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Saturday, January 05, 2013

Has Feminism Hit A Crass Ceiling?

If feminism is the radical notion that women are people then feminism cannot help but concern itself with the many different ways women are dehumanized. Since sexism is not only exacerbated by but actually articulated through racism and poverty, feminism must actively take on racism and plutocracy to be really feminist. This might seem obvious, but without reminding ourselves of this insight and forcing ourselves to act in ways that reflect our awareness of it, even so radical a practice as feminism can drift into a celebration of privilege rather than a resistance to precarity. Sara Jaffe's recent Trickle Down Feminism has provided just such a reminder, and the attention the piece has attracted reminds us how indispensable such reminders are. Read it all, here's a taste of the opening to get you started:
If you read what is popularly known as the feminist press, you’ll notice a focus on the “glass ceiling” that excludes much else. Feminist writers are found celebrating the achievements of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandburg, cheering Christine Lagarde’s position at the International Monetary Fund, wringing their hands over Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s refusal to call herself a feminist, or asking, as Anne-Marie Slaughter did in the pages of the Atlantic, whether (white, well-off, educated) women can “have it all.” While we debate the travails of some of the world’s most privileged women, most women are up against the wall. According to the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, women make up just under half of the national workforce, but about 60 percent of the minimum-wage workforce and 73 percent of tipped workers. In the New York area, a full 95 percent of domestic workers are female. Female-dominated sectors such as retail sales, food service, and home health care are some of the fastest-growing fields in the new economy, and even in those fields, women earn less; women in the restaurant industry earn 83 cents to a man’s dollar. This is where most women spend their time, not atop the Googleplex. This is where feminists should be spending their time, too.
By way of conclusion, an anecdotal observation that may not stand up to the scrutiny of allies: I find it interesting that to the extent that feminism's Third Wave was all about taking up something like this insight I was talking about before -- the recognition that women's experiences, including women's experiences of sexism, are articulated as definitively by race, orientation, class, age, nationality, ability as by sex/gender -- it often seemed to yield a kind of fragmentation of concern. A theory hoping for connection-in-difference provided convenient rationalizations for indifference.

But this is a different moment, here and now. The feminist term has been regaining its righteous currency and force after a period of eclipse, for one thing. In nearly two decades of teaching I have faced far too many classrooms teaching feminist and gender theory in which I discovered soon enough that only I -- you know, the white middle-aged hippy faggot aesthete who went to jail protesting Cracker Barrel with Queer Nation when I was in their shoes -- identified as feminist at all, this in spaces full of women and self-described radical students. But now, more than ever, the insight that sexism is articulated in difference is being taken up in ways that are articulating solidarity, not indifference: The politics of choice (and anti-abortion and anti-contraception zealotry) are now widely understood to shape a terrain of healthcare realities that reverberate beyond the reprosexual, the politics of neoliberal precarization (and the 1%) shape a terrain of evaluations that reverberate beyond the poorest. I don't think this names so much a new wave beyond the third, as my own belated realization that waves take their time coming in.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

It's worth pointing out that a lot of those tipped workers only get a fraction of the tips that their clients think they are giving them. Everyone knows about the tip sharing schemes some restaurants employ. However it's not uncommon for the owners to take the lion share of the tips for themselves.