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Feminism's Uneven Success
December 29, 2011 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Feminism's Uneven Success: "Class and racial and ethnic differences among women have intensified over time. The higher earnings of college-educated mothers make it possible for them to purchase child care and help with housework (typically performed by low-wage women workers)... the number of low-skill immigrants living in a large city reduces the tradeoff between employment and fertility for women college graduates. Outsourcing of care responsibilities can have many positive effects, but it reduces the potential for cross-class gender coalitions. Emphasis on changes in women’s average or median earnings relative to men often conceals growing inequality among women." (via)
posted by flex (98 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Forgive the obvious question, but: if class differences among women have intensified over time, isn't that perhaps a sign that classisim is its own problem, rather than being something that feminism was supposed to magically solve?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 AM on December 29, 2011 [63 favorites]


Why did the NYTimes use the default color scheme (and font) of Excel charts? The blue/pink scheme sort of works if you're comparing men and women, but REALLY NYTimes?
posted by k8t at 7:02 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


isn't that perhaps a sign that classisim is its own problem, rather than being something that feminism was supposed to magically solve?

It would seems a little churlish to put all the other social inequalities of the world at the feet of the feminist movement, for sure, but that's not what the article says. Folbre is arguing that the ability of women to assert themselves economically at various class levels is actually undermining social collaboration and mobilization between women of disparate classes, and it's a pretty plausible argument.
posted by mhoye at 7:05 AM on December 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's not clear from the article whether the drop in real wages for low-skilled women is more or less than the drop in real wages for low income men. We're shifting into a new gilded age with more income disparity than we've seen in a long time in this country - I'm not sure how feminism could be expected to fix it.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:05 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Folbre is arguing that the ability of women to assert themselves economically at various class levels is actually undermining social collaboration and mobilization between women of disparate classes, and it's a pretty plausible argument.

It is, but that argument could have been framed as "Classism is a complicating factor that is preventing feminism from reaching its full potential" rather than "feminism is failing".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on December 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


isn't that perhaps a sign that classisim is its own problem

Yeah, this seems like overloading the horse and then, when it can't move, claiming that the horse no good and should be shot. There are a lot of different axes of oppression, and expecting progress on one to somehow equal progress on the others is, at best, wistful thinking and, at worst, a way for people who benefit from the disparity to disparage the effort entirely. It's not the job of feminists to solve all the world's problems, after all.

Now, it's true that working on one axis of oppression often blinds you to others. The women's movement in the US has not always been great about dealing with race and sexual orientation, for example. And, like the Unions, feminists have improved the lot of people who do not realize how much they have benefited from those struggles and discount the effort or feel no compunction against attacking those movements for their own gain. So, I am not surprised that you can find women who have benefited from feminism who don't feel much common cause with women who haven't.

I am a little unclear on how much of this is due to the worsening condition of people at the lower end of the social spectrum in general, though. I mean, is the gap between women growing faster than the gap between men?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:07 AM on December 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


It doesn't really go to her point, but I think it's worth pointing out that during the same period she charts, the percentage of women (and men, too, probably) who have a college education has sky-rocketed.

I guess I simultaneously think she has a point and understand the objections to her framing. It's true that class divisions aren't feminism's fault, but it's also true that feminism has to address and fight growing class inequality if we're going to be a movement for and about gender equality, as opposed to for and about middle-class-and-above women. Class inequality isn't a separate issue from gender inequality. It's all part of the same mix.
posted by craichead at 7:13 AM on December 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


See also.

Speaking for myself as a white, college-educated woman, I could do better at thinking about the situations of women who don't look like me or who didn't go to the same schools (or to any schools).

I don't see any reason why people who care about the progress of women and who are in a position to effect change should give short shrift to working on the problems of income disparity and classism, since they impede the progress of all women. I believe this critique has been around in various forms for a while.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:16 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


See, yeah, I agree that historically the women's movement in the U.S. hasn't had the best track record when it comes to dealing with classism and racism within its own ranks. I just see that as indicative of classism and racism being separate problems themselves, is all.

And I am fearing I'm starting to sound a bit semantically ax-grindy and will start watching that on my part. Erk.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:21 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also Feminism has yet to fix my leaky kitchen faucet. What the fuck, feminism?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:24 AM on December 29, 2011 [34 favorites]


It's true that class divisions aren't feminism's fault, but it's also true that feminism has to address and fight growing class inequality if we're going to be a movement for and about gender equality, as opposed to for and about middle-class-and-above women.

I strongly disagree with this. The end result of this approach is that feminists have to fix everything. Rather, feminists as individuals should be broadly interested in oppression in general and make cause with other groups who are disadvantaged, assisting as much as possible in those peoples' efforts to improve their situations. There are a couple of reasons for this -- first, while the problems of sexism and classism (for example) are intertwined, the solutions for one are not the solutions for the other. Women who are class-advantaged who want to help women (and/or men) who are class-disadvantaged had better listen to the people they are trying to help and assist those peoples' efforts, rather than taking on some kind of "Rich Woman's Burden," which will likely not end well. And be used as another mark that "feminism is a failure."

For what it's worth, most feminists I know more or less do this.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:25 AM on December 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Currer Belfry is right. This is a huge topic of discussion within the feminist movement. See, for instance, the concept of intersectionality.
I strongly disagree with this. The end result of this approach is that feminists have to fix everything. Rather, feminists as individuals should be broadly interested in oppression in general and make cause with other groups who are disadvantaged
Wait, so middle-class women are women, full stop, and working-class women are "another group"? The feminist movement made that mistake for a long time, and it's not anything I want any part of. If feminism treats privileged women as generic women and all other women as belonging to "other groups," then feminism participates in oppression. We need to center all kinds of gender oppression, not just the kind that happen to privileged women and aren't interwoven with other forms of oppression.
posted by craichead at 7:29 AM on December 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


Folbre is arguing that the ability of women to assert themselves economically at various class levels is actually undermining social collaboration and mobilization between women of disparate classes, and it's a pretty plausible argument.

It's not as if social collaboration among women as a whole was easy 40 years ago though. There were huge tensions between the black power movement and the feminist movement in the 60s/70s for instance, with some feminists seeing the black power movement as being patriarchal and detrimental to their cause, whereas some in the black power movement saw feminism as not doing enough to address their issues. Feminism's goals apply to everyone but the movement itself has never been a cohesive group that shares exactly the same goals, it has always been a coalition across a very diverse population that have different and sometimes conflicting ideas. You can look back at the infighting and disagreements over the ERA for more evidence of that. Friction between classes is not really a problem that can be solved by feminism or that needs to be solved for feminism to be effective.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:29 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just see that as indicative of classism and racism being separate problems themselves, is all.

Well, yes and no. Insofar as those things (classism and racism) have different modes of operation from gender oppression, they are different, and it's not really fair to lay the blame for their continuing affects at the feet of "feminism." However, I don't think one can dismiss the criticism, which is a restatement of an ongoing critique of US second wave feminism from poor women and women of color* that when "feminism**" talks about "women**" it often really means white, educated, fairly well-off women. So, it's worth pointing out the uneven success (not failure) of feminism in lifting up all women. This is an internal critique, and an internal problem, which should at least grant it the benefit of the doubt. If the alternative is that any critique of the way that feminist advances have played out in the real world is forbidden, these problems are unlikely to be addressed. Nothing in the article of the post suggests that feminism is not a good thing.

*See, e.g., This Bridge Called My Back, for a cogent set of critiques that has been expanded upon almost ad infinitum.

**In quotation marks because of the highly contested nature of these terms, said nature largely contested because if the internal critiques referenced above.
posted by OmieWise at 7:32 AM on December 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


However, I don't think one can dismiss the criticism, which is a restatement of an ongoing critique of US second wave feminism from poor women and women of color* that when "feminism**" talks about "women**" it often really means white, educated, fairly well-off women. So, it's worth pointing out the uneven success (not failure) of feminism in lifting up all women. This is an internal critique, and an internal problem, which should at least grant it the benefit of the doubt.

....I....think we agree?

Because it sounds like what you're saying, in somewhat simpler language, is "some poor women and women of color have pointed out that other feminists still have problems with being racist and classist." And...yeah, that was my point.

If the alternative is that any critique of the way that feminist advances have played out in the real world is forbidden, these problems are unlikely to be addressed.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this. Can you clarify?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:38 AM on December 29, 2011


Wait, so middle-class women are women, full stop, and working-class women are "another group"?

No, I see the purpose of feminism is to deal with issues of equality for women, and demanding that it also deal with all other forms of oppression as part of its central mission because "women are everywhere" makes it very easy to brand feminism a failure.

Most feminists I know, as I've said above, are aware and at least somewhat engaged with racism, classism, homophobia, etc, but they are doing that as people rather than feminists specifically (although their feminism, obviously, informs their other interests).

It's a subtle distinction but a rather critical one.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:39 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I find it interesting that they mention the lower fertility of college-educated women. Among women I know, that's not a preference, but something forced on them by continuing lack of support in the professional world for having children (despite their graph, which is still very pointed). For example, the world of academia still has yet to accommodate the fact that half or more of its younger members have ovaries that are best used before age 35.
posted by jb at 7:45 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Most feminists I know, as I've said above, are aware and at least somewhat engaged with racism, classism, homophobia, etc, but they are doing that as people rather than feminists specifically (although their feminism, obviously, informs their other interests).

See, yeah, that's what I'm getting at -- separating the fight against racism and classism from the fight against sexism. Because they're separate problems. There are definitely places where the venn diagrams overlap, but they're all still separate problems.

The danger, in my opinion, with being critical of someone's feminist status when the problem is actually their classism is that you're not acknowledging the fact that people are multi-faceted. It's like, say you were upset that the high school football coach, who's a genius at leadership and strategy and dealing with kids, but was also a smoker -- while you may indeed be right about their smoking setting a bad example for the students, calling them a "bad coach" outright because of the smoking ignores their other, very real, talents and achievements. And you run the risk of their not listening to you. However, if instead you said "look, he's a great coach, but he smokes and that's probably setting a bad example," it's more likely that your critique will be received as "huh. Yeah, that's a separate problem and one I should probably work on."

I realize my analogy is kind of clunky, but it's early for me yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:46 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also Feminism has yet to fix my leaky kitchen faucet.

Feminism fixed my faucet
Feminism fixed my car
Feminism did my taxes
And bought me two rounds at the bar!
Feminism got me all sorted
Straightened my reasons and rhymes
So what do I care what some knucklehead says
Down at the New York Times!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:48 AM on December 29, 2011 [19 favorites]


No, I see the purpose of feminism is to deal with issues of equality for women, and demanding that it also deal with all other forms of oppression as part of its central mission because "women are everywhere" makes it very easy to brand feminism a failure.
You can't achieve equality for women unless you achieve equality for all women. If white, middle-class, able-bodied, straight women are equal to white, middle-class, able-bodied, straight, etc. men, that's not equality for women. Other women are also women. You can't so "oh, well, working-class women can't take maternity leave, but that's a class issue, rather than a women's issue." Working-class women aren't any less women for being working-class. And if the only way to get maternity leave for working-class women is to address class inequality, then that means that class inequality is a feminist issue. You can't bracket off oppressions, because they overlap and intersect. Any feminism that insists on separating oppressions will, in the end, only address the issues of women who are privileged on every single axis other than gender.

I don't even think this is especially controversial within the mainstream feminist movement at this point, for what it's worth.
posted by craichead at 7:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [19 favorites]


I really don't like to comment on my own posts, but.

This is an issue of "equality for women": housework and child care is still considered unpaid/low-paid "women's work" - only it's shifted from some privileged women onto poorer and/or immigrant women. This does not promote equality - no one could say childcare is an issue that is equally a concern of both genders (this is still left to women to balance), or something that is valued by society (refer back to "unpaid", "low-paid", "women's work"): there is a lack of support, societally, for those who work to balance their childcare, and it's reflective of that ongoing inequality that feminism seeks to address.

It is clear that shunting this type of work onto the backs of other, poorer women does not advance feminism in general: it does not raise those women up to equality, and it does not make childcare any more an equal issue, or any more valued work by society.
posted by flex at 7:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


So, a few privileged women have broken through the glass ceiling. Doesn't mean they have any more equality than they did before. There is this myth that feminism is about women getting more access to money.

We still do not have universal day care or universal health care.
Women are still the primary care-givers (children, disabled, elderly).
Women's health issues are still highly undermined (little research, little funding).
Violence against women and children is at an all time high.

Very little has changed for the majority of women.
posted by what's her name at 7:52 AM on December 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


....I....think we agree?

From what you've written, I'm not sure we agree. We do seem to agree that there is an internal critique of "feminism" from women who feel excluded from the definitions in play, but you seem to want to separate class and race, even though there is this internal critique, from the problems that feminism should be responsible for addressing. TFA is making a strong argument that the gains experienced by some women (upper-class women in particular) are at the expense of lower-class women. This is not a separate classism issue, it's an internal critique that suggests that feminism isn't being honest about how it achieves its affects (in some cases) and that (in some cases) the losers are other women.

If the alternative is that any critique of the way that feminist advances have played out in the real world is forbidden, these problems are unlikely to be addressed.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this. Can you clarify?


TFA suggests that upper-class women are getting ahead, in part, at the expense of lower-class, often immigrant, women of color. If we look at those statistics and say: "But that's racism, and classism, at work, that's nothing to do with us," instead of acknowledging that this may be a problem interior to feminism, the situation is not likely to change.

Of course the same critiques can be leveled at how some men get ahead at the expense of other men, but since men don't need a movement to argue for their own equality as an overarching group, the issues really are more purely above race and class.
posted by OmieWise at 7:53 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Forgive the obvious question, but: if class differences among women have intensified over time, isn't that perhaps a sign that classisim is its own problem, rather than being something that feminism was supposed to magically solve?

While I hate to be "RTFA" type, Nancy Folbre basically concludes with that:

Demographic and economic differences among both women and men in the United States make it difficult to mobilize support for such policies here. And in the absence of such policies, inequality is likely to intensify.

The gender revolution didn’t cause this problem, but it is surely being hindered by it.

posted by modernnomad at 7:53 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do think there's some problems with the feminist movement being (historically if not in the present), a movement that has focused on the needs of non-poor white cisgendered straight women. I think the best way to tackle some of the class issues discussed here, however, is to tackle the classism, because that's going to help low-paid women and low-paid men, which is going to improve things for families as a whole. I mean, it's all intersectionalish, but helping the low income folks patch their metaphorical boats will lead to being able to have a rising tide float them all, not just flood them.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:53 AM on December 29, 2011


@EmpressCallipygos wrote Forgive the obvious question, but: if class differences among women have intensified over time, isn't that perhaps a sign that classisim is its own problem

Well, yes and no.

If wealthier women have been able to gain a greater degree of independence in large part because they were able to in essence rent part time wives of their own [1], rather than seeing a more equal split between them and their partners in what was traditionally seen as "women's work", then it could be argued that feminism has a problem there.

Studies show that housework and cooking is split more evenly today than such chores once were, but the burden still falls mostly on women. If outsourcing that extra work to other women isn't a feminist problem I don't know what is.

Unfortunately class and race have always been problems in feminism. There's a number of Hispanic and black women, especially black women, who refuse to identify as feminist explicitly on the grounds that feminism has always been about white women and their problems to the detriment of black women. Several such women can be found at the blog http://www.womanist-musings.com/

As much as I proudly identify as a radical feminist, I've got to admit that they've got a point and that historically feminism has been a movement pretty much exclusively focused on white women. There are plenty of modern feminists trying to change that, but the stigma remains.

Partially because classism is indeed its own problem. But it's a problem that, I think anyway, overlaps very much with feminism. Poverty and single motherhood overlap significantly, for example, and that's got both classist and feminist aspects.

[1] Using the old patriarchal definition of "wife" as a servant who does housework and child rearing. As in the old jokes about career women who say that what they really need is a wife.
posted by sotonohito at 8:00 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Any feminism that insists on separating oppressions will, in the end, only address the issues of women who are privileged on every single axis other than gender.

Separation of issues that are of particular concern to feminism does not imply that other issues are somehow being ignored by everyone or feminists in particular though. Feminism is more or less specifically about the gender axis, if you throw every other axis of privilege into the mix then feminism just becomes progressivism or a similarly broad catchall idea that encompasses every possible type of positive reform. Feminism should address the issues facing people of all classes, races, nationalities, etc. but that does not mean it has to address every issue facing every person everywhere.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:06 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


We do seem to agree that there is an internal critique of "feminism" from women who feel excluded from the definitions in play, but you seem to want to separate class and race, even though there is this internal critique, from the problems that feminism should be responsible for addressing.

Yeah, because classism and racism also affect men. They're not issues exclusive to women.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


And yes, I know that feminism also affects men's lives as well, but its impact on men is more about gender roles, to my mind, than about the class struggle.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Feminism is more or less specifically about the gender axis
Ok, so working-class women not having maternity leave isn't "the gender axis." Rich women not having maternity leave is "the gender axis," and once that's solved, the "gender axis" is out of it. What kind of problem, then, is the lack of maternity leave for working-class women? It's not a class issue, because just as the only gender issues are those that confront women who face no forms of oppression other than gendered oppression, the only class issues are those that face white, male, straight, etc. working-class men. Anything else isn't class, it's gender, race, etc.

So basically, you end up with a situation where no movement is addressing the issues of people who face multiple oppressions. And because of that, you have a lot of potential for various movements to solve their problems by offloading them onto people who exist in the intersections of various kinds of oppression.
Yeah, because classism and racism also affect men.
But they effect women in different ways than they affect men. Why would movements for class and race equality pay any attention to the ways those issues affect women, if feminism doesn't pay any attention to the ways that gender oppression affect anyone but infinitely privileged women? Why shouldn't racial and class-justice movement bracket off gender, in exactly the way that you think feminism should bracket off race and class?
posted by craichead at 8:18 AM on December 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


But they effect women in different ways than they affect men.

But that's not a reason to consider classism a subset OF feminism, is my point.

So basically, you end up with a situation where no movement is addressing the issues of people who face multiple oppressions.

There actually is no movement addressing classism, to my awareness. Maybe that's the problem, is that everyone's been assuming feminism will be doing that work as well, and it shouldn't, because it is a different problem.

And I agree that your scenario in which "oh, yay, the rich lady lawyers have gotten maternity leave but not the working-class factory working women, sucks to be them" is unfair, and is something that bears addressing. But the failure of women to address that isn't "because they are bad feminists", it is "because they're classist". Classism is a separate problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't bracket off oppressions, because they overlap and intersect. Any feminism that insists on separating oppressions will, in the end, only address the issues of women who are privileged on every single axis other than gender.

Of course they overlap and intersect -- because there aren't really "feminist problems" as opposed to "human problems." What you do have, however, are solutions provided by a "feminist perspective" as opposed to ones based on class or race, for example. And demanding that "feminism" somehow address all human problems as central concerns seems, well, like setting feminism up for a fall.

Additionally, as I pointed out above, it's important for people to take the lead in battling their own oppression -- women should form alliances across gender and class boundaries, but the people with the most stake in, say, race issues should be leading the way on those issues or there is a very real danger of paternalism (maternalism, in this case, perhaps) marring the results.

Studies show that housework and cooking is split more evenly today than such chores once were, but the burden still falls mostly on women. If outsourcing that extra work to other women isn't a feminist problem I don't know what is.

Now, that is a feminist take on the problem. And it raises a troubling specter that women's success in the last few decades have been more women taking on a veneer of "maleness" in attitude, appoaches, and (therefore) opportunities rather than society accepting and adapting to women's needs and interests.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:28 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "And yes, I know that feminism also affects men's lives as well, but its impact on men is more about gender roles, to my mind, than about the class struggle."

Male / Female gender roles are directly related to their class struggles. Male gender privileges (and female lack thereof) are also directly related to class struggles between the genders, regardless of any other minority status either group may have.

For generations, women were second class citizens in a patriarchal society. Their roles were defined by male culture. That has (thankfully) changed drastically, and the subsequent efforts to create economic, social and biological balances through feminist perspectives has had an impact on every level of our society. Often, the change had to come through legal means.
posted by zarq at 8:31 AM on December 29, 2011


Privileged people/families have always "shunted off" household chores onto workers from lower social classes, and the division of labor of those chores largely remains as gender-based as ever:

male workers: house maintenance and repair, yard work, gardening, auto maintenance and repairs, etc.
female workers: housecleaning, cooking, laundry, child care, decorating

So the classism element isn't specifically a feminist issue though the gender-role issues would be. I suppose the upside is that these days, when well-to-do people farm out those chores, at least someone gets paid to do that work.

The bigger issue would seem to be how our societies define desirable and valuable work. The Steve Jobs types can give all the inspiring speeches they want to Stanford grads about "finding the work they love" blah blah blah, but the fact remains that the vast majority of folks in the world do not and will never have that luxury. The work most people do is the work that needs to be done, by somebody, and the somebodies with the most privilege get dibs on the "lovable" labor.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:33 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Additionally, as I pointed out above, it's important for people to take the lead in battling their own oppression -- women should form alliances across gender and class boundaries, but the people with the most stake in, say, race issues should be leading the way on those issues or there is a very real danger of paternalism (maternalism, in this case, perhaps) marring the results.
Wait, so are you assuming that the leadership of the feminist movement can only be comprised of infinitely privileged women? If feminism takes up the intersections of race and gender oppression, it must be maternalistic, because women of color can't be involved in feminist decision making?

This discussion is making my head spin.
posted by craichead at 8:34 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


zarq, I think we may be talking about different things. What I actually meant is a lot more like what GenjiandProust said here, actually.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on December 29, 2011


"Most feminists I know, as I've said above, are aware and at least somewhat engaged with racism, classism, homophobia, etc, but they are doing that as people rather than feminists specifically (although their feminism, obviously, informs their other interests)."

So feminism should continue to be unconcerned with the gendered oppression of most women? Bullshit, and its a good thing how many feminists are beginning to realize how ridiculous that is. Huge classes of women still having levels of access to maternity leave around 18% is a feminist issue, and the reasons why that is are feminist issues.

"Yeah, because classism and racism also affect men. They're not issues exclusive to women."

The fuck they arn't, classism and racism affect women in meaningfully different ways. That the feminist movement has been so blind to the gendered oppression of a growing majority of women is more than just an 'internal critique', its a couple of missing legs from the table.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:35 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, because classism and racism also affect men. They're not issues exclusive to women."

The fuck they arn't, classism and racism affect women in meaningfully different ways.


So you're saying that men aren't ever victims of classism?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:38 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The math is tough. If you demand middle class pay and benefits for domestic labor, you don't invent the money to pay for it ... you just make it economically compeling for mothers with higher earning spouses (and who thus pay a high marginal tax rate on their first dollar of income) but whose own career is not six figure earning, to choose to be stay at home moms.

It is a dynamic very apparent where I live, where the market has already propelled the cost of nanny/housekeepers who can drive and cover the overtime imposed by commutes into the $50k range. The first $80k or $90k of a mom's income is going to be spent in taxes, commute, lunch and wardrobe, and nanny/housekeeper -- if you are not making well over $100k, you are basically a volunteer.
posted by MattD at 8:43 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm saying that, as you quoted verbatim, classism and racism affect women in meaningfully different ways. Ways that many people who self identify as feminists, and you particularly in this thread, are plainly and loudly blind to.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:43 AM on December 29, 2011


Yeah, because classism and racism also affect men. They're not issues exclusive to women.

No, but how they play out in feminism, in advancing or retarding the advances of poor women and women of color as advocated (or not) by feminism, is an issue internal to feminism.
posted by OmieWise at 8:44 AM on December 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ok, so working-class women not having maternity leave isn't "the gender axis." Rich women not having maternity leave is "the gender axis," and once that's solved, the "gender axis" is out of it. What kind of problem, then, is the lack of maternity leave for working-class women?

Working-class women not having maternity leave is solidly within the realm of issues feminism addresses. The fact that working-class and rich people have different levels of access to important services, some of which are services that feminism specifically is involved with, is less of a feminism-specific issue. "We're not doing enough to address the needs of working-class women" is a better stance for a feminist organization to take than "We're not doing enough to address the need to reduce class disparity" in my opinion because the former stance has a more realistic scope of what a feminist organization can reasonably address. Even if you assume that the class disparity issue cannot or will not be solved (which is not necessarily an assumption that feminists need to make) there are still ways for feminism to work for less privileged people within that non-optimal system.

And anyway feminism does not exist in a vacuum where people only care about feminism and address no other issues outside of feminism. If you teach a high school Physics course, it's important that your students also learn Math and English and many other topics, but that does not mean that a Physics course has to teach everything. If it turns out students with lower English skills are performing poorly in Physics, that is something that a Physics teacher can address, but that doesn't mean that Moby Dick should be added to the curriculum for a Physics course.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm saying that, as you quoted verbatim, classism and racism affect women in meaningfully different ways. Ways that many people who self identify as feminists, and you particularly in this thread, are plainly and loudly blind to.

I'm not BLIND to that issue, I'm only saying that it is a DIFFERENT issue. An issue that desperately needs to be addressed, but a DIFFERENT issue. I agree that how classism affects women is different from how classism affects men, but that is a different statement from "classism is an issue exclusive to women". It was "the fuck it isn't" that I was responding to -- because classism ISN'T an issue exclusive to women.

how they play out in feminism, in advancing or retarding the advances of poor women and women of color as advocated (or not) by feminism, is an issue internal to feminism.

See, now this I agree with - "how classism affects feminism" is indeed an issue internal to feminism. I'm just making the admittedly hair-splitty move of saying that classism and feminism are indeed separate issues -- ones that can affect the internal workings OF feminism, and ones that can both impact a person's life, but still separate issues.

Let me put it another way -- the 99% movement is the closest we got to a class activist movement that I've seen lately. They don't address whether women and men are affected differently BY being in the 99%, then only address whether you are in the 99% or the 1%. In the case of a single mother who can only get a job at McDonalds, the 99% movement only looks at "can this person live on $10 an hour and no health benefits? No? That's a problem." Whether or not that person trying to live on $10 an hour is a woman or a man is a problem. It's feminism that further addresses "did this person have equal access to an education that could have given her a shot at a better job? No? Was this inequal access because she was a woman? Yes? Then that's a problem."

Yes, classism has affected that single mother differently because she's a woman rather than a man. But that doesn't mean classism is an exclusively feminist problem -- because I'm sure there's a single father working at another McDonald's having the same problem making ends meet. And a single childless woman working at another McDonald's, and a single childless man, and...they are all affected differently BY classism, but they still all have problems WITH classism.

And no, I don't think that feminism should turn a blind eye to how classism and racism within its ranks may be hampering its progress. I'm just worried at the prospect of classism being painted as an exclusively feminist problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:59 AM on December 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Arg!

"Whether or not that person trying to live on $10 an hour is a woman or a man is a problem" should of course read "Whether or not that person trying to live on $10 an hour is a woman or a man ISN'T THE problem."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:00 AM on December 29, 2011


Feminism started out as an ablist movement: that women were equal to men becuse they had the capacity to contribute to society int he same ways men did. What does that say about all the women who don't want to have, aren't capable of having those traits? Are they not equals? Are financially dependent caregiver women not equally worthy of the right to vote and to be seen as equals?

I think one problem with the way feminism started out is that the whole movement diminished the value of caregiving. Suddenly women wanted to get out in the world and contribute (meaning caregiving is not a valueble contribution), because they wanted to prove they are as smart as, and able bodied as, and intellectual as, and as driven as men--- AND THEREFORE EQUAL.

The whole thing is a problem if we don't start with the idea that people who stay at home, care for other humans, don't focus on intellectual or political persuits-- are not as equal.

The movement was doomed to stomp all over women who were not intellectual, were poor academics, carried dependent traits, tended to be submissive rather than assertive.

The equality that women have fought for has been about proving that women who have the traits stereotypical of men deserve to be treated as equals to those men: who are better than everyone else.
posted by xarnop at 9:04 AM on December 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


And no this is way huger than feminism to fix... but it's worth talking about.
There are a lot of women that feminism isn't serving. It may not be on feminism to "fix it" because it's way more huge than femimism and it involves men as well as women, but as far as advocating such changes be made for the sake of young and low income and differently abled women?
Sure that should be discussed within feminism.
posted by xarnop at 9:06 AM on December 29, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "Yeah, because classism and racism also affect men. They're not issues exclusive to women." The fuck they arn't, classism and racism affect women in meaningfully different ways. So you're saying that men aren't ever victims of classism?

Of course not, just that their experiences of classism are different from those of women.

It isn't so much "this is a person, who is oppressed because of her gender, and also because of her race, and also because of her class," but rather "this is a person who is oppressed because she is a poor black woman." Because she is a woman of color, the construction of her "femininity" is different than the construction of a white woman's "femininity." (see, for example, the prevalence of images such as "the animalistic (possibly sexually voracious) black woman," "the submissive asian flower," "the fiery latina," "the welfare queen," etc.)

Add in a good dollop of men's masculinity often being defined by positions of power or dominance. severely curtailed by such conditions as being poor or black or hispanic/latino, etc.

An example from history: The language of the (mostly male) Black Arts movement in the States, for example, was full of things like "emasculation." Black women were more employable (as the slightly higher-class house servants to the outdoor servitude of the black men), and the men felt like their "rightful" place as head of the household was being denied them. The language of the feminist movement at the time was about women being able to get out of the house and have a career. Meanwhile, attitudes towards the sexuality of the players (based on gender and race) layers things even more. White middle class women (who keep a nice house) are considered "pure." Black women are "animalistic and sexually available." Black men are "animalistic and sexually rapacious."

Black women serving in white houses are, at the very best, subject to the jealousy of the white women because they are "attracting their men" and jealousy from the black men at their (relative) economic prosperity. Many times, they are facing sexual harassment or rape from the white males and abuse/violence from the black males attempting to reassert the masculinity lost to them because of their race/class. Meanwhile the middle class white women are facing an entirely different set of issues predicated on their having to "protect their purity" by avoiding certain activities while trying to maintain their household/children/etc. because being a "good woman" provides them a certain protected status. In order to keep up these appearances, they often must hire black women whom they secretly (or not so secretly) fear are attempting to usurp their places by seducing their men. Poor white women and men fear being labeled "white trash"--able to maintain some veneer of privilege through not being black, but if they act in certain ways face being treated similarly (e.g. a "slatternly" woman who doesn't keep a good house is "impure" and "sexually available.") And so on and so on and so on.

Simply addressing the "female" issue doesn't solve this problem. Neither does just addressing the class or the race one. They have access to certain jobs and roles because of the intersection of their race and gender and class.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 9:08 AM on December 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Very often, working in the home of an upper and upper-middle class person is way to observe what those people do and aspire to doing. Domestic service is often a stepping-stone to rising in class, education, and wealth. Nannies and housekeepers who work for the well-off and the well-connected have an world of connections available to them that women who work in fast-food, factories (not that there are many of those jobs anymore) and low-paying retail do not.

I know plenty of working mothers in LA who got their nanny's kids into better schools, activities etc. than were available to the worker in her own neighborhood. (My kid's nanny sent her son to the same elementary schools my kids went to in Pasadena, because it was easier than driving all over. I split the cost of tuition with her, based on sibling discounts and he's at UCLA today.) She's no longer a nanny, but owns a bridal shop with her sisters.

She told me and a PhD student (anecdata, but we were both interviewed for a USC project) that seeing how my husband and I interacted and made decisions had a big influence on how she set up her own house. She was from Guatemala, her husband born in LA to immigrant parents.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:14 AM on December 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Simply addressing the "female" issue doesn't solve this problem. Neither does just addressing the class or the race one. They have access to certain jobs and roles because of the intersection of their race and gender and class.

This is exactly my point. The difference is, it SOUNDS like people are trying to follow up the sentence "simply addressing the 'female' issue doesn't solve this problem" by saying "Therefore, feminism has failed", or "Therefore, feminism should also try to branch out and fight classism". My argument is that the sentence that should follow "Simply addressing the 'female issue doesn't solve this problem" should be "Therefore, there ought to be a movement that tackles classism for everyone, whether they are women or men".

Blasdeb used the "legs on a table analogy" earlier; however, it sounds like Blasdeb's argument was that the fight against classism was one of the legs and FEMINISM was the table. I see it as "fixing classism" being one of the legs, feminism being ANOTHER one of the legs, and PEOPLE IN GENERAL are the table.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:19 AM on December 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


And re-stating that: none of this is to say that feminism couldn't use an internal self-audit to see whether people's classism or racism may indeed be hampering their goals.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on December 29, 2011


Womanism.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:20 AM on December 29, 2011


Wait, so are you assuming that the leadership of the feminist movement can only be comprised of infinitely privileged women? If feminism takes up the intersections of race and gender oppression, it must be maternalistic, because women of color can't be involved in feminist decision making?

This discussion is making my head spin.


If you stopped changing the scenario, this probably wouldn't be so confusing. Since the article was about privileged-in-all-but-gender women not addressing class (and race) issues, suddenly asking where the women of color are in the decision making process is... well, not well matched to the original scenario.

If generally privileged women are going to try to deal with issues of race, class, etc in a non-superficial way, they will do better listening to and supporting people who deal with those problems on a daily basis. Or is this a controversial idea?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The difference is, it SOUNDS like people are trying to follow up the sentence "simply addressing the 'female' issue doesn't solve this problem" by saying "Therefore, feminism has failed", or "Therefore, feminism should also try to branch out and fight classism". My argument is that the sentence that should follow "Simply addressing the 'female issue doesn't solve this problem" should be "Therefore, there ought to be a movement that tackles classism for everyone, whether they are women or men".

Thank you! This is much clearer than what I have been trying to say.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The whole thing is a problem if we don't start with the idea that people who stay at home, care for other humans, don't focus on intellectual or political persuits-- are not as equal.

The movement was doomed to stomp all over women who were not intellectual, were poor academics, carried dependent traits, tended to be submissive rather than assertive.

The equality that women have fought for has been about proving that women who have the traits stereotypical of men deserve to be treated as equals to those men: who are better than everyone else.


I completely agree with this. There's also an intersection with the "introvert activism" and "homemaker activism" tropes that have been floating around recently.

Personally, I say I'm a feminist like I say I'm a Democrat. It's one of the few widely understood labels that gets across my perspective that we're all equal, even if we're contributing very, very differently.

When they're not completely oblivious to the possibility, people are stunned that I, a late-20's white male US expat living in Beijing with an above-average income (read: every possible privilege birth, gender, race, nationality, and education could give me), choose to live in old apartments, use secondhand goods, and cook and clean myself rather than paying $50 a month to have someone do it, or allow my partner to do so. Does feminism have a heuristic for that yet? I'd like to know if it does. Because otherwise: "The movement was doomed to stomp all over women who were not intellectual, were poor academics, carried dependent traits, tended to be submissive rather than assertive."

We need better labels.
posted by saysthis at 9:46 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since the article was about privileged-in-all-but-gender women not addressing class (and race) issues, suddenly asking where the women of color are in the decision making process is... well, not well matched to the original scenario.
It didn't just happen that feminism became a movement of and for women who were privileged in every way but gender. Privileged feminists made certain decisions and deployed their power to define their issues as women's issues and other women's issues as something else, to exclude women who disagreed with them from positions of leadership, and to limit the participation of non-privileged women in the movement. Alice Paul chose to forbid African-American women from marching in the 1913 Women's Suffrage Parade in Washington, on the grounds that they clouded the issue because they were disenfranchised because of race as well as gender. Betty Friedan chose to say that lesbian groups couldn't participate in NOW-sponsored events because lesbians constituted a "lavender menace" who would discredit feminism. A certain very narrow form of liberal feminism became the mainstream face of the movement in the US, crowding out other voices, but it didn't have to be that way. Feminists with power made choices that made it that way. And now it's really hard to know how to fix it, because it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If most women are convinced that the feminist movement doesn't give a damn about them or their issues, then it's hard to know how to convince them to get involved in the movement so that they can ensure it does address their concerns.

I say all this as someone who really and truly identifies as a feminist, for what it's worth.
posted by craichead at 9:48 AM on December 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


but that argument could have been framed as "Classism is a complicating factor that is preventing feminism from reaching its full potential" rather than "feminism is failing".

I didn't get the impression from the article that anyone was making the argument that feminism was failing. In fact your "could have been" seems to be the gist of the piece. The title says "uneven success", and the article goes on to show that low-wage worker women aren't enjoying the same benefits as middle- and higher- wage women workers. It ends by stating that class is hindering lower-wage worker women from experiencing the full effect of the gains feminism has accomplished. Certainly there have been some gains across the board, it's just "class" is making more difficult for those at the bottom of the pyramid to experience the same benefits and gains as those those in the middle and the top.
posted by Hoopo at 9:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Blasdeb used the "legs on a table analogy" earlier; however, it sounds like Blasdeb's argument was that the fight against classism was one of the legs and FEMINISM was the table. I see it as "fixing classism" being one of the legs, feminism being ANOTHER one of the legs, and PEOPLE IN GENERAL are the table."

I'm only talking about the feminist table, if you're talking about a hypothetical feminist table where not all women are welcome to sit please say so, but the problems detailed in the article are a lot more than just internal, they are a problem of exclusion. It is a problem of how the movement defines itself in practice

That feminism should be fixing classism is a ridiculous strawman, that feminism has until recently failed to even acknowledge, much less fight, the gendered struggles of women also affected by classism has been a central hypocrisy of the movement since the very beginning. The central purpose of Women's Sufferage in the US was the dilution of the black vote. The problem isn't that feminism fails to address all of the problems of unprivileged women, but that until recently it had failed to directly address any of the problems of unprivileged women.

Feminism can't really honestly claim the title if it isn't even relevant to most women because it is blind to their gendered oppression. The table legs in my analogy were the majority of women who haven't been welcome.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:51 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


That feminism should be fixing classism is a ridiculous strawman

I agree, but there's no reason feminism can't be taken up simultaneously with fixing "classism". Increasing the living standards and benefits for low wage workers would help women as much as men and could certainly complement a feminist approach in the sense that the society's worst-off women would stand to gain. There's no reason this would have to be an either/or, and there's nothing lost in ensuring low-wage women workers have better options and opportunities available once basic "class" gains have been made.
posted by Hoopo at 10:01 AM on December 29, 2011


I'm only talking about the feminist table, if you're talking about a hypothetical feminist table where not all women are welcome to sit please say so, but the problems detailed in the article are a lot more than just internal, they are a problem of exclusion.

....What does that sentence mean?

But maybe the fact that I WASN'T only talking about the feminist table is where we're having the disconnect, so yay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on December 29, 2011


We pay for a cleaner, gardener, and window-washer. Yes, only one of these is female. No, we feel no guilt whatsoever. I do recommend employing a cleaner to anyone who can afford it, of any sex. You get a clean house, the cleaner gets money they want. Win-win!
posted by alasdair at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2011


Do you pay for that cleaner, gardener, and window-washer's health insurance? Pay into their social security? Pay federal and state withholding tax?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:20 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think one possible solution would be to value caregiving the way we do healthcare and instead of assuming it's on the rich to pay individual employees more when it's a literal impossibility for a high earning woman to pay a domestic servant EQUAL to what she is making. Instead we could say that rich and poor alike could use domestic services in their homes and this is a valuble societal service like healthcare and that housekeeping, cooking, cleaning, errand running, bill keeping, orginization and childcare are issues that many women struggle to manage and we should find a way that accross the board women and men who LIKE caregiving as a profession should be paid through a force that works similar to insurance and balances out systemic financial inequality making all people more elligable for the services and possibly allow better pay and unionizing of in-home (and other) caregivers could be something that would help.

If we are to say that housekeepers, caregivers and childminers should be paid equal to the professions high income women are earning in, it does bring up an interesting question of why women actually enter the workforce. Do women enter the workforce because they don't like being at home with their children? This is a perfectly valid reason to do so, by the way, the specialization of the workforce should ideally provide a space that people can identify their own skills and contribute to society in meaningful ways that match their abilities and desires to contribute. But if women want to work outside the home because they feel that staying at home is not an equally valid contribution, that in and of itself explains womens reluctance to pay a caregiver of their children equal pay to themselves. That attitude itself may be a part of this power imbalance, that childcare itself is not an equally valid societal contribution as being a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher or a firefighter. If caring for children were truly seen as an equally valuble service, then it would in fact make perfect sense for a two parent dual working home employing two parents--- to contribute the entirity of one parents earnings to the hired childcaregiver.

Anytime you have an entire profession that only the rich are able to afford the services of and pays people wages too low to afford the service itself, it's a problematic set up. And yes this is a tenet of classism and capitalism itself so addressing it requires more than just feminist awareness of the issue.

empresscallipygos---I think I agree with you and since I always start with human rights as the ultimate goal it's not as relevant to me where these issues fit onto the table of human rights but more important that they get to the table. I think they have a place being discussed and advocated for within feminism itself but as a multifaceted issue they need to be addressed by much more than just feminism.
posted by xarnop at 10:23 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to quickly add on to EmpressCallipygos' list, what about their retirement or vacation?
posted by Blasdelb at 10:24 AM on December 29, 2011


Well, the gardener and window-washer are both small business, so I guess so: I haven't checked their accounts. The cleaner only does three hours a week, so I pay her less than the National Insurance ceiling - that is, the amount at which your weekly income in the UK means you start paying social security. We don't have health insurance in this country, so my answer is kind of "yes" in that I pay my general taxes. So I believe I am compliant with all necessary legislation, thank-you.

But in any case, I don't get your point. If you're saying "you should comply with the law when you employ someone" then yes, I completely agree. If you're saying "it's okay to hire a (male) accountant to do my accounts, but not a (female) cleaner to clean my house" then I'm not with you.
posted by alasdair at 10:30 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Alasdair, I was speaking from a class perspective -- to be honest, I thought it was a little tone-deaf to be coming into a discussion about classism and racism and feminism, and the ways in which they intersect, to crow "well, I'm rich, but I hire poor people to do grunt work so that makes it okay!" It sort of smacks of "some of my best friends are...."

Because classism isn't just about whether you can afford enough to hire someone to do a job It also affects whether those people can afford to go to a school and educate themselves to do work that puts them in YOUR economic class or not. Yeah, huzzah that you hire them and everything, but how do you feel about giving your housecleaner the opportunity to go to school so she can BECOME your accountant?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


That feminism should be fixing classism is a ridiculous strawman

Not fixing all classicism everywhere. Working to address the problems faced by actual, living women in order to both a) help women who might not be white, rich etc.
and b) maintain and develop enough solidarity that we aren't trivially played against each other.
posted by colophon at 10:36 AM on December 29, 2011


alasdair- I think many people, from all economic backgrounds could use help within their homes. I think it's a valuble service, in fact I think it would improve quality of human life and child wellbeing if we assumed anyone who needed it should have it (if we can find a way to make that possible). The solution is not to ensure that each person is an automaton that can succeed in all areas of life, but that a specialized workforce can function such that those with caregiving skills should be able to help those who could use help.

Finding a way to ensure these services give pay that honors the true value of this service to society and affored the workers the ability to afford services that help with areas of life that THEY struggle with, is where things get more difficult.
posted by xarnop at 10:37 AM on December 29, 2011


I think one possible solution would be to value caregiving the way we do healthcare
There's a metric crap-ton of gendered class oppression involved in healthcare, though, if you think about all the home health aids and nursing assistants and other working-class women who do much of the scut work.
posted by craichead at 10:44 AM on December 29, 2011


Yeah, huzzah that you hire them and everything, but how do you feel about giving your housecleaner the opportunity to go to school so she can BECOME your accountant?

Someone will still be in demand to do housecleaning. There's no shame in housecleaning, it's a necessary job. The point is to pay enough that people can live on a housecleaner's salary, including things like being able to take parental leave, being able to afford medical care, and plan for a liveable lifestyle in retirement.
posted by Hoopo at 10:44 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Forgive me, I was aware of the tone: however, I strongly believe that many people would be happier if they employed cleaners, but they don't, because "cleaning the home" is closely associated with Women's Work and "being a sloven" and gender roles and whole bunch of sexist baggage like that, as detailed above. So I was sticking my oar in to say "it's okay to employ men and women to clean your homes, just like you employ men and women to fix your car" because I didn't see that in this thread and I wanted it on the record that it wasn't universally disapproved of. I hope it doesn't become a derail, and I'll shut up now.

On preview, what Hoopo said. It's easier for me because we have a stronger welfare state in the UK, so if I pay my taxes and pay a reasonable wage then the state kind of takes care of things for me.
posted by alasdair at 10:47 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone will still be in demand to do housecleaning. There's no shame in housecleaning, it's a necessary job. The point is to pay enough that people can live on a housecleaner's salary, including things like being able to take parental leave, being able to afford medical care, and plan for a liveable lifestyle in retirement.

No, I agree that that's the case. There are definitely people who enjoy housecleaning as a career, just as there are people who enjoy the "scut work" of nursing assistanceship and such that Craichead mentioned above. However, part of the class issue is that there may also be people who don't want to be housecleaners, but couldn't afford to school to become an accountant like they really wanted.

I agree we should pay housecleaners a living wage. I just also believe that people who don't want to be housecleaners should have the opportunity to go to school and learn to do what they do want.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:49 AM on December 29, 2011


I was aware of the tone: however, I strongly believe that many people would be happier if they employed cleaners, but they don't, because "cleaning the home" is closely associated with Women's Work and "being a sloven" and gender roles and whole bunch of sexist baggage like that, as detailed above. So I was sticking my oar in to say "it's okay to employ men and women to clean your homes, just like you employ men and women to fix your car" because I didn't see that in this thread and I wanted it on the record that it wasn't universally disapproved of.

....It wasn't in the thread because I'm not certain how "it's okay to employ men and women to clean your homes" is germane to the topic in question.

I'm not sure "pockets of classism are affecting feminism" is a problem that can be solved by just having everyone hire housecleaners "because clean houses cheer everyone up!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2011


There are a lot of people who don't like their jobs, though. The special problem with domestic workers is that, in the US, they have fewer protections than other workers, and the protections that they have are often ignored. They're in a structurally difficult position for organizing to get better wages, benefits and working conditions. Because a lot of domestic workers are undocumented immigrants or otherwise from radically disadvantaged groups, they have a hard time getting access to forms of power that could help them redress their issues.

I think you could argue that all of those things are also true of gardeners, but probably not of accountants, in the US.
posted by craichead at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2011


craichead, I think we're on the same page but just different paragraphs.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2011


couldn't afford to school to become an accountant like they really wanted.

I think we're saying the same thing. If you are paid a liveable wage that allows you to have medical care, maternity leave, and budget for retirement and savings, then the opportunity will follow. Where alisdair and I live these things are already more accessible and school is more affordable, too. There are a lot of reasons besides class and lack of funds that people don't get to become what they want. I feel like I could probably go back to school if I wanted to, but I don't even though I'm not doing what I "want to do". Not everyone gets to do what they want to do, and for most of us that's why they have to pay you to do it. If I get paid a decent wage I'm not going to shed too many tears that I couldn't become a beer taster kung fu astronaut.
posted by Hoopo at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]



The problem I see is that the people most in genuine need of help managing their homelife are also struggling to manage the school system and their work life and they can't afford the support they need. This is upsetting for me as someone who quite genuinely would like to be a special needs housecleaner/organizer/life skills assistant to families in need but can't afford to work for free-- and can see with my own eyes the huge amount of low income people who could use so much more support with this but can't afford it.

They're busy cleaning other people's houses and minding other people's children and come home tired ready to give the kids a TV dinner and leave whatever needs to be done where it is. I want to cook for people and make sure families have help with cooking healthy foods, cleaning up after and managing their chores and making sense of the work load when times are tough. As it is, only people with a lot of money can afford this valuble service and often don't even appreciate what a meaningful service it is.

Anytime life stress, deaths, loss, poverty, exposures to abusive issues and trauma, injuries, illnesses happen these things can get out of hand. For some people with chronically high levels of difficult life circumstances, health issues, and differently functioning brain types, this is an ongoing difficulty for them.

It can be hard for people accross the economic spectrum, but only upper classes can afford help with it. I think to be honest, this kind of help should be an important part of providing support services to families with high stress loads. Only when you're poor who have to qualify by being pathologized and labelled and claiming you have a disease rather than just saying, "Hey life is hard, I could use support". Which means understandable there is a huge gap between the amount of families whose lifes could be meaningfully changed by this kind of support and the families who are able to access it. I don't think we need to label people to acknowledge that many people could use this kind of support- ESPECIALLY families in very difficult circumstances.

When you're rich and you need help with organizing, you hire someone! When you're poor and you need help with it, you get CPS.
posted by xarnop at 11:40 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


I didn't get the impression from the article

There's your problem. Reading the article. The first indignant denunciation was 5 minutes after it was posted.
posted by rodgerd at 12:06 PM on December 29, 2011


The first indignant denunciation was 5 minutes after it was posted.
The New York Times is not exactly an obscure publication. I think it's safe to assume that anytime you post something from the NYT, some folks here will already have read it.
posted by craichead at 12:13 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This just reminds me of all the ways the Motherlode blog makes me slightly ill with all its quaintness.

Very often, working in the home of an upper and upper-middle class person is way to observe what those people do and aspire to doing. Domestic service is often a stepping-stone to rising in class, education, and wealth. Nannies and housekeepers who work for the well-off and the well-connected have an world of connections available to them that women who work in fast-food, factories (not that there are many of those jobs anymore) and low-paying retail do not.

Sorry, Ideefixe. But I can't believe this. They do what they have to do. As an immigrant-type myself, although fortunate to enter this country with a scholarship to college and coming from a middle class Indian family that still resides in India, it is incredibly difficult to look up to white people who hire nannies as any kind of role model. She may have said those kind things to your face, but I doubt anybody from a family-oriented culture would aspire to having her kids raised by nannies. Maybe grandparents, but not hired nannies.
posted by anniecat at 12:31 PM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I employed a nanny, who took care of my kids while my wife and I worked 9-5 jobs, from August 2008 to August 2011. Our nanny did not raise our children. My wife and I did. We work, because having one of us stay home, which we both personally would have preferred, was not economically feasible. We are not independently wealthy, and struggled to make ends meet the entire time she was with us. But the only alternative would have been to place them in daycare, and we judged a nanny to be a better option. Now, my kids are old enough that we have them in a preschool program.

I'm sorry, anniecat, that you believe I'm a bad parent for that. And that I'm not "family-oriented." But until you have children and have walked a mile in my shoes, I don't particularly feel you have any basis to judge what other I, or other people like me are going through. Nor whether we are doing the best think for our children given our individual circumstances.
posted by zarq at 1:07 PM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


So long as we as a group consider taking care of kids and cleaning to be women's work, feminism has a long way to go. One of my beefs with this approach is that accepts the assumption that women, by outsourcing domestic work, are oppressing other women. No more so than men are oppressing other men by hiring extremely low paid immigrant gardeners and painters. Each is a household decision to outsource. And each takes advantage of cheap labor to make time available for something else. But only the women are tarred with lack of sisterhood. This reflects the classism/feminism distinction EmpressCallipygos was making upthread.

Xarnop, I agree with you that a real problem is that caregiving is undervalued, but also wanted to point out assumptions implicit in your otherwise supportive statement above (as well as in article itself).

"when it's a literal impossibility for a high earning woman to pay a domestic servant EQUAL to what she is making." Why look at only the woman's salary? Why not pose the example of a high earning man, or high earning household? The entire household benefits.

" it does bring up an interesting question of why women actually enter the workforce. Do women enter the workforce because they don't like being at home with their children?" Again, why not ask why men join the workforce? Why not ask if men don't like their children.

But those questions are part of the whole equation.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 1:14 PM on December 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Very often, working in the home of an upper and upper-middle class person is way to observe what those people do and aspire to doing. Domestic service is often a stepping-stone to rising in class, education, and wealth. Nannies and housekeepers who work for the well-off and the well-connected have an world of connections available to them that women who work in fast-food, factories (not that there are many of those jobs anymore) and low-paying retail do not.

And rising is class usually means that their children aren't nannies, which says loads about the status of nannies. Also, in NYC among the very rich, a large percentage of nannies work illegally and are paid below minimum wage and have no vacation/benefits. It's hard to see this as some sort of benevolence on the part of the rich people.

I've met rich folks who try to be very nice though, such as families who allow the nanny's own children to come to work with them instead of being left in the kind of daycare that rich people are trying to avoid. My own mother was a nanny in such an arrangement briefly. She was certainly not paid a living wage and she did not have benefits. I sincerely doubt most nannies do have those things unless they are employed by the super wealthy and even then you have millionaires paying people under the table and vehemently opposed to unionization. I bet if those people were prosecuted and nannies were allowed to unionize, the status of nannies would be much higher.
posted by melissam at 1:19 PM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Very often, working in the home of an upper and upper-middle class person is way to observe what those people do and aspire to doing. Domestic service is often a stepping-stone to rising in class, education, and wealth.

....I think you're thinking of how things work in BBC-Land.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:24 PM on December 29, 2011


She may have said those kind things to your face, but I doubt anybody from a family-oriented culture would aspire to having her kids raised by nannies. Maybe grandparents, but not hired nannies.

Why paying someone to care for your children is worse than making someone related to you do it for free, I don't know. Though I know some grandparents volunteer willingly for the job (my aunt did, for her son and daughter-in-law, and they're entitled as hell- they'd probably value a nanny they paid more).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:26 PM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why paying someone to care for your children is worse than making someone related to you do it for free, I don't know. Though I know some grandparents volunteer willingly for the job (my aunt did, for her son and daughter-in-law, and they're entitled as hell- they'd probably value a nanny they paid more).

Because many people believe that family members can do things better and also that it strengthens bonds between family members. There is often some amount of classism/xenophobia involved in that decision itself, but I can understand why people would prefer family members. I've seen plenty of rich kids call their nannies "momma." It's also pretty darn hard to find a good nanny. You already know whether or not granny has issues, but it can be hard to figure out when hiring a person you don't know well (yet). If you are lucky you have a friend whose children are too old now and they can recommend their former nanny.

I've seen nannies at playgrounds in NYC who were quite obviously being cruel to their charges. I Saw Your Nanny is full of such stories, though interestingly it's run by nannies who know that such bad nannies give them all a bad name.
posted by melissam at 1:35 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not wanting to stay at home with the children is different than not liking your children. And sure you can switch out man or woman for either of those statements. I did mention exactly that regardless of gender people should be able to find jobs that match the skills they are most suited for. I should modify the one statement though, since the article was going with woman on woman oppression, I should have stated I was thinking there is no way a SINGLE woman could pay a nanny her same income. It's not possible. If it's a two parent working home, it could hypothetically be possible, but since many parents are hiring nannies for the reasons Zarq mentions, many people feel it is still an economic impossibility since their low income status is the reason they feel two parents need to work.

If nannies were required to be paid the same as other professions, fewer people would hire them. I'm not saying whether this is good or bad but it's always the argument against raising pay for professions like this. If you pay food service workers more, then less will be hired! So it benefits food service workers to keep the pay low. That's what they tell me anyway.

It's a tricky situation, but I can't help but think there has to a better solution and it's worth exploring them.
posted by xarnop at 1:37 PM on December 29, 2011


No more so than men are oppressing other men by hiring extremely low paid immigrant gardeners and painters.... And each takes advantage of cheap labor to make time available for something else. But only the women are tarred with lack of sisterhood

I don't think it's the case that men are excused of exploiting other men's labour, but because there isn't any necessity for a feminism-corollary "masculism," that conversation is not in terms of gender but instead exclusively in terms of class, i.e "the 1%" etc. Perhaps the point being made is that while there has been a lot of effort focused on ensuring the ceiling is the same height for everyone, not enough is going into making sure the people on the floor are OK.
posted by Hoopo at 2:02 PM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Perhaps the point being made is that while there has been a lot of effort focused on ensuring the ceiling is the same height for everyone, not enough is going into making sure the people on the floor are OK.

That is true, and is especially visible me in household labor (whether inside or out) as those jobs often lack the protections that a corporate employer would be forced to provide.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 2:18 PM on December 29, 2011


I don't think it's the case that men are excused of exploiting other men's labour, but because there isn't any necessity for a feminism-corollary "masculism," that conversation is not in terms of gender but instead exclusively in terms of class, i.e "the 1%" etc.
Hmmm. To me, the question isn't really why aren't men condemned for hiring gardeners, although I agree that's a good question. It's why aren't men condemned for hiring poorly-paid, no-benefits-having cleaners or nannies. The way this article is worded, it completely lets middle-class men off the hook for domestic labor. Middle-class mothers used to do that labor, and now they also work. A number of strategies have allowed them to do that: taking maternity leave; scaling back their hours until their kids start pre-school; hiring domestic workers; etc. But totally absent from this discussion is one obvious strategy, which is "fathers could take equal responsibility for housework and child care." If they did, then hiring domestic labor might be seen as class exploitation, but it wouldn't be seen as a failure of sisterhood. The "failure of sisterhood" rhetoric, I think, starts from the basically sexist assumption that housework is inherently the job of women.

Having said that, the underlying problem still remains, whether you abandon the stupid failure of sisterhood trope or not. The feminist movement has improved a lot of things for middle-class women and not so much for working-class women. How do we change that?
posted by craichead at 2:31 PM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Because many people believe that family members can do things better and also that it strengthens bonds between family members. There is often some amount of classism/xenophobia involved in that decision itself, but I can understand why people would prefer family members.

Because they've never noticed where most child abuse, sexual or otherwise, comes from?
posted by rodgerd at 3:30 PM on December 29, 2011


Criachead - you said what I was trying to say, but much more eloquently.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 4:20 PM on December 29, 2011


Because they've never noticed where most child abuse, sexual or otherwise, comes from?

I apologize for continuing this derail, but I believe this needs to be corrected.

Statistics on child abusers generally do not back up an assumption that "most child abusers" are family members, nor (incidentally) that abusers are frequently grandparents. Over 90% of child abuse victims typically know their abusers. However:

Link: PDF:
About one-quarter (27%) of all offenders were family members of their victims (table 6). The offenders of young victims were more likely than the offenders of older victims to be family members. Almost half (49%) of the offenders of victims under age 6 were family members, compared with 42% of the offenders who sexually assaulted youth ages 6 through 11, and 24% of offenders who sexually assaulted juveniles ages 12 through 17. Overall, just 12% of the offenders who sexually assaulted adults were family members of the victims, compared with 34% of the offenders of juvenile victims.

Except for victims under age 6, most sexual assault offenders were not family members but were otherwise known to the victim. Sixty percent of all sexual assault offenders were classified by law enforcement as acquaintances of the victim. Just 14% of offenders were strangers to their victims. Strangers were a greater proportion of the offenders of adult victims (27%) than juvenile victims (7%). The youngest juveniles were least likely to have an offender who was a stranger. Just 3% of the offenders in the sexual assaults of children under age 6 were strangers, compared with 5% of the offenders of youth ages 6 through 12, and 10% of offenders of juveniles ages 12 through 17.

Using NIBRS data, it is possible to develop probability statements about the characteristics of the offenders given certain characteristics of the incident (table 8). For example, knowing that a victim under age 6 was assaulted in a residence, the NIBRS data indicate that the most likely offender was a juvenile acquaintance age 12 through 17 probability 15.2%) or a family member age 25 through 34 (probability 15.0%). When a very young victim was assaulted some place other than a residence, the probability that the offender was an adult family member declines, while the probability that the offender was a juvenile acquaintance under age 12 increases substantially. When the victim was a little older (ages 6 through 11) and assaulted in some place other than a residence, the likelihood that the offender was a juvenile acquaintance increases even more (probability 41.0%).

In general, the victim-offender relationships were similar for male and female victims; however, there were differences in the offender profiles for victims under age 12 (table 7). Compared with young male victims, a greater proportion of female victims under age 12 was assaulted by family members. For male victims under age 12, 40% of offenders were family members compared with 47% of the offenders of females under age 12.

posted by zarq at 5:58 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The feminist movement has improved a lot of things for middle-class women and not so much for working-class women. How do we change that?

By first finding out what working class women consider to be valuable. For many women who work at semi-skilled jobs, staying home with the kids is a luxury, and that upper-class educated women who hire nannies so they can to go off to jobs that grind them down are idiots who don't value family life.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:33 PM on December 29, 2011


There is an argument to be made that the article has its premise entirely backwards. That it is not that feminism lead to a change it women's economic status but that a change in women's economic status lead to (second wave) feminism — with access to the work place and increasing economic power women began to make increasing demands. Note too that many of these demands went lockstep, for instance access to contraception being a necessity if unplanned pregnancy was not to interfere with the ability to retain the employment status gained.

What needs to be realized, moreover, is that wider structural changes and reorganization where precisely those that would inevitably lead to a widening disparity across the economic spectrum. Specifically on the lower end of that spectrum women's move into the workplace was mostly into part-time and casualized work, matched higher up by a middle class that changed from a small status based one, centered around a job for life to an expanded one that tended to be more meritocratically skill and education based, but increasingly insecure (with status being purchased at the cost of expanded debt).

This acted counter to the, by then traditional, working industrial labour force structures based on skilled labour that was able to exert power through union struggles, and, moreover, at a time of increasing militancy. (it should also be noted that this was very partial as well, union power largely resting with skilled labour and in particular the ability to restrict entry into its ranks — something that implicitly rested on the exclusion of women and their utilization as unpaid domestic labour and underpaid un or semi-skilled workers). The rise (and then decline) of second-wave feminism maps neatly on to the time when traditional labour structures were broken and the situation we see today results from what came to replace them.

(This should not be read, btw, as an attempt to make feminism complicit in this process but rather to point out that it acted within the constraints of existing economic and social structures; it does however point to the limits of liberal feminism (and, I would argue, the coterminous limits of the language of privilege and -isms as a diagnosis which always devolves to the locus of the individual, rather than recognizing the (diffuse) ground of class(es) which can not be reduced to a single point)).
posted by tallus at 10:11 PM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: But that doesn't mean classism is an exclusively feminist problem

I don't think anyone's saying that. I think they're saying it's also a feminist problem...
posted by Dysk at 1:21 AM on December 30, 2011


I'm sorry, anniecat, that you believe I'm a bad parent for that. And that I'm not "family-oriented."

I'm not saying anybody who hires a nanny is a bad parent or not family-oriented---this is sort of a dog-eat-dog society in the US. I'm saying that people from more family-oriented cultures don't automatically think the life of someone who has to have a nanny come in to take care of their kids is one to be particularly envied or emulated.

I was reacting against the whole "nanny gets so much out of this because in working for us for poor benefits and minimum, she learns how to be civilized---why, she ought to be paying us!" tone. No, she probably does not want your life. The wealthier just love to believe they're "teaching" the less fortunate. And Ideefixe took the nanny's word as truth, rather than what an employee says to an employer to stroke their ego a little and secure their job. And it sounds like the nanny succeeded.
posted by anniecat at 6:56 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The wealthier just love to believe they're "teaching" the less fortunate.

This is true. There's some seriously smug and uniquely clueless wealthy people out there, and they mostly really do think they're better than you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:31 PM on December 30, 2011


That attitude itself may be a part of this power imbalance, that childcare itself is not an equally valid societal contribution as being a lawyer or a doctor or a teacher or a firefighter. If caring for children were truly seen as an equally valuble service, then it would in fact make perfect sense for a two parent dual working home employing two parents--- to contribute the entirity of one parents earnings to the hired childcaregiver.

I don't think your analogy works. Doctors and firefighters etc are seen as valuable careers, but I don't think they would be seen that way if someone became a doctor and then only ever provided medical services to his immediate family, or a firefighter who only protects his own home, or a teacher who only educates his own kids.

Subsidizing daycare makes much more sense than subsidizing nannies or stay at home parents. These private arrangements are incredibly inefficient, with little to no possibility of quality control. Daycares can be regulated. But why should the state give stay-at-home parenting subsidies indiscriminately? What if someone is a mediocre stay at home parent but a kickass doctor?

I'm fine with private arrangements, whether the caregiving is provided by a grandparent, a nanny, or a stay at home parent, being subject to the luck of the privilege of high incomes, living parents, etc. But regulated day care with well paid staff (who can be (e)valuated based on their skills, training, and competence) should be accessible to everybody regardless of income and privilege.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:28 PM on December 31, 2011


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