Feminism: Not Just for Middle-Class White Ladies


Debbie says:

Lane Windham, writing in The American Prospect, examines the role of working-class feminism in the Trump resistance. Windham gives us a little history:

[W]orking-class feminists have long been potent champions for women’s advancement, and 1970s second-wave feminism had deep cross-class roots. The late-night huddle in Betty Friedan’s hotel room that first sparked the National Organization of Women (NOW) included a number of union activists, among them Caroline Davis and Dorothy Haener of the United Auto Workers and Catherine Conroy of the Communications Workers of America. NOW’s founders were fed up with the new Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s refusal to target gender job discrimination while enforcing Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Working women activists formed more than a dozen organizations to improve “pink collar” office work in the 1970s. … Women like … roaring NYC firefighters fought their way into all-male blue-collar enclaves in the 1970s and 1980s, filing lawsuits and demanding respect.

She also delves into what’s happening now:

A big difference between the working-class feminism of the 1970s and that of the 2010s has to do with the economy. When those firefighters and pink-collar secretaries fought for inclusion 40 years ago, they demanded access to an economy marked by broad prosperity. Working people’s share of the pie had been steadily growing for decades, and they saw no reason why that wouldn’t continue. Since that time, working people’s prospects have dimmed and their wages have stagnated; the United States has largely traded manufacturing jobs for low-paid, contingent service jobs.

Windham doesn’t talk, in this article anyway, about what has happened to the “working people’s share of the pie,” and how it has relentlessly been transferred to the very rich and the super-rich. She doesn’t talk about how intersectional progressives need to think about work, and jobs, and income in the 21st century. She does talk about the disconnect between American women and feminism:

While the majority of females voted for Clinton, a full 61 percent of white women without a college degree walked into a voting booth and filled in a bubble beside the name of a man who bragged about grabbing women’s genitals without consent. … it’s clear that many of these women share the sense of dislocation and despair that drove white, blue-collar men’s votes.

In an Obama presidency, even in a George [pick your middle initial] Bush presidency, we had some luxury to divide ourselves, to say “that’s your feminism, this is mine,” or “that’s your anti-racist approach and this is mine.” Those of us with privilege need to be working hard at making our skills and resources available to those with less privilege. All of us need to be focusing on the goals: not just removing Trump and his band of vicious anti-human policymakers (a good start!) but building a country that puts people and the planet first, and is perfectly happy to empty overflowing pockets to fund our priorities. Windham namechecks Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter, drawing the connections between economic justice, racism, and sexism.

Movements like these, unions with 21st century values, and mobilizations of working class women are all building blocks in the big fight of our time.