The other day I posted a missive that was a little ill-conceived at my other blog. I was too frustrated to frame this argument better. Here’s another try.
Awhile back, discouraged with my inability to squeeze dollars from nickels, I decided that I should just educate myself on the basics of money. It seemed simple enough. I stopped skimming the financial section of the newspaper, and began — for the first time ever, mind you — reading about budgeting, saving, looking at long-term solutions for some of our financial troubles. Many of the solutions proffered for people looking to get ahead are troublesome: buy less Starbucks, remortgage your home, invest in an electric car, don’t plunder your 401K, fly coach. Fine solutions if you have money to begin with, smart solutions, even, but not so helpful for those whose belts cannot be tightened further. This was the reason I started the HUHO project way back when.
Yeah, and all that shit fell off when the job market in my town really tanked and our options started to run out. It became one of those situations where you just had to put your nose down and be thankful that you were still getting a paycheck. The national economic crisis, to me, was elsewhere until everyone in my department, except me and two others, was laid off. And then when another twenty were let go when their jobs were “relocated” right before the holidays. Then the local factories closed down for their annual holiday and it was announced that they weren’t going to reopen for awhile, and when they did it would be on a limited basis. There’s basically a hiring freeze for three counties in any direction, so everyone shuts the fuck up and stops complaining because there aren’t any other options, and moreover, you know that any job that opens up has 300 people clamoring for it.
You know, this is my landscape. This is not a thought exercise on the disappearing middle class. Take this,
One year ago, unemployment in Elkhart County was at 4.7%. Today, it’s the highest in the nation at 15.3%, fueled largely by the rapid decline in the recreational vehicle business.
“People who have never had to ask for assistance are having to,” says Mayor Dick Moore, a Democrat in this largely Republican area. Unemployment in the city of Elkhart (population 52,000) has hit 18%. “That’s a pretty tough number,” Moore says. “People are hanging in there, but … I don’t think we’ve hit the bottom yet.”
[Gary, Indiana] looked like a goddamned war zone, and effectively, between the lack of industry and resulting poverty, the drug problem and attendant War on (Some People Who Use) Drugs, the thriving gangs and outsider fear, it is. The people of Gary are attempting an urban renewal project, which is certainly a good thing, but… I don’t know who is expected to do and maintain the renewal project, unless we’re talking community outsiders, because the annual income is about $15,000 per household.
Michiganders spend a lot of time trying to outrun their surroundings, to make the bleak grayness as blurry as possible so certain things just aren’t noticed anymore. So that the miles and miles of concrete grayness doesn’t swallow you whole.
The only places in town that ever stays busy are the bars. When I lived in Flint, a city more ravaged and abandoned that this one, it was the same way.
And compare these to, say, this article in the NYTimes about how hard it is as an investment banker to make it in NYC on $500,000 a year. Or compare them to Ms. Coastal Elite, who can’t grasp the irony of complaining about how trite and small her friends from Bumfuck, Plainstate, are while soliciting advice via a CARY TENNIS COLUMN about whether or not to FRIEND THESE HILLBILLIES ON FACEBOOK. I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me.
Seeing your peers fall into the First World “keeping up with email is SO HARD!” sort of quandaries is frustrating. But how do you say all this without sounding like Bill Kristol circa 2004? Or having people accuse you of drawing arbitrary, or ill-motivated, lines?
It’s similarly frustrating to have allies argue that you’re playing a maudlin, pseudo-political one-upmanship game for pointing out the absurdity in it. Or insinuating that you’re just jealous. To be fair, it really does sound nice to begin your day at noon and partake in a little yoga or sushi while crafting your own workday (or to only have the kinds of problems wherein you have to choose between private schools and nannies, or fret over how best to represent yourself on Facebook). But is it really so absurd to point out that this is not what the world is for most people? And more troublesome, is this where the feminist movement, or even just the feminist blogging movement, is going?
The other day, when I wrote, “a room of one’s own is a privilege most of us don’t — and won’t ever — have,” I wasn’t trying to score some dramatic rhetorical point, or punish a successful person for being happy or having fulfilling work. Class issues are abound in feminism as they are everywhere else. In today’s economic hierarchy some of us will be stuck on Maslow’s lower rungs while others celebrate their own impending self-actualization. This isn’t a debate. But only the climbers get the microphone, and their world is pretty insular. As a friend wrote via email:
The problem with hearing the voices of working people is structural. Even if folks have the time and energy to write, it’s a lot to expect folks to self-educate so that they have the tools to express something about their experiences, even if they had the time. Some folks do; my mother was incredibly widely read coming from poverty and with only a high school education. But broad references and eloquence are going to be much more common among folks trained for them. That leaves the intelligentsia to speak for everyone else; but they’re not so good as seeing past their insular class experiences. I have no idea how to fix this.
Neither do I.
And part of this is why I’m bothered with some aspects of the feminist movement, specifically the feminist blogging movement, as so many of the people who take part in it are beginning the tricky business of quitting their day jobs and monetizing their writing. Most feminists are not Professional Feminists — they are Professional Something Elses and have to hang their feminism along with a whole host of other political beliefs at the door to pay the bills. And I wonder too if those making feminism their career change the message to remain marketable? Will the new Professional Feminist have to set aside some of her feminist beliefs to keep the paycheck rolling in? Will she self-censor? Will her experiences, now that she’s begun the insular work of writing, continue to resonate with non-writers? I don’t know. I know I sense a disconnect.
The old argument was that Professional Feminists, aka academics, were out of touch with non-Professional Feminist women. Feminism has long been criticized for its inability to get off campus, and now that it really has, thanks in part to the work of bloggers and writers reviving feminist media, now what? We’ve widened our feminist economic circle, as it were, to include a whole host of actual jobs that actual feminists can fill to perform actual feminist work and get an actual paycheck. But most stable, paying work isn’t that. Will the professionals remember us?