White women’s feminisms still center around equality… Black women’s feminisms demand justice. …One kind of feminism focuses on the policies that will help women integrate fully into the existing American system. The other recognizes the fundamental flaws in the system and seeks its complete and total transformation.
Brittney Cooper in Salon
But, really, doesn’t it all come down to money? A poor woman’s needs around childcare are far different than is a middle-class woman’s or a wealthy woman’s. A poor woman’s needs around public transit are far different than is a middle-class woman’s or a wealthy woman’s. A poor woman’s needs around the availability of health-care services are far different than is a middle-class woman’s or a wealthy woman’s. But, really, isn’t money dependent on one’s race? And as the chart below (from an article by Dylan Mathews published in The Washington Post) ) shows, there’s a difference between races when it comes to earning power.
If the average Black or Hispanic male has significantly less earning capability than the White or Asian male, then there’s more pressure on the Black or Hispanic woman to help make up that difference. Issues like medical access (including abortion access) and domestic violence need to be put into an economic context to appreciate their causes and effects. Economic pressures on women have increased as income inequality has escalated: women make up a growing proportion of the long-term unemployed, low-income women lead a growing majority of single-mother households, middle-income women struggle with few social supports.
The website Vox recently published the results of a study (first published in the journal Contexts) in which three researchers — Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliot and Joselyn Bretton — spent 18 months following nearly 120 low- and 30 middle-income moms as they fed their families.
For these families, tossing a salad wasn’t simple at all. Those who lacked reliable transportation only grocery shopped once each month, making perishable foods impractical. Scrambled eggs might not please all family members; roasting a chicken requires time between finishing work and serving dinner.
So trying to do what’s “best” for their families, isn’t always easy. The researchers were surprised to find that poor families actually home-cooked much more of their food than is the general thinking.
We hear all of the time that Americans have stopped cooking. A lot of the families in our study were cooking every night, especially the poorest families. They couldn’t afford to eat fast food and a lot didn’t have cars.
Many of the poor and working class families were able to do this despite having
unpredictable or non-standard schedules that might change week to week. Quite a few had service industry jobs. Their schedule would change, and they might not know until a day or two in advance. They didn’t have this predictable schedule that is implied in the notion that we all get home at 5:30 and can start dinner.
Kathleen Geier has written
Different classes of women—low-income women who make up over half of minimum wage earners, middle-income women whose wages have stagnated for a decade and elite women seeking to shatter glass ceilings—have needs and problems that look very different from one another.
Deep cuts in social services (beginning with the Reagan presidency) impact poor women (primarily Latinas and blacks) more significantly than others. Geier believes “feminism has stalled while economic inequality has skyrocketed.” Even if women in increasing numbers break through the glass ceiling, they will do so while the Western world continues to use, in the words of Heather McGhee, a “business model that relies on suppressed wages at the female-dominated front lines of the growing low-wage economy and soaring pay in the white male-dominated C-suites.” The chart to the right (prepared by the National Women’s Law Center) shows (by state) the percentage of women-run households at or below the poverty level; the darker the color the higher percentage. Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky have more than 50% of women-run households living at or below the poverty level. The palest green indicates 25-30% of households living in poverty: Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware and Alaska are in that category. Everything else is between those extremes.
Female CEOs don’t need things such as paid family leave, paid sick days or a higher minimum wage. Nancy Folbre states that women with a bachelor’s degree or higher have “fared relatively well over the last thirty years, enjoying small wage gains and more family-friendly benefits”; she (such as paid maternity leave) than other women and dual-high-earner couples are able to purchase childcare, housecleaning and restaurant services provided by less-educated women—often immigrants—earning poverty-level wages.
So what we need feminism to give a care about is not simply or primarily the plight of white middle-class, putatively straight, American moms and their children, but rather the plight of non-white, non-middle-class, non-straight, non-cisgender, non-American women and children. Black feminism taught me that.
Judith Warner says that part of the disconnect between most women’s reality and the issues played up in the press is that the stories that get told are the “sexy” stories like those of the Facebook executive or the Google executive or the eBay executive who runs for public office. She writes
In the popular imagination, however—and in the eyes of critics—feminism is about something else entirely. It’s about highly successful women “leaning in” for more privilege; rich, highly educated, mostly white professionals wringing their hands over “choices” most women can’t contemplate at all.
The stories of front-line working class women don’t sell partly because they don’t tie into our capitalist ethic; after all, wouldn’t you, too, rather learn how to get to the top? The “experiential gulf between upper-middle-class, highly educated women, and all the rest” is nothing more than a reflection of a capitalist “winner-take-all-society”.
So, someone like Facebook’s CEO Sheryl Sandberg, who wrote Lean In, will be the focus of debate among talking heads. The broader base of women and their families living at subsistence levels will continue to face difficulties that those talking heads and lobbyists and CEOs “can’t even begin to imagine” and will continue to be ignored, their faces hidden behind tax cut after tax cut at the high end of the income scale.
Perhaps you’ve seen Pavlina Tcherneva’s chart (at right) that shows the distribution of income gains during periods of economic expansion. I’ve added arrows to the midpoints of the ranges and these moderate the effects of her work, which shows just how severely the rich have been getting richer at the expense of everyone else for the past 65 years. Do you think the women who have benefited from this social and political inequity have any clue as to how the women at the other end of the economic scale are doing?
Folbre writes that feminist theory is not the reason we see disconnects between feminism’s various factions. She blames “the underlying intersections of gender, class, race, ethnicity and citizenship.” With that understood, then “map the roads to economic success [that are] shifting under our wheels.”
You think Mexico is dangerous? Try Sunset Park (Brooklyn, NY)
Feministing had these links to a post by El Grito De Sunset Park. The link is to a video on El Grito’s Facebook page.
The pregnant woman thrown to the ground by a “peace” officer was watching her son be arrested. According to ABC-7 News in New York, the young man’s mother tried to intervene and quoted her as saying “‘Don’t resist! Don’t resist. Throw your hands up.'”
The New York Daily News has additional photos of the family here.
How to make America safer
Denver has the answer. The school board has proposed to censor what is
taught in history class to ensure that it promotes “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and doesn’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.”
That, too, came from Feministing.
My New Most Favorite Photo (found on Huffington Post)
Claudia Jaguaribe’s work is included in Jackie Higgins’ The World Atlas of Street Photography (Yale University Press). The image below is from Jaguaribe’s Rio: Entre Morros (2010). This view from a favela is extraordinary.