buying power, it also provides one component of your self.

Yes, there is also a puritanical spirit (in America) that tells us we're supposed to think of work as a chore, but the truth is that working can be incredibly self-indulgent. And working for a paycheck that provides you everything you really need, as well as some of the things you think you need - well, yes, that can feel very powerful.

[This entry has been brought to you by We Have Brains and my white-collar job that I like ninety percent of the time. I have a biased perspective on work.]

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your wicked thoughts

I knew you would have something very intellient to say about this question.

"because what a woman does for money still isn't one hundred percent her choice"

Absolutely! I work because my other option is to live homeless. I work at my job because that is the one that hired me out of the many I applied at when I was unemployed. I had three job offers (1 entry level good paying office, 1 pay cut at daycare, and 1 okay pay at elementary) and I picked the one that didn't ask me to take a cut in pay and seemed to be more emotionally rewarding. Was it 100% my choice, no. If I had my way, I would work at home freelance writing, and not having pressure to pay bills because I would be finanically secure (through some miracle). Of course, I can't relate much to the mass consumerism perspective, because I simply can't afford my scarce lifestyle.

The reason I wouldn't be happy with a cashier job is because I want something more intellectually stimulating than that, and that job can offer very demeaning work/demands for the impossibly low wages.

I also liked this:

"You don't have to be successful at anything to be a feminist - be it mothering, sex, work. It shouldn't matter."

We are all works in progress, and some of us (uh, me) have fucked up quite badly that not much in our lives looks like success.

Great job, April!

these are the thoughts of kerri on July 30, 2002 02:06 PM

I often think that my job is horrible, soul-wrenching, etc., but really it's not. It's office work. There are so many working-class-poor in this country that would love my job - or any job! - because they value a good day's work and the self-respect it brings.

Decades ago, did women feel that want for self-respect after a day's tangible work, and is that part of the motivator why they starting stepping out of the home more and more? A "housewife" isn't respected for the work she does even though it's hard damn work. It goes largely unrecognized and taken for granted, even by the members of her family who benefit from it. A job - that work others can see - shows accomplishment that others can't set aside. A paycheck in her name.

I'm SO tired right now. Hope I didn't get too loopy there.

these are the thoughts of Anna on August 2, 2002 01:38 AM

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