I am writing this in my study, sat before front of a state-of-the-art computer, a cup of coffee in one hand, a cute, plump baby in the other, a phone cradled on my shoulder. You may therefore be wondering how I am capable of typing. Rest assured, I am. For I am a middle-class feminist and I am Living The Dream.
Unfortunately, this morning a shadow was cast over my perfect, glass-ceiling-shattering existence. According to a report in the Guardian, “feminism has let down working-class women”. And by “feminism” we are of course meant to understand the movement which has enabled women like me (see pic) to have it all while doing fuck all for anyone else. In response to this article, I have but one eloquent, apologetic, middle-class thing to say: fuck you, Guardian. If you cared at all about women – any women – you’d fuck right off with this pathetic attempt to use one group of woman to undermine another, without any regard for accuracy, nuance or constructive criticism.
Fifty years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, we now have the annoyance-fest that is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. So yeah, if you look at it like that, feminism is still pretty focussed on the needs of middle-class women. Or high-achieving middle-class women. Or super-rich, high-achieving middle-class women. Or super-rich, high-achieving middle-class women who can type, drink coffee, hold babies and answer phones at one and the same time. Bloody hell, those women are irritating, aren’t they? Must mean feminism’s a bit shit. Except it doesn’t because this is not true.
When feminism is presented in such a distorted light not only are the aims and achievements of working-class feminists entirely disregarded, but the priorities of all middle-class feminists are assumed to correspond to those of male business leaders. What the hell is this? Are all feminists meant to be either ignorant or selfish, dependent on class? Because they’re not. Feminists are, by and large, bloody brilliant, far better than those who take a report which shows widespread inequality affecting individuals in various intersecting ways – with upper- and middle-class men still winning out – and turns it into an argument that feminism has somehow “failed”.
Obviously I would say this because I’m middle-class and have all sorts of privileges of which I’m not even aware. This is absolutely true. And I will not pretend that the hijacking of feminist discourse by self-identified Alpha females has done anything to support those who clean their floors and care for their children. But still, I can honestly say that my priorities as a feminist do not include getting to “the boardroom” or using my academic background to discuss inequality in as exclusive, pretentious a way as possible. I’m concerned about childcare (something which, ironically, the report quoted by the Guardian says middle-class feminists should be concerned about, because apparently we’re not) but I’m also concerned about violence, rape culture, reproductive rights, girls’ access to an education, financial abuse and yes, the race and class inequalities from which I benefit. I’m a feminist, not Gordon sodding Gecko.
Middle-class feminists need to be better. We need to be called out on our assumptions and beliefs. I know we make claims for “equality” when what we actually mean is “a better life for me”. I know we talk about “women” when what we actually mean is “women like us”. This needs to change, but from within the movement, under the direction of those working-class feminists who understand the problem best. In the meantime does anyone seriously think that pushing glib, sexist Polly Filla-style stereotypes helps the cause of any woman on the planet? Because honestly, it doesn’t. It really, really doesn’t.
A couple of things to add, following responses on twitter:
1. I’ve been told the Guardian report is an accurate representation of the IPPR report, so this wasn’t just an isolated press decision on how to represent the research.
2. I was quite cross when I wrote this (hence the swearing). On reflection, I realise my response will have been a mixture of annoyance at stereotyped, unhelpful criticism of feminism from a non-feminist perspective, and personal irritation at the very suggestion that the likes of me – me! – could be a rubbish feminist. I am not an expert in self-knowledge so can’t tell how much of my response is one, how much the other, although I know enough about myself and my ego to know it will definitely be an issue. The truth is my middle-class perspective will necessarily make me blinkered – but I need to learn how and why from those it affects, without the help of crass photo library “career woman” images (in this respect the feedback I’ve got so far today is helping – thank you).