Sunday, 9 June 2013

Is feminism for educated middle class women who want to feel important?

Today I read the following comment on the internet: 'Feminism is all about educated middle class women and their need to feel important.' I am considering this comment.

By Iago4096 via Wikimedia Commons

Internet comments

Oddly (I think) the comment was on an article about feminism, on the Guardian's Women's section. It seems strange to me that you would bother reading this section at all if you disliked feminism. Personally, I find it difficult enough to keep up with the sections of the media I am interested in, let alone finding time for those I'm not.

But then, there's something about internet comment spaces that seems to attract an awful lot of detractors, who deliberately seems to seek out people and ideas at which to hurl abuse. 

This comment isn't abusive at all. It's a perfectly valid view, if a bit snide. It's not nearly in the league of the kind of hate that I talked about the feminist video games critic Anita Sarkeesian receiving last week. 

What is feminism for?

Certainly I am educated, middle class and a woman. And I would quite like to feel important (wouldn't everyone?), although I can't say I do. But I have a voice, so I'm going to use it to shout (or at least argue) for the things I believe in.

Feminism is about equality, calling for the same rights and opportunities as men. In the cosy middle class UK we're pretty well off in this respect, but this hasn't always been the case, and it doesn't mean we're finished with feminism - there's still a bit of a way to go. Outside the UK, in less well off countries, there's a long way to go. Feminism still has a lot to offer. 

Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Middle class origins

Feminism came from the educated middle classes. Emmeline Pankhurst and her cronies were mainly middle and upper class. Well of course they were, working class women were too busy trying to get by and feed their families, to involve themselves in politics, although as the campaign went on, support across the classes grew. Here's an interesting article about working class women in the suffrage movement.

Feminism in the 20th century developed from a campaign for basic rights into an intellectual movement, albeit one that still campaigns for basic rights. It's proponents - women like Simone de Beauvoir and later Germaine Greer were middle class intellectuals. 

After the 1960s more and more women from all classes have taken the opportunity to embrace equality in more practical ways, having their own bank accounts, jobs, cars - all things that we may take for granted and not consider particularly feminist, but which a lot of women in the world today wouldn't dare to dream of. 

And although these things might have come out of the middle classes, they certainly didn't stay there. Maybe middle class women like me have the luxury of being able to sit around reading, writing and discussing feminism, but women across all classifications are taking advantage of the opportunities it's given us. 

Is feminism middle class?

So is feminism middle class? If you still believe the antiquated class system, then yes, feminism is most discussed, by name, among middle class educated women. 

But its practical impact - giving women rights, freedoms and opportunities, is felt and used across all demographics.

Many women don't consider themselves feminists, but they would find the idea absurd that they should give up their job and car and put any money they own entirely into the safekeeping of their father/husband/brother. But that's where we'd be without feminism. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent thoughts. I'm not sure that the class discussion is very useful, however. Researching and writing on women's history, I remain perplexed by Western women's attitudes concerning their gains and progress. The ERA never passed in the States and there are few countries anywhere that provide adequate and cheap childcare--without which women will never be free. Women cannot take anything for granted or assume that recently acquired rights are permanent.
    best, nadia