Tag Archives: classism

For your edification and edjumacation

Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiinks!1

In case yesterday’s overextended metaphor wasn’t enough for you, check out this piece on the dog and the gecko, an amazing metaphor for privilege. If you haven’t figured out what I mean by “privilege” yet, read this.

And then there’re dogs and smurfs: why women writers and stories about women are taken less seriously (don’t worry, it’s not a metaphor — or rather, interrogates a trope we take as metaphor).

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Why does she stay with that jerk?” here are twenty answers. None of them is “she’s stupid” or “she deserves it”.

Filed under further rhetorical questions, would B. Manning be treated the same if out as a trans woman? As Emily says, not bloody likely.

Of course, being trans doesn’t mean Manning is, therefore, a woman — and being nonbinary doesn’t mean one is genderfluid, either.

Elizabeth of Spilt Milk is blogging at Feministe, and I couldn’t be happier. Check out especially Feminist mothers (you, being here, don’t need to be exhorted to read women who are parents and writing about feminism, but DO check out the other recommendations at the end of her post) and In defense of children.

Further to meta discussions of feminists, read this long and wholly worthwhile piece on white privilege in feminist organizations, especially those seeking “diversity”.

Race and gender are hardly the only axes (for lack of a better term) of privilege/marginalization, as you can read about in The Mental Burden of a Lower-Class Background.

But speaking of race and gender, do yourself a favor and watch Random Black Girl. (Lyrics, and a bunch of blather, here.)

This is, though rather male-centric, more or less how my mind works regarding writing.

Finally, this post is being pre-written and scheduled, because by the time you read this, I will have seen the final Harry Potter film installment, with the awesome Amy of Anktangle. But oh, do I wish we could have seen Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series instead…

  1. For I am the zombie of the blogosphere, and posts are your brains. Tasty, intelligent brains.

Conference on Motherhood Activism, Advocacy, Agency: Day One

I’m in Toronto for a conference that, other than its distinctly academic bent1, seems tailored perfectly for me. It’s been one day (of three), and I have twelve pages of notes on everything from Motherhood and Menstruation2 to Mothers and Sons to Feminist Parenting as a Conscious Political act to DHS: Give us Back Our Children to Zines as an Organizing Tool in the Maternal Feminist Movement3. After each presentation4 I could sit down and spend hours writing and thinking and talking — but no, a round of applause and here’s the next speaker and my head is spinning and I have to lurch across the entire conference hall to obey my fetus-kicked bladder and now it’s lunch and another pair of sessions each with its set of all-too-inspirational talks and now we’re back at the hotel and the bed is calling and my brains fell out my ears somewhere in the never-have-to-set-a-foot-outside underground world of this fabulously diverse city.

I could, if I had the time and brainpower and ability to sit any longer, spin a post out of each of the talks I’ve heard today, but I don’t, so here is a scattering of thoughts inspired by the conference:

  • Guilt sucks. At least half of the talks mentioned the devastating effects of mother guilt — not only is it a tool of control of the kyriarchy (or “the dominant cultural discourse”) by keeping the focus on “what’s wrong with me” not “the prescription of the ‘good mother’ is wrong”, it makes us worse parents. We overcompensate out of guilt, we lose our autonomy and authenticity because of guilt, and we snap from the stress of feeling guilty. Drop the guilt.
  • Mothers deserve voice, recognition, research, and time on us-as-mothers, not only mothers-as-caregivers-so-it’s-really-about-the-children. Call it empowerment, or autonomy, or compassion, or feminism, or radicalism: all speak to this need for a focus on us, not only on what we can/should/shouldn’t/do do for our children.
  • Children are resilient (so drop the guilt!) and will become their own people despite us — and mothering and parenting is a place with huge potential for social change. As feminist mothers, mothers of sons, conscious mothers, and/or mothers “resisting the myths of motherhood”, we have the ability in our daily lives to perform activism and create change by the relationships we create with our children.
  • Feminist/conscious/resistant parenting (each presented as three+ distinct ideas, but with amazing commonalities) is enacted through a relationship that is not based in a traditional, power-over, parent-has-the-answers, hierarchical model, but in a conversational, egalitarian, speak-truth-to-power, process- and justice-based model. It’s only peripherally, if at all, about eschewing gendered products, and more about eschewing a patriarchal, kyriarchal, hierarchical relationship.
  • This one blew my mind5: the same conversational, autonomy, interdependent, respectful-even-if-not-agreeing relationship we bring to our relationships with our children (and parents) — “reciprocal recognition between autonomous individuals” — we can bring to our activist conversations, particularly between “waves” of feminism or activist communities. It doesn’t mean ignoring the problems of previous eras of feminisms or activisms, but being able to honor their flawed humanity while assert our own autonomy and right to respect for our ideas and ideals.
  • I’m not really sure what to say about conversations by Mother Warriors Voice (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and the Ontario Native Women’s Association (Canada), but both spoke of the devastation wrecked on communities and families because of child-removal fueled by classism and racism — children being removed because the electricity is turned off, or inadequate housing, or assumptions about substance abuse. As foster/adoptive parent of color said in the film DHS: Give Us Back Our Children “If they can pay me to take care of these children, why can’t they pay their biological parents to care for them?”

My doesn’t-snore and doesn’t-kick-me-out-for-coughing roommate has her own post up about day one, with more reflections and a couple links you should check out. Also a picture. Because she’s blog savvy like that.

And now, I sleep6.

PS Happy Friday the 13th! I miss you, beloved.

  1. I’m almost afraid to reveal my not-even-Bachelor’s-having status, though everyone’s happy enough to hear about my massage training, and offers to allow me to practice on them. Yeah.
  2. See?? It’s like they set the agenda with me in mind.
  3. By Ariel Gore! I refrained from fangirling all over her, but by that time, it was mostly because I was feeling too creaky from pregnancy and this obnoxious cold and sitting for hours and hours to run up and gush the way I yearned to.
  4. 2-4 presenters/presentations per sessions, and four sessions just today!
  5. I drew a giant lightbulb next to it, after picking my jaw back up off the floor and scribbling a quick summary I’d been too busy being blown away to write at the time.
  6. OK, so I’m scheduling this to be posted tomorrow morning, so by the time you read this, I will have a full 8 hours of sleep, clear sinuses, calm leg muscles, and will be leisurely breaking my fast with definitely-not-Starbucks. …right? Let’s just say right.

Talking class in class — on money and massage

I’ve been doing a lot of talking and thinking and work this quarter around money — not only did I start accepting advertising on RMB in January, I took the Business class in massage school1, and then again in the weekend reiki class we talked about pricing. Mostly I’ve come around to a place where I’m comfortable placing value — and thus a dollar value — on what I do, but there’s a line that keeps coming up — in massage, yes, but it’s entirely too familiar to me coming from the world of doulas and midwives and childbirth ed and homebirth — that chafes me every time I hear it:

“If it [massage, reiki, homebirth, whatever services one offers] is really important to someone, they’ll figure out how to pay for it.”

Well, sure — if we’re talking someone middle-ish class trying to decide between a triple digit monthly clothing budget and getting body work. But also what the fuck are you talking about? if we’re talking people to whom the $70 for a single massage represents their monthly food budget.

I can afford the body work I need because I have a partner with a well-paying job, good enough credit to let it take a few years longer to pay off our debt, and a student discount from my LMT (more than offset by the student loan repayments, unfortunately). Three years ago, I couldn’t afford it. Six years ago, I got the body work I needed only because I had parents who could finance my health care — if my parents were financially where I was three years ago, it never would have happened.

It’s true that we almost always have choices, and that many people have the resources and resourcefulness not to let financial barriers get in their way. I don’t wish to cast the class marginalized as Those Poor People We Need to Pity, nor erase anyone’s agency. But just because a choice is theoretically possible doesn’t mean everyone will be able to choose it, nor will they necessarily think it worth it. Three years ago I could have given up eating any organic foods or eating out ever2, could have given away my pets3 and gotten a smaller apartment, could have sold my collection of birth books and musical instruments. I could, in theory, have managed a monthly or even semi-monthly massage — if I’d completely rearranged my life.

I value massage — it arguably saved my life, and I am making it a large part of my life’s work — but even I don’t know if I value massage that highly. And I’d probably look askance at anyone who did, not to mention question the integrity of any massage therapist who encouraged that.

And yet.

I’m not, at all, arguing that massage is too expensive, or should be considered a luxury, or that we overcharge. Indeed, no one gets rich doing massage — owning a spa or three, maybe, and if we’re lucky and savvy we can support our families. While $70 may sound like a lot for “just an hour!”, there is no one on this earth who can do 40 massages a week 50 weeks a year — and for 10, 20, 30 years? Try it. Just try it. A full time practice is closer to 25 50-minute massages a week (far, far more than I am or likely will ever be capable of doing), and that still has the LMT working 40+ hours total, and a good portion of income is either being taken by the therapist’s employer or self-employment taxes. From a therapist’s point of view, from the point of view of earning a living and paying off an education and supporting a family, $70 for an hour is damn near a bargain.4 New graduates often start out charging much lower prices, either to get clients, or out of a misplaced sense of “I’m new, I can’t be worth that much!” — but it’s not long usually before they figure out it’s really not sustainable.

The point: I’ve been experiencing such a strange sort of cognitive dissonance these past couple months, trying to learn to value myself while not forgetting that this system I’m learning to operate in is inherently fucked up and values some people less than others. I don’t think the solution is for me to continue to act as though money is dirty and I’m either too good or not good enough for it — as Ariel Gore argued so eloquently in How to Become a Famous Writer, earning money means I have more ability to feed my family, support causes I believe in, and pay other artists, social justice workers, and small businesses — but really, fuck if I know what the solution is. As a blogger I’ve resolved it to my satisfaction5, but as an LMT, as I hope to be in just a few short weeks? No clue. I could do a sliding scale, sure, but even the lowest I could go and still pay for my supplies and time prices out so much of the population I wish to serve — whether in absolute terms or psychological ones hardly matters when the end result is not having access to this form of health care.

In the end I don’t think there is a satisfactory solution as long as capitalism remains kyriarchy’s primary tool6. I’m not prepared to “leave” capitalism7, nor am I willing to continue to sacrifice my mental health and my self-esteem and my self on the altar of futilely protesting its very existence, which leaves me… in limbo, I suppose: socioeconomically privileged, gender and ability marginalized, and struggling to find my way without stepping on anyone else.

I wish I had a better ending, better answers, better ideas, but although this isn’t enough, it’s the best I have for now.

  1. Did I mention I have two. more. weeks until I graduate?? So this month might be a bit sketchy on posts — I feel like I’m in the very last minutes of a marathon, and it’s not that hard except it’s unbelievably hard and there’s not much left except everything. Mess up now and the last 2.5 years were nothing. So. Little stressed. But mostly in a good way. I’M ALMOST DONE!
  2. Then a monthly-ish occurrence, if that.
  3. Though to me, and I don’t want to start a children-are-like-pets debate, that’s different only in (small) degree from saying that I could give away the Boychick, and is about as likely to ever happen. If you’re an animal person, you get this, and if you’re not, nod and smile and simply believe me, even if you also roll your eyes.
  4. Prices in this paragraph are based on the average cost of a massage here in Portland, Oregon, USA, where the cost of living ain’t exactly cheap. Other places in the country may have lower — or higher — average prices, and of course little of this paragraph is relevant to non-USA audiences, or, if it is, it’s merely through coincidence.
  5. If you’ve a sole proprietorship you’d consider advertising here and want to know how I’ve resolved it, ask me for my price sheet.
  6. By which I do not mean that classism is the “worst” of the -isms, but rather that so much of marginalization functions through money and access to it, or the lack thereof. Just look at the (un)employment rates for transgender individuals, or consider how difficult getting and keeping a job as a person with a disability is, or examine the continuing gender pay disparities. There are many, many aspects of marginalization, many tools of kyriarchy if we are to anthropomorphize bigotry that way, but I think it would be hard to argue that unequal access to capital, or at least the means of its production, isn’t (one of) the largest.
  7. An act which, if one is to argue is possible at all, requires a horribly and darkly amusing level of class privilege.

Quick hit on birth advocacy and privilege

A friend of mine (and my midwife for my pregnancy with the Boychick) shared with me The Story of Mrs Y and added:

The concern over our high cesarean and birth intervention rate is a privilege. Seriously. We cannot have any idea about how so many women face pregnancy and birth in other countries where the simple, natural act of childbearing could easily end in death — of them or their babies.

This was my take on the topic:

I don’t believe in the limited thinking that says we can or must only care about one (the “worst”) injustice at a time; we absolutely can and ought continue to work here on making birth better and safer for those facing the ridiculously, immorally, and unscientificly high cesarean and intervention rates.

But so often in USian birth advocacy, we completely ignore or dismiss the real risks of those who have no access to care, no resources to learn from, no emergency services for the rare occasion when they are truly needed, and not even the basic level of nutrition and hygiene that makes “natural” birth mostly safe.

It’s not unhindered birth when that is all you have, when it’s not an informed choice, when the midwives who had worked in your area have been imprisoned or worse, when the only other option is walking for four hours to a hospital that makes ours look humane and caring. It’s not freebirth right here in the USA when a teen has no access to birth control, no ability to say no, no way of getting an abortion, and no one to turn to who will not shame hir for being pregnant. It’s not safe or rational to consider homebirth when one’s “home” is unsafe or nonexistent. It’s not humane to shame someone for seeking pain relief for an experience they didn’t choose. It’s not reasonable to demand someone do the strenuous, “natural” work of labor when never in hir life has ze had adequate, abundant nutrition, and all hir tissues reflect the lack.

It’s not that birth practices or intervention rates don’t matter. It’s not that hospitals don’t desperately need reform, on so many levels. It’s not that it’s wrong to work on changing those. It is that we flaunt our unseemly ignorance of our privilege when we talk as though those are the most pressing needs in birth the whole world over, or that it’s only “those brown people way over there” who are still lacking what we take for granted and are seeking to move away from.

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and the discomfit of classism

For those of you who have managed to remain ignorant of the USian behemoth, last Thursday was Thanksgiving here in the Stolen States of Genocide. Which means yesterday was Black Friday — the day when all the retailers’ books go from red (in the hole) to black (making a profit). It was also, of course (because no mainstream tradition is without its counterculture movement) Buy Nothing Day. And today, for the first time ever, was Small Business Saturday, a day for supporting local/small business — sponsored, naturally, by a mega (multi?)national credit card company.

As a slightly agoraphobic crazy person with a major panic attack trigger of large numbers of people or many threads of sound, the thought of queueing up in hour-plus long lines with hundreds of other people under brain-fog inducing florescent lighting while the noise of a thousand bargain hunters and overstimulated infants pound out of beat with the uncounted battery-powered noise makers all competing to be this years Must Have Toy leaving my ear drums jittery and my brain beaten — is, no joke, one of my top three nightmares. I would be unable to function in any meaningful way.

So I stay home, and buy nothing.

Today, in the last hours before my parents started the drive back to their house 650 miles away, my mom and I went to a local yarn shop, one which, when I visited three years ago, had a cafe attached; we thought a little fiber love and caffeination would be a fair pleasant way to spend some mother-daughter bonding time. Turns out the cafe shut years ago, but they did have the perfect yarn for a present I was planning, a locally made silky soft machine washable kettle dyed wool, ideal for a winter project close to the skin for someone sensitive to cheap scratchy yarns.

So I supported a small business.

There is nothing wrong with either Buy Nothing Day nor Small Business Saturday1; indeed, both are in line with my values of environmentalism, simplicity, quality over quantity, and, to the extent that one can have and seek and spend money and be anti-capitalist, against the excessive accumulation of capital by a tiny, homogeneous, privileged minority of the population.

And yet.

Traveling in the circles I do — where Buy Nothing Day is more likely to be celebrated than Black Friday, where buying local or handmade is, if not the default, at least a well-represented position — I’ve seen and heard a lot of ardent advocacy and pointed humor in favor of buying nothing/local/quality and against buying lots/china-made/quantity. And without exception each has left my brows creased and my lips pursed, thinking anything between “That’s fine, but…” and “Dear Gods don’t let me be associated with this.”

Everything I’ve seen — every post spreading the gospel of small business support, every I-would-never comment on overnight queues, every joke about Zombies of Walmart and duels over the last flat screen TV — grew from the fetid soil of classism.

Because Buy Nothing Day is great — if you can afford to pay full/er price on your holiday presents (or clothes or kitchen tools or household goods). Buying local is wonderful — if you can pay $13.95 for a small skein of wool instead of $1.95 for super bulk acrylic.

But y’know, not everyone can. And I have no patience (but plenty of pointed words) for anyone who says that if you can’t afford handmade from Etsy then you don’t deserve anything under your tree, or that if you’re struggling to make rent or don’t have savings you’ve not the right to “extras” like Christmas presents or DVDs or cell phones with cameras. We all of us — unless you are reading this at a public access point on a mandatory fifteen minute break from your 100 hour a week unpaid job of serving the disadvantaged — make “selfish” decisions sometimes. We indulge. We allow ourselves luxuries — yes, sometimes when we don’t have the basics, because it helps us feel a little more human in a world that would deny us our humanity. This isn’t a trait of those poor people over there, it’s something we all of us do; it is only kyriarchy and classism that somehow makes it ok when it is our own indulgences (or those of persons of a similar class), yet calls it “imprudent” and a sign of “stupidity” when they do it. We cluck our tongues at those who fail to buy handmade, while clutching our Kindles and fretting about our retirement and ignoring our hypocrisy.

There are a lot of critiques to be made of USian consumerism. Our “need” for stuff, our unwillingness to repair when we can replace (for how long?), our economy that rewards those who can create the most profit regardless of human benefit (or harm) — there’s enough there to fuel thousands of blog posts, millions of snide remarks, even, if we will ever get off our asses to do it, a revolution or five. Do not mistake me for supporting a system that doesn’t care what brown people overseas are starved or raped or enslaved or murdered so we can live in luxury, for I do not2 — but the solution isn’t as simple as cajoling people to “shop smart”, because so many do not have the option to buy the “better” product. Or they could buy it and eat exclusively beans and rice. Or they could do without and feel that much more defeated by life.

Or, they could wait in line in the cold overnight for a chance to have some part of the life that those of us smugly sitting at home mocking their “greed” take for granted.

***

What I want you — if you have made those comments or read them and not seen any problems or thought them quietly to yourself — to take away from this isn’t an urging for self-castigation (my brain certainly doesn’t need any assistance in that area), nor a blanket don’t-critique of USian-style consumerism. I certainly don’t want anyone stop advocating for alternatives to mainstream disposable-junk holiday traditions.

But I want you to look and to really see the people in the lines you’re tempted to mock. I want you to realize they might have many more reasons to be there that do not fall neatly into your (spoken or not) theory of “stupid sheeple under the control of Big Money”. I want you to recognize that you do not know what brought them there (and neither do I), and it might be simple joyful bargain hunting

and it might be unacknowledged need

and it might be desire for the life you lead

and it might be they’ve always wanted a gaming console and finally one is in reach

and it might be their kid’s convinced them Christmas will be ruined if they don’t have a particular plastic toy

and it might be they’re trying to fill the void left when kyriarchy sucked their soul

and it might be they can’t drive in to the city or out to the ‘burbs to shop at the independent stores

and it might be they never liked those snobby places anyway

and it might be it’s where everyone they know goes

and it might be a family tradition

and it might be they’re too damned tired to figure out what the “right” place to shop is

and it might be because stretching the family budget gives them more for education or babysitters or retirement or savings or hair styling or whatever else they have decided is important to them and they don’t particularly care whether you or I approve of their values or their reasons or their purchasing habits today or tomorrow or any other day of the year.

It might be that they are people just like you.

  1. Ok, something is wrong with a day supposedly in support of local economy that is in fact adding to the coffers of a megacorp.
  2. And yet, because I do live in the USA, and have consumer debt, and shop sometimes at big box stores, and do not grow all my own food and wear only second hand clothes, in many tangible ways I do financially support slavery and murder and rape and starvation. Short of joining a self-sustained commune or hanging myself from a hand made hemp rope out in the forest, I don’t know how to avoid it entirely; such is the system as it is.