Saturday, July 25, 2015

Quoted: Dorothy Allison on feminism and class

Traditional feminist theory has a limited understanding of class difference and how sexuality and self are shaped by both desire and denial, the ideology implies that we are all sisters who should turn our anger and suspicion on the world outside the lesbian community. It's easy to say the patriarchy did it, that poverty and social contempt are the products of the world of the fathers, and often I felt a need to collapse my sexual history into what I was willing to share of my class background to pretend that my life both as a lesbian and as a working-class escapee was constructed by the patriarchy or conversely, to ignore how much of my life was shaped by growing up poor and talk about incest did to my identity as a woman and as a lesbian. The difficulty is that I can't ascribe everything problematic about my life simply and easily to the patriarchy, or to incest, or even to the invisible and much denied class structure of our society. -- Dorothy Allison
While I'm fleshing out a longer post on gender and feminism, and how gender role and identity is shaped by class, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite writers on the intersection of feminism and economic background. Class isn't something Americans talk about much. The left seems particularly prickly around issues of class, especially when they intersect with whiteness. Some of it is that like age, class is viewed as something mutable (unlike race or sexuality orientation -- which can be mutable, but the subject of fluidity has become touchy and at times taboo. But a lot of it is that working-class women of all races are simply shut out of mainstream (online, brand name) feminism due to a lack of resources: time, education, and the perception that a lack of formal education equals a lack of insight. I don't share much of my background either, particularly when I know it could discount what I have to say. Even if that weren't a consideration, there are enough things, certain "milestones," that don't apply to me, and shaving off parts of my identity to fit a prescribed narrative gets tiresome. (Not to mention hypocritical.)