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Lauren founded this blog in 2001.
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58 Responses

  1. Cara
    Cara February 10, 2009 at 12:07 am |

    As someone who is trying out that whole freelancing thing (and so far not being hugely successful at it, but still), I will say that this post does make me fairly uncomfortable. But you ask a lot of good questions and raise a lot of good points. As for this:

    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.

    I have no idea how to fix it either.

    And as for this:

    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?

    All I can say is that in my own case, were I ever to become successful, I certainly hope not. That’s not how I would want to become successful. The idea frankly scares me. But. As you say, we all need a paycheck. And I guess that scares me most of all.

    And the question is, of course, how to fix that, too. At least, one question of the very many. I don’t have an answer for that, either, but am more than willing to listen to those who think they do.

    (I don’t know, it’s late, I’m not feeling well, and I’m probably rambling and sounding like an asshole. That is all.)

  2. non sequitur
    non sequitur February 10, 2009 at 12:23 am |

    This is a really thoughtful and interesting post. I wonder if in the future you might develop the comment about “self-censorship” at the end, since that seemed to me to be a different point than the one you were making for most of the post, which seemed to me to be more about blindness than self-censorship (I say this out of curiosity and interest, not as a criticism).

    I actually think you’re putting your finger on a much larger problem here. I currently teach in an extremely “red” part of the country (and near a military base); the students are from pretty diverse backgrounds, but most are working class, etc. The sorts of people who aren’t supposed to have anything on their minds other than Toby Keith and NASCAR. But, while many of them are just conservative as hell and/or have an unthinking brand loyalty to the Republican Party, it turns out that many of them aren’t so crazy about the federal government gobbling up their civil liberties or financing billion-dollar bonuses to bank presidents who have driven their industry into the ground. It’s true that they sometimes express these sentiments with statements like, “The Patriot Act is probably pretty gay for Muslims,” but if you can react with more than sniggering and puffed-up outrage, you see that there’s a pretty healthy dose of empathy and distrust of authority there.

    A few years ago Amanda Marcotte wrote what I thought was a very insightful post that really crystallized some things for me, saying that much of the conservative political stance in the US is a form of identity politics. I think you can say the same for a certain (very common) form of progressive or liberal politics, which is really all about sneering at people who own guns or have rural accents. Not that I have some set of policies or principles that all progressives should be embracing (read: not that I have anything constructive to say), but I think a lot of what you’re saying here goes well beyond the subject of the post.

    I should also maybe add that none of these comments are directed at anyone in particular, and certainly not at this or that blogger or internet persona (seriously).

  3. Holly
    Holly February 10, 2009 at 12:24 am |

    That New York Times article is obscene, about as obscene as the disparities in living are in this city. It’s always mind-boggling to think about facts like these: the example in that article is of a family living thirty or forty blocks away from me who pay a dozen times more in monthly housing costs as I do. And elsewhere in this city, there are people that pay half of what I do. The disparities in lifestyle are huge, but it’s also not like they have anywhere near twelve times the living space or amenities that I do. It’s all sheer insane luxury that I can’t comprehend.

    It is going to take a while for the ridiculous heights of excess to feel the same sting as Elkhart County, and the truly rich have to be pretty reckless to actually lose all their money instead of (gasp!) moving to New Jersey, sending their kids to public schools, and buying a Metrocard. But there already are plenty of people getting laid off around here (I’ve gotten the axe once in the last few months alerady) and feeling the sting more directly. More and more people I know are in the ranks of the unemployed all the time. And honestly? I’m not sure how a lot of would-be writers are going to survive on writing. A lot of writers around here are out of work, the more dispensable entertainment and political writing goes first; financial pages, sports, hard news and practical advice later. Big book publishers are slashing the numbers of new titles they’re putting out; the ripples get felt all over.

    Of course, some writers are able to write because they have other sources of income and don’t have to work, but I don’t know how numerous the independently wealthy writers really are. I used to know writers around here who could afford to quit their day jobs to do writing — even if it was for cheesy mass-entertainment “top 10 list” websites and so forth. Now they are looking for other kinds of less creative work.

    As for me, I just go to work, bust ass for 12 hours a day and check about 60% of my feminism at the door so that I can make the most expedient, lowest-common-denominator, profit-seeking decisions possible and stay in business.

  4. Kristin
    Kristin February 10, 2009 at 12:38 am |

    Lauren: I haven’t read your original piece, so I’ll refrain from saying much on that for now. But I will say that the New York Times article left me red-faced, disgusted, and sputtering obscenities. And not because I was jealous, but because I agree that it’s obscene that the reader is expected to shed a tear over the bankers’ au pair costs–and the possibility that they might have to “slum” with the rest of us on public transportation. Not to mention the suggestion in that final paragraph that we’re supposed to have compassion for the way in which this could make the bankers confused about their own subjectivity–cause them “psychological damage” by paying them about ten times what I will ever earn with a PhD.

    It’s obscene because we’re supposed to agree that this small segment of the population is somehow special and uber-talented (despite having fucked up the economy)–and entitled to earn exponentially more money than the vast majority of Americans. And *with public funding* to boot. It makes me furious to see the gnashing of teeth over Nadya Suleman’s octuplets (And OMG, her public assistance) when I’ve yet to see a fraction of that kind of vitriol leveled at the rich bankers (who are still rich, only now on our own dime.).

    It makes me sick that there are people in this world who believe that they are entitled to be *just that* out of touch with the way the rest of us live. And I will be damned if I’m going to cry with them over their nanny fees.

  5. Kristin
    Kristin February 10, 2009 at 12:41 am |

    Let me qualify my comment about not being jealous: I would *love* not to have to worry about whether or not I could pay my rent *and* have money left for food at the end of every month. But after paying off my student debt and putting aside some money to help support my parents, I have no idea what I’d do with that sum. It certainly wouldn’t take more than, oh, $50,000 for me to live comfortably, even in an expensive city. And probably less than that.

  6. B
    B February 10, 2009 at 1:00 am |

    I know Lauren that this was not to be a venting post for the NY Times article, but I have to join in. In addition to what the previous posters have said (oh, poor rich people, they might start having to lead upper middle class lives…), I really hated the way the article went from saying that to lead a middle class life in NY you need a higher salary than in Houston (probably true), to then saying basically, “to lead a wealthy lifestyle, you need a lot of money” (duh.) Yet, somehow, the reader was supposed to not notice the switch from “middle-class” to car and driver fees, nannies, $250/hour SAT tutors, $4 million summer homes, etc., and feel that the 1 million dollar salaries which paid for these exorbitant lifestyles were justified, because they were somehow “middle-class.” The NY Times life and style articles are always about rich people, yet this came off as beyond tin-eared and offensive in this climate. Jealousy has nothing to do with with this outrage, instead a basic sense of decency, fairness, and humanity do.

  7. Kristin
    Kristin February 10, 2009 at 1:05 am |

    And, I have to say, I think that if accusations of “jealousy” disappeared from the feminist vocabulary *right at this very moment,* it couldn’t possibly be too soon. They usually mean: “I don’t feel like dealing with the privilege issue you just called me on, so I’ll just callously sidestep your complaint and label you as jealous and irrational.”

  8. Lauren
    Lauren February 10, 2009 at 1:13 am |

    I wonder if in the future you might develop the comment about “self-censorship” at the end, since that seemed to me to be a different point than the one you were making for most of the post, which seemed to me to be more about blindness than self-censorship (I say this out of curiosity and interest, not as a criticism).

    The self-censorship angle is just knowing that sometimes people have to do what they have to do to get paid, and once you monetize your writing (or anything else) there’s a danger that you might have to choose between your politics and your paycheck. It’s particularly troublesome in this kind of economic landscape. The blindness too. Without getting into particulars, some of it seems honest and some of it willful for the reasons I just mentioned.

  9. Lauren
    Lauren February 10, 2009 at 1:33 am |

    Also should clarify that the blindness vs. self-censorship question is not only about privilege, but also because the work of writing is so insular in itself.

    The other concern I have is that Professional Feminism (as I’m apparently calling it now) contributes to that insular effect because everyone is talking and commiserating with one another with very few challenges from outside their political group, and also arguably outside their social class group.

  10. Chally
    Chally February 10, 2009 at 1:40 am |

    I’m so glad you posted this, Lauren. I have been thinking a lot over the past two or so days that we need a great deal more focus on class within feminism. I shall bookmark it and think about it and hope for more on the subject.

  11. exholt
    exholt February 10, 2009 at 1:41 am |

    Yet, somehow, the reader was supposed to not notice the switch from “middle-class” to car and driver fees, nannies, $250/hour SAT tutors, $4 million summer homes, etc., and feel that the 1 million dollar salaries which paid for these exorbitant lifestyles were justified, because they were somehow “middle-class.”

    Not to mention the same or similar recent articles said you needed an income of at least $122k+/year to be considered “middle-class”.

    As someone who was born and is currently living in NYC, that figure is a bit on the high side….unless you define NYC so narrowly that you only include ritzy neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, Soho, Chelsea, the Village, Williamsburg, or more……a definition which leaves out the majority of NYC residents who don’t make anywhere near that MSM referenced amount…..

  12. abby jean
    abby jean February 10, 2009 at 1:46 am |

    this is really interesting – both the parts about the seeming general lack of class awareness and the concern about misrepresentation – or underrepresentation – in the online voice of feminism.

    i work for a legal aid agency in LA, a land of huge wealth disparities in the city. to go from talking with teenage mothers on welfare to hanging out with friends all wearing jeans that cost $100+ can be really jarring and it can be really hard not to be resentful of wealth of any kind. when people mention the box office gross for a new movie, in my head i always figure out how many supportive housing units could have been built with the same money.

    i don’t know what to do about it except to talk about what i see and learn from my work. it’s not as good – not nearly as good – as having people tell their stories and their experiences directly, but it’s the best that i’ve been able to figure out so far.

  13. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz February 10, 2009 at 1:49 am |

    And, I have to say, I think that if accusations of “jealousy” disappeared from the feminist vocabulary *right at this very moment,* it couldn’t possibly be too soon.

    Seconded. On Lauren’s original post, I commented that I thought it was possible to write about your own successes and privilege without being bone-crushingly oblivious to the fact that not everyone enjoys such things. It’s not necessarily about envy as much as it is awareness that one’s corner of the universe is not the quintessential experience.

    This is emphatically in the “easier said” category.

    What’s bugging me about Courtney’s post and the NYT article is that they’re just so painfully tone deaf. Do they want my pity, my sympathy, my jealousy? Because I’m bored: I’ve got too many other things to try and deal with.

    (Also, if I were jealous, what would that prove? That it’s nice when your biggest concern is that you overpaid for sushi or you need to take a cab instead of a car service? No frigging shit.)

  14. Lynn
    Lynn February 10, 2009 at 2:10 am |

    “Not to mention the same or similar recent articles said you needed an income of at least $122k+/year [in NYC] to be considered “middle-class”.”

    Ewwwww now thats fucked up.

  15. Ned Ludd
    Ned Ludd February 10, 2009 at 2:26 am |

    It’s strange – the economy is in crisis and the Senate compromise on the stimulus package will cost hundreds of thousands of women their jobs, not to mention cutting funding for health care and food stamps from the original bill. But I popped over the feministing to see what their take was on the stimulus package and I got naught. This is at a time when a majority of Americans think it’s critically important to pass a stimulus package, Obama’s rally in Indiana and the Senate vote have put the economic crisis in the spotlight, and progressives around the blogosphere are apoplectic over the Senate “compromise” that will fall hardest on the most vulnerable (and also hit a lot of us who-didn’t-know-we-were-so-vulnerable).

    There was one substantive article – about a rape crisis center dealing with financial instability. But the other articles – again, on a day when the economic crisis and the stimulus package are front-and-center – make you shake your head. “Sex in the City sequel in the works”, “m.i.a.’s pregnant performance”, “Italian Prime Minister tries to keep woman in a coma alive”, “What’s the worst college advice you’ve been given?”, and “Babeland seeks your vintage toys!”. I didn’t intend to single out feministing, I just clicked over there and was surprised by the gulf between what’s going on in the world and what’s going on at the site.

    It’s hard to chalk this up simply to privilege. Lots of wealthy progressives like Arianna Huffington, Jane Hamsher, and Paul Krugman are writing about the economy and the impact on people who are struggling. So it’s startling that this is such a blind-spot to many professional feminists.

    Anyway, Lauren, thanks for the posts and for bringing up this issue.

  16. Arvilla
    Arvilla February 10, 2009 at 2:50 am |

    Thanks for the post. It’s really relevant to some debates we’ve been having at Pink Scare.

    And please don’t feel the need to even articulate that this isn’t about being jealous or about trying to punish successful feminist writers. That anyone even made you feel it necessary to say that shows there are a million and one problems with some of the feminist blogosphere’s big wigs. I won’t name any names, but some people out there are great at critiquing sexual politics and right wing hysteria and body image, but they wouldn’t know their own privilege if it bit them on the ass, even when their own commenters are spelling it out for them in the kindest and simplest ways possible. That has been demonstrated time and time again, and I think it’s okay if we stop trying not to hurt their feelings. At the end of the day, what if we simply say, my priorities aren’t the same as yours, and move on?

  17. piny
    piny February 10, 2009 at 3:55 am |

    but because I agree that it’s obscene that the reader is expected to shed a tear over the bankers’ au pair costs–and the possibility that they might have to “slum” with the rest of us on public transportation.

    Especially since snobbish spending is what makes public transportation terrible. Oh, no, you mean you might actually need the services you refused to fund? Broke, you say? No safety net, you say? Tiny violins would be playing if you hadn’t killed public arts education.

  18. misskate7511
    misskate7511 February 10, 2009 at 4:25 am |

    Okay, I have to sputter for a bit, or else I won’t sleep tonight. Forgive me, I haven’t read all the comments, but I got two paragraphs or so deep in the NYT article and had already started cursing at the screen.

    That ANYONE, in these times, could start writing an article like that NYT piece… The callousness, the heartlessness. We are to cry for your loss of a fifth home while parents cry over not knowing how they are going to feed their kids… UGH. I feel dirty having read as much as I did.

    Sorry, had to get that out of my system somehow.

  19. Kristin
    Kristin February 10, 2009 at 8:24 am |

    misskate7511: Yeah, I know. I had to reread that piece when it arrived on my doorstep Sunday morning. I kept thinking, “My god, this *has got* to be satire,” but no… The author appears to be serious.

  20. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes February 10, 2009 at 8:48 am |

    It’s reading posts, and threads, like this, that make me wonder deeply how come more USAians aren’t Marxists.

    (Although, interestingly, that feeds back into the question of who’s doing the speaking – most of the 19th Century and early 20th Century communists were academics and professionals – and when an occasional working-class individual turned up, he would be both ridiculed and worshipped)

  21. Valerie
    Valerie February 10, 2009 at 9:06 am |

    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 think it might be more accurate to say that they’re a symptom of censorship already. Pro-feminists are the most widely heard because they have the most time in which to feminist, more money with which to be feminist, and more sponsors advertising the fuck out of them to everybody. They’re going to dominate discourse a little while trying about half as hard, and they’re doing this with the help of People With Money. People With Money aren’t likely to want to have certain discussions. People With Money are very likely to hand-pick feminists to give their money to who don’t discuss the reasons why People With Money are evil.

    Hence Feministing responding to the economic crisis with a post about Jessica Valenti’s new ritzy apartment in New York City and something or other about the whole pro-feminist war over which expensive domestic companion looks best draped over your brand new couch or whatever. Which doesn’t even mention that one of these companions costs about twice as much as the other in terms of food and medical care.

    I’m trying to think of a way to say this that doesn’t insult pro-feminists, but I’m not coming up with much. Even if they don’t ever feel the need to self-censor, they’ve been “picked” because of their ability to avoid things which make rich people too too too uncomfortable. The result is that the amount of “air time” they get is often a very good measure of how elitist they are.

  22. Valerie
    Valerie February 10, 2009 at 9:07 am |

    Oops. typo. Should read:

    “People With Money are very likely to hand-pick feminists to give their money to who discuss the reasons why People With Money are evil.”

  23. mk
    mk February 10, 2009 at 9:16 am |

    Lauren, thanks so much for this post. Although I like to believe I’m thinking about class all the time (I’d really recommend Lies My Teacher Told Me, and not just the sections on class, as well as Paul Fussell’s Class: A Guide Through the American Status System), in reality it takes posts like Renee’s and this one to get me to step back from my own privilege sometimes.

    And adding to the chorus of dismay at that NYT article–it’s especially disheartening because this should be a time for us to pull together and recognize the ways we’re all being hit by the economy. I don’t mean to say that the plight of the upper- or middle-class should be getting airtime over families struggling to feed their children. But, sadly, a lot of people with the power to help out don’t do anything until they think they might be personally affected, so sometimes a “Hey, that could be me” story is important.

    (I say this both as someone with an enormous amount of privilege and options, and also as someone hoping to get a job in a school district that recently announced it needs to cut more than 900 positions for next year.)

  24. Seth Gordon
    Seth Gordon February 10, 2009 at 9:28 am |

    My favorite pithy response to the NYT article came from a geek site:

    Nanny: $45,000 a year.

    Of course, no banker would dream of paying his nanny less than $500,000 a year, considering the difficulty of surviving on such a salary in NYC.

  25. JennG
    JennG February 10, 2009 at 9:35 am |

    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.

    This is the same struggle that so-called mainstream media has been involved with for a long time. If MS accepts advertisers, then they may find themselves in a position where they have to present certain kinds of editorial they wouldn’t otherwise present (recipes, let’s say) in order to attract advertisers. But if they don’t, then they have to charge way more in subscription and newsstand prices – and price themselves out of reach of the women they are trying to reach and whose stories they are trying to tell.

    I think what most publications do, and certainly what many if not most individual freelancers do, is to create pretty much three categories of material: A story that goes again our values/mission (so, no), a story that doesn’t contradict our values and is in line with our mission but not a “wow” story – but will bring in audience/advertisers/money, and the story we desperately want to tell but may not bring in the big bucks. Most freelancers I know eliminate the first category, pay the rent on the second, and write the third as a labour of love. There are grey areas of course.

    I’m not sure I think that’s a huge problem. The great thing about the advent of cheap/free blogging technology is that suddenly you didn’t have to have the big advertiser dollars behind you in order to publish in a regular, coherent, audience-building kind of way. And the link-y nature of blogs meant that people could build audience without having to put dollars into marketing. (Except time, of course.)

    I know there are still issues of class and access and education and, maybe most importantly, time and energy, but compared to starting up a magazine, or getting an op-ed published, or creating a community newspaper, it has gotten a lot better.

    I think where people are falling down (not directed at you personally) is thinking that hey, it should be really easy to make blogging a business. Audience should translate to money. And audience should care mostly about quality of discourse. Whereas anyone who monitors traffic on their site carefully knows that large numbers of readers often come because of the simpler, less nuanced, click-friendly pieces, and that audience only translates to money when you either ask them directly, or you can convince an advertiser to associate themselves with your brand. And there’s the descent down the road of good intentions right there.

    And there are so many people out there ready to take your money to convince you that you can monetize your blog without changing your voice. And it can be true but it’s not going to be true for most people.

  26. Jessica
    Jessica February 10, 2009 at 9:45 am |

    Um, ritzy apartment in NYC? Try old-ass house in Queens. Please don’t assume you don’t know what my life is like – or my financial situation and background. Frankly, I’m a little tired of people assuming that because you have a little bit of success your life is frigging set. I apologize for being snappy, but this has come up again and again with me and it’s just frustrating.

    I don’t fool myself into thinking that I’m anything but incredibly privileged to be able to write for a living. And while I think some people assume that the freelance life is a bit more glamorous than it actually is – not so shockingly, feminist writing pays a pittance, and over the past couple of years I’ve worked a half a dozen other jobs to support my writing – I’m aware that it’s still a pretty sweet deal.

    I don’t want to speak for the other women at Feministing (all of whom have other jobs besides writing for the site – we don’t make $ from blogging), but I know all of them are working their asses off at their various jobs and careers – not just to support themselves, but in some cases to also help out their families during the crisis. Just saying.

    But to get to my real point: I think this is a great post, Lauren and that it brings up a lot of questions that I know I struggle with – how to make sure I’m able to write exactly what I want to say and still make rent, what does being a “professional feminist” even mean?

    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?

    I think that it’s really difficult to make a living as a feminist writer just for this reason – if you want to write for a place that actually pays well, like a women’s mag for example, there’s a lot of self censoring you have to do. (I’ve heard horror stories from friends who pitched awesome feminist articles to places just to have them watered down to near nothing towards the end) Often the places that let you write exactly what you’d like are the places that don’t pay very much. That’s why you’ll see a lot of feminist writers writing in a ton of different places, or also doing consulting work or ghost writing or jobs that have nothing to do with feminism but pay the bills.

    It’s a difficult question…shouldn’t we value feminist work (whether it’s activism in an org or writing or whatever) enough that it pays decently? Or is a feminism that’s palatable to the mainstream not ever going to be the kind of feminism we really need out there? I don’t know the answer, obviously, but I think a lot of great women are working on it…

  27. little light
    little light February 10, 2009 at 10:00 am |

    Thank you so much for this, Lauren, and for your original post, which I’ve been trying to find a good response to for days.
    You are spot-on. And I say this from a part of the country that, while unemployment is shooting up and we’re all feeling it–hell, my tiny savings account just vanished in the last two months of “emergencies” that are just getting more and more frequent–is still doing pretty well. I have a crap job that I go home from tired and frustrated every day, but I have a job still, and that’s a big deal.

  28. Maritzia
    Maritzia February 10, 2009 at 11:29 am |

    Thank you for writing this article, Lauren. As someone from a working class background (and still working class to a certain extent, I’m an interesting hybrid of privileged and non-privileged.

    I grew up in a working class family, just one generation away from sharecroppers. No one in my family was college educated (lack of privilege), but there was a strong emphasis on education and knowledge (privilege). While I went to college myself (privilege), I never graduated (lack of privilege). I’m white (privilege), female (lack), middle aged (for a woman, lack), fat (lack), and extremely well read (privilege), and have worked for 20 years in the administrative support field (i.e. I’m a secretary/assistant, so lack of privilege). I have chronic health issues (lack), but good health care (privilege), or at least I did until I got laid off (lack again).

    In my politics, and now in my writing, I try very hard to bring my experience of lack of privilege to the privilege I have now of being able to afford multiple blogs and time to write for them and time to be involved in politics in my local area. I try to be a voice for those who just don’t have the time, energy, knowledge and/or money to speak out. And maybe my tone tends to be a bit strident at times, because I do get a fair bit of backlash.

    One blogging blog I read has a request to review a site. It was about budgeting, saving money, and investing for women. The site owner wanted to know how to increase her readership. I read a couple of her posts, about how expensive everything was a Trader Joe’s and trying to stay within her grocery budget. My response to her was that she could exponentially increase her readership if she stepped away from her privilege and attempted to engage working class women, who afterall were much more in need of her financial expertise than women who could afford to pay a financial planner. Needless to say, my advise was not appreciated, and I was accused of being biased against those with more money.

    Will I stop saying these things? Not likely. Will I ever have a big readership? Not likely. I’m a bit to eclectic for most people’s tastes, anyway.

    And now my short term memory has fled and I have no idea where I was going with this *sighs*. Fibromyalgia sucks some days.

  29. Jill
    Jill February 10, 2009 at 11:35 am | *

    This post is great, Lauren. It’s a hard balance to strike — yes, being a professional writer (or a professional feminist) exhibits some amount of privilege. And there is a huge problem in making sure the voices and views of working-class women are heard, because as you point out, they aren’t the ones who have the time, money and energy to be putting their views out there on top of everything else going on in their lives.

    But on the other hand, I think there’s value in women talking about the realities of their lives, and of course it makes me uncomfortable to see accusations of Jessica buying a “ritzy” apartment in NY (as she said, it’s an old house, and her rent is way cheaper than mine — and I live in a tiny 5th-floor walk-up), or assumptions that Courtney is a sushi-eating yoga-doing spoiled brat (Lauren, I obviously don’t think you were making any of these assumptions, but they do seem to have come from some commenters here and elsewhere).

    I don’t think the comments come from being jealous, and I would support taking that accusation out of feminist conversations as well — although to be honest, I am of course jealous of people who are able to do what they love for a living, since I definitely don’t. The problem, it seems, is the blindness to how most of the world lives. I include myself in the category of people who have those blinders on. I live in New York, and I’ve lived here since I was 18. I have a job that pays me a lot of money — most of which goes to paying off school loans, but which still gives me more than enough to live comfortably on. I have a graduate degree. I grew up solidly middle class in a coastal city. I came to feminism through academia and lived experience. I have health insurance and no dependents and I don’t usually worry about having enough money for groceries. I check my feminism at the door in order to earn a paycheck, but I do earn a paycheck, and I’m able to blog as a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and it makes me extremely lucky; there’s no reason why my voice or voices of similarly-situated women shouldn’t be heard in feminist circles.

    But there is a problem when these voices dominate, or when we’re only talking to each other. Part of the power of online feminism is its ability to connect women across all kinds of lines, from all walks of life — because at the end of the day, the feminist women I interact with in my “real” life have lives that look a lot like mine, and that’s limiting. But as online feminism develops and more women transition into being professional feminists or feminist spokeswomen, it becomes increasingly clear that the women with the most success have certain degrees of privilege that enable that success. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it or that they shouldn’t be heard; but it does mean that the public face of feminism isn’t fully representative of women’s lived experiences.

    I’m always troubled when people make assumptions about the lives of “professional feminists,” because really, they aren’t living high on the hog. Freelancing is not very well paid (especially feminist freelancing). And, in my opinion, feminist work (and social just work generally, and writing generally) should be paid a hell of a lot more. But even as it is, it does tend to be a fairly insular circle who live a particular way. To me, a more interesting question is, how can we get more voices into the mix without shaming women who are honest about living relatively privileged lives? How can we make sure that feminism is representative of all the women who work every day to build it, whether they make money from that work or not? How do we get past very real structural problems in society generally in order to build a feminist movement that’s representative?

  30. Natalia
    Natalia February 10, 2009 at 11:48 am |

    Thank you, Lauren.

    I am pretty much blubbering right now. And hell, I’m one of those lucky people who still has a writing/editorial job. Even if it is presently located abroad. Even if I am pathetically lonely here at the moment.

    The NYT piece? Un-fucking-believable.

  31. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte February 10, 2009 at 12:23 pm |

    Courtney’s post made me envious, because her life seems a lot easier than mine. Since I’m also trying to freelance, I live my life like it’s on the edge of a knife, I feel. Time is flexible, but money is a constant concern. Retirement savings are a joke, and my partner also freelances, so we’re in this together, and in an economy that’s turning sour. As someone who grew up with middle class aspirations drummed into my head, I often wonder if I’m crazy to do this when I could have a job that’s safer. And I guess I just want to make the world a better place. And I wonder why it’s hard for me and it seems, from reading her post, that it’s easy for Courtney.

    But, as I said to you in the original post, I can’t bust her ass for it. Women are trained to play the Victim Olympics, and I know Courtney’s trying to get out of that.

  32. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte February 10, 2009 at 12:24 pm |

    And as I said at Faux Real, I really hate privileged progressives who pretend they’re not. Hate them. I hate people who pretend they’re broke when they’re not because it alleviates their guilt. Instead of feeling guilty, they should be looking for ways to use their privilege in productive ways.

  33. nonskanse
    nonskanse February 10, 2009 at 1:01 pm |

    I’m quite lucky in my job, etc. I’m not a “professional feminist”, which helps. I’m currently trying to save for a house, so putting every penny I can towards that, but I have the privilege of choice.
    The NYT piece seems so whiny – “Wah I don’t have a gazillion choices, I only have thousands of choices!”.

    Honestly I’m way out of touch with other people. The internet helps, but what about the people who can’t afford a computer+internet AND can’t afford the time off of work to go to the library and use the free computers? How do you even hope to reach them?

  34. sanabituranima
    sanabituranima February 10, 2009 at 1:13 pm |

    “Tiny violins would be playing if you hadn’t killed public arts education.”

    That sentence made my day.

  35. Kristin
    Kristin February 10, 2009 at 1:31 pm |

    Amanda:

    “And as I said at Faux Real, I really hate privileged progressives who pretend they’re not. Hate them. I hate people who pretend they’re broke when they’re not because it alleviates their guilt. Instead of feeling guilty, they should be looking for ways to use their privilege in productive ways.”

    At whom was this directed? Toward you?

  36. Clayton
    Clayton February 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm |

    Lauren, thanks for this. I’ve been talking a lot with my girlfriend recently about this same subject. Both of us are frustrated that feminist blogs provide readers with concentrated feminist news and op-ed style pieces, but also frequently carry a myopic, borderline solipsistic tone that verges on missing the point. The blogs provide a tremendously valuable service, but are so often, for the reasons above, frustrating beyond reason. This post makes me feel like less of an asshole for getting angry with feminist blogs.

  37. piny
    piny February 10, 2009 at 2:22 pm |

    (Thanks, sanabituramina.)

    Courtney’s post made me envious, because her life seems a lot easier than mine.

    At Faux Real, you were identifying with the targets of all this supposed jealousy.

    It is painful to listen to fortunate complaints, I know. I’m sure I’ve annoyed plenty of people dithering about the best use of my cushion. It’s so unfair! I might have to blow a significant portion of my savings on COBRA payments! That was disposable income, goddammit!

    The jealousy tack seems counterproductive to me, but not only because it’s kind of insulting to the quote-unquote jealous. It’s a problem because most people, including Courtney, have been treated unjustly. Luck is a hell of a lot less valuable than security, and our system provides the latter to virtually no one. Even the MOTU class is finally learning the price of selfishness as a social virtue.

    Envy-baiting has been used to obscure the difference between what we want and what we need, to turn everything into a petty luxury. It’s why people can be called selfish for wanting surviving children or standing homes. Why perpetuate that trope?

  38. Jon
    Jon February 10, 2009 at 2:35 pm |

    The NYTimes article is absolutely obscene. Aside from the arrogance, entitlement and privilege, if these people want to complain about expenses why not buy a house in the burbs? Let’s look at the ways you save. You may have to pay a bit more in the mortgage per year, but you’d save the $96k in condo fees (ridiculous!) so you’d be way ahead. Also, the top suburban public schools are just as good as private schools, so the $32k per year (and lifetime $384 k per kid) has been saved! In addition, we can use a daycare center and save another $30k a year. Maybe these people could not whine about entirely superfluous expenses, get over themselves, live five miles away and they’d save enough to buy another house.

  39. exholt
    exholt February 10, 2009 at 5:12 pm |

    Also, the top suburban public schools are just as good as private schools, so the $32k per year (and lifetime $384 k per kid) has been saved!

    And here we have exhibit A of the commonplace upper/upper-middle class American notion that private schools are always better than their public counterparts. :roll:

    That’s not always true, especially in NYC where we do have public high schools which can not only match the quality of the best NE private schools, but even exceed them in educational quality if my undergrad experience at a well-respected private liberal arts college and fellow public high school classmates at Ivy/Ivy-level schools are any indication. Heck, I made off like a bandit as a private academic tutor to many of those private school graduates at my undergrad despite my having graduated near the bottom of my public high school senior class.

    Moreover, I was floored to find there were plenty of expensive private schools in this country where one could graduate despite only taking 2 years of “rocks for jocks” type science courses without lab or 3 or less years of History, government, and economics………taking anything less than 4 full years of science…3 with rigorous weekly labs and 4 full years of English and history/government/economics would mean you simply didn’t graduate.

    It is one reason that I’ve suspected this upper/upper-middle class idea of private schools/suburban public schools being superior to their urban public counterparts has more to do with racism and social exclusivity rather than the actual educational merits….especially in the NYC/State region…..

  40. lt
    lt February 10, 2009 at 8:30 pm |

    The concept of privilege is really useful in helping us understand the experiences of others and the ways unearned power can blind us to so much. But I think it can be limiting in some ways – it’s trying to talk about class in a situation where – with Marxism gone from mainstream thinking, unions barely hanging on for their lives, the working and middle class having been so beaten down – progressives just really aren’t sure how to talk about it or how to address inequality. So we focus on wealthy individuals rather than the systems, structures, laws that made things this way.

    It used to be that newspapers all had labor beats that followed struggles over working conditions. Not so much anymore. There are reasons we’re not hearing enough of different folks’ stories beyond the relative privilege of some writers/activists.

  41. falloch
    falloch February 11, 2009 at 5:25 am |

    Just read the NYT article – I was fuming through most of it, and then decided it was actually being sarcastic – but maybe I’m being too merciful

  42. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 11, 2009 at 8:44 am |

    Lauren, thank you so much for this post. I know how bad things are in your “neck of the woods”, as my parents live just on the other side of the State line. The city they live in, that I went to high school in—-jesus, I can’t begin to describe how far that place has slid down the tubes. It’s all due to the lack of jobs. Decent paying jobs. That area was an industrial part of the midwest; all kinds of factories with good paying jobs with benefits. Anchor Hocking, Teepak, General Motors, General Electric, Hyster, Bohn Aluminum, Olin and more. Those places are mostly gone now. Now, there’s Mal-Wart, and since it has driven out the competition, those famous “low, low prices” aren’t low—they don’t have to be when the next nearest supermarket is twenty or thirty miles away. It’s like a ghost town, just like all those other ghost towns throughout the midwest. My job has taken me through so many of them. Sometimes I want to take pictures; post them up on the internet, just to try to get some of these clueless sheltered souls some notice on how the rest of us live.

    And let me say this right now—-it’s time to end the fucking “jealously” meme. I am jealous of no one’s success. I am angry that my successes are not respected or recognized, because my successes are less glamourous.

    On your other post at Faux Real, a commenter wondered what to do about the problem of “professional feminists” getting all the airplay, as she saw that as a result of the class disparity—that the people who had both the time and the vocabulary to do the speaking either came from the middle class, or adjusted to the middle class way of being. She didn’t use the term “limbo”, as in Alfred Lubrano’s book of the same title, but that’s what I was thinking. She did use her mother as an example of someone who bridged that gap—who did manage to self-educate in a way that she could express her ideas to people from different classes.

    I’d say we (feminists) have a great model in the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement had “talented tenth” speakers, but was also able to bring talented people from the poor and/or working class into leadership positions also. The civil rights movement didn’t lose sight of the fact that “an injury to one is an injury to all” (to borrow a phrase from the labor movement). I’m a feminist, but frankly, I find more sustenance in the labor movement because the labor movement more effectively addresses my most immediate concerns. And I feel more respect in labor movement circles, both online and in person (especially in person). Why? Well, there is a profile of what a feminist “looks like”, and feminists buy into that crap, too. Right now, what you are calling “professional feminists” doesn’t have much range in term of age, race, class, life experience. All the professional feminists I can think of are mostly white, in their twenties or (gasp!) moving into their early thirties, highly educated, unmarried, childless, able-bodied and healthy, pretty…..and you know, there is nothing wrong with any of those things. Singly or taken together. But there is something wrong with different perspectives not being given the time within the movement.

    Oh yeah, the movement. Sometimes I think feminism as a movement is dead. Bankrupt. I wanna scream, “Do you want a movement or do you want a clique?!!!” I read threads on the economy, on domestic violence, on mothers, etc. on some of these sites and it just fucking boggles my mind. I think to myself “don’t you people ever get out of the house?” But then I go read people like BFP and Sudy and DaisyDeadhead and Renee (as well as the good folks at Feministe!) and think that there is still hope for feminism.

    I just don’t want to see a movement that has accomplished so much wither, as it certainly will if it becomes an echo chamber and out-of-touch.

    I’ll try to gether my thoughts today a little more coherently—I just wanted to let you know I didn’t miss this one. This post touches on so many things.

  43. lt
    lt February 11, 2009 at 12:00 pm |

    la Labu – That’s a great point – it’s in the absence of strong grassroots organizing and voices from the grassroots that things play out this way. And of course, there’s a lot of good grassroots organizing that gets very little attention in the MSM, which is one thing blogs and “professional feminists” can do: use their platform to make those voices heard. And I have a bit of optimism that with things the way they are now, more and more folks are going to make sure they get heard, one way or another.

  44. octogalore
    octogalore February 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm |

    Lauren — great post.

    I like what LaLubu said re “it’s time to end the fucking ‘jealousy’ meme” and also here:

    “Well, there is a profile of what a feminist “looks like”, and feminists buy into that crap, too. Right now, what you are calling “professional feminists” doesn’t have much range in term of age, race, class, life experience. All the professional feminists I can think of are mostly white, in their twenties or (gasp!) moving into their early thirties, highly educated, unmarried, childless, able-bodied and healthy, pretty…..and you know, there is nothing wrong with any of those things. Singly or taken together. But there is something wrong with different perspectives not being given the time within the movement. ”

    As DaisyDeadhead pointed out at your other blog, it’s interesting that issues like the 50th anniversary of Barbie are being brought to the attention of a young white feminist rather than someone maybe around 50 years ago, or who doesn’t look like Barbie.

    Reading Courtney’s post, I too felt that her life wasn’t similar to mine. There are maybe twenty days, including weekends, annually that I have that much free time. In the same way that mine, of course, isn’t similar to that of many other people –which is why I wouldn’t blog about it. So yes, an error of judgment re context — maybe that’s more of a personal blog post or Facebook-type post. But I agree with others above that she has nothing to apologize for. Everyone, aside from maybe public figures, has to look at herself at the end of the day and the ethics of the net net of her compromises and contributions. There’s a lot of info left out of that post and I don’t think any of us are qualified to pass judgment.

  45. Anna
    Anna February 11, 2009 at 1:38 pm |

    As a Detroiter with ambitions to write full-time, who tries to cram writing in around an underpaid full-time job she’s damn lucky to have–THANK YOU for this article.

  46. Anna
    Anna February 11, 2009 at 1:48 pm |

    I should add: I don’t want people who make their living from writing (especially feminist writing) to need to feel guilty. I WANT our society to support anybody with the inclination to make their lives as writers, artists, and so on.

    But in our current culture which is downright hostile to such ambitions, it’s critical for those who are professional writers (especially feminist ones) to see their privilege clearly and to actively use their privileged opportunity to create spaces for more voices

  47. Rosanna
    Rosanna February 11, 2009 at 4:08 pm |

    I read both your first post and this article and I seriously couldn’t agree with you more. I often feel a disconnect from the charmed lives of a lot of feminist writers on the web with their Ph.D’s and own their own homes who are able to just quit their job and start freelancing or go to grad school. I would LOVE to be in school right now, if I could afford it but being the sole supporter of my family (an unemployed plumber boyfriend and a rescue cat) right now doesn’t allow me that luxury (yes, some of us consider a college education a luxury) of either time nor money.

    I’ve read so many articles about budgeting and cutting expenses and generally whats running through my head is: I really don’t have 10% of my paycheck to put in savings right now (I need to buy cat food) or I quit eating out months ago…..

    This is why I started to create a budget cooking blog for my friends who are feeling the burn like I am but find myself far too exhausted after working a 50 hr week to work much on it….

  48. Butterflywings
    Butterflywings February 11, 2009 at 4:52 pm |

    Hmmm. Interesting post. I can see why a post like the one you referred to is insensitive at this time.

    However – please don’t assume that someone who doesn’t work standard hours, works from home, or even does a job you think would be fun, is just slacking around all day. Writing professionally – not that I do – is still work. It is not like blogging. Many jobs sound great, but the reality is, they are still work.

    Plenty of people who work in offices 9-5 do yoga and eat sushi – and what’s wrong with either of those things?
    I do work in an office, but thanks to flexitime I can work more like 11-7 if I want – as a natural owl, I often do. It’s not lazy, it’s my body clock.

    I also blog and take part in feminist activism in my spare time. It is possible.

    As for your questions about ‘professional’ feminists – every political movement is led by ‘intelligentsia’. Obviously movements need non-professional people to give their spare time too, sure, but without those professionals, they wouldn’t get anywhere.

    Anti-intellectualism is very fashionable, and I think that is worrying.

    I can see class barriers to certain professions and we should work to remove them. I am all for equality, but I am for equality of opoprtunity. It’s stupid to pretend everyone could be a doctor, lawyer or professor – and society needs bus drivers, care workers, cleaners, factory workers, street sweepers, too. Those people are just as valuable. They are equal. but they are not the same.

    Hell, yes, in my ideal world people would all have time to take classes, write, do art and cultural activities.

    I just wonder if sometimes, we forget that equality should be about bringing everyone up – not keeping everyone down.

  49. Butterflywings
    Butterflywings February 11, 2009 at 5:06 pm |

    And what is this meme that only priveleged people can be well-read, or write in an articulate way?
    You can learn those things.

    My parents were both the first person in their family to go to college. In many ways, it was a lot easier back then for clever working class people to succeed. Because we iddn’t have the ‘wah it’s elitist to study’ trope.

    And despite having a good job, I’ve struggled. I’ve had to go around the supermarket finding food close to the sell-by date. I have walked to work because I didn’t have the bus fare. I am in huge debt, because I took out a loan to do a Masters.

    I realise I am still priveleged to be educated, but there you go. Of course feminism should be inclusive, and should provide platforms for talented working class feminists. I’m not saying otherwise.

    What has bugged me (not personally directed at anyone) is the plain anti-intellectualism in some of the comments, here and elsewhere. Also, yes, it’s unfair to assume that someone is a spolit brat and has a perfect life because of their class/ occupation.

  50. Lauren
    Lauren February 11, 2009 at 6:54 pm |

    Anti-intellectualism is very fashionable, and I think that is worrying.

    Right. I don’t see a whole lot of anti-intellectualism here at all.

  51. Valeries
    Valeries February 12, 2009 at 7:44 am |

    Sorry, but Queens is a burrough of NYC, and you’re the one who ranted about how awesomely awesome you felt about the place you were moving into. I didn’t mean to say that it was new relative to other apartments, but it is new to you. Rather than get defensive, try asking yourself how I could possibly not make any assumptions about your financial situation relative to mine if you are moving into a place you love in an area which I would consider greatly expensive, in the middle of a recession without making any references to live-in landlords or roommates.

  52. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 12, 2009 at 10:56 am |

    As for your questions about ‘professional’ feminists – every political movement is led by ‘intelligentsia’. Obviously movements need non-professional people to give their spare time too, sure, but without those professionals, they wouldn’t get anywhere.

    Anti-intellectualism is very fashionable, and I think that is worrying.

    Butterflywings, here’s the problem I have with that statement—where are those professionals coming from? Who is anointing them professionals? Name me a movement with long-term success that gained its strength from the professionals. Especially, professionals that got their professional status from individuals or entities outside of, and in some cases oppositional to, the movement itself.

    Without the grassroots, there is nothing. Nothing. Without the grassroots, those professionals can and will be co-opted. Movement comes from below.

    Now, the reason I gave the civil rights movement as a model to be followed isn’t just because of its successes (and mind you, many of feminism’s successes rode coat-tail), but because of the emphasis on the grass roots, the many levels of organizing, and the recognition and development of talent no matter the source. Those are all serious weaknesses, both now and historically, within the feminist movement.

    There is a “face” of feminism that is being promoted, and it isn’t being promoted from the grass roots. That “face” of feminism doesn’t resemble me or many other women by a long shot, and that isn’t a matter of “jealousy”. It’s a matter of power. I can’t and don’t trust anyone, including women within the feminist movement, to represent my concerns when their lives have fuck-all to do with mine. Feminism is being rebranded as niche marketing, dammit, and as someone who marched in Chicago for the Equal Rights Amendment—was part of that huge crowd of people from all walks of life and has seen what our movement could be if we would just get our shit together—–it pisses me off to no end.

    And you know what? As a woman in the trades, I expected the first feminist reaction to the economic stimulus package to be, “Woot! Infrastructure! What a great opportunity to get more women into the trades!” Didn’t work out that way, did it? There is no reason why our numbers shouldn’t have risen in the trades the same way our numbers have risen in college, in law, in medicine, in finance, in entrepreneurship, etc. over the course of my lifetime.

    I’m not anti-intellectual. I am angry that any grassroots critique of feminist spokeswomen, especially critique that is more-or-less “yoo-hoo! over here! don’t forget about us!!” is inevitably reduced to “anti-intellectualism” or “jealousy”.

    And what is this meme that only priveleged people can be well-read, or write in an articulate way?
    You can learn those things.

    Oh, I agree with you. I’m just tired or having people look at me like the dog spoke when I use words of more than three syllables. Online, nobody “knows I’m a dog” (wolf?); in-person, it’s a different story. And it’s draining.

  53. La Lubu
    La Lubu February 12, 2009 at 10:59 am |

    Oh, and Snowdrop Explodes—-the reason more people in the U.S. aren’t Marxists has a helluva lot to do with the Palmer Raids of the 1920’s and the McCarthyism of the 50’s. Check out the book “Outlaw Woman” by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz; she goes into some of her own family background and how that worked out.

  54. Cecelia
    Cecelia February 14, 2009 at 6:10 pm |

    I normally don’t comment here but I have to correct the facts that you have stated above because I stand up for my state and territory as a Native woman.

    But the USA today article is wrong. Check this out…

    http://www.lansesentinel.com/news_archives.htm

    “The unemployment rate in the Upper Peninsula rose sharply in December to 11.4 percent, a full 2.0 percentage points above November’s 9.4 percent. Mackinac County recorded the highest UP unemployment at 24.2 percent. Baraga County reflected manufacturing layoffs with the second highest unemployment rate in the UP,–20.6 percent. Those are also the highest unemployment rates in Michigan.”

    My of my relatives live in the Upper Peninsuala and specifically on the reservation (Ojibway/Anishinaabe territory) there were the unemployment in that county is 20.6%.

    Also everyone is experiencing hard times, but again, what about the tough times the people have been experiencing on reservations? Not trying to one up oppression or anything. Native news never makes the mainstream news. Just want to shine light to a place where normally there is never any light shinned. For instance, on the Pine Ridge reservation in SD the unemployment rate hovers near 80%.

    Again, no one is paying any attention to Michigan and this makes me so annoyed. Michigan has fallen and its like a domino effect in this country but no one wants to pay attention in this country. Oh yes, I know why, the blue collar folk don’t matter?! Right?

  55. Lauren
    Lauren February 14, 2009 at 6:12 pm |

    Cecelia, quite a few of us on this thread are Midwesterners (I’m from Indiana! *waves*).

  56. Cecelia
    Cecelia February 14, 2009 at 6:37 pm |

    Hi Lauren! *waves* back!

    Its rough for all of us who experience the first tidal wave of the recession. We’ve all been experiencing this before much of this country was.

  57. Kristin
    Kristin February 15, 2009 at 12:17 am |

    Hi Lauren. I just started seeing some of the shit you’re getting for this, so I wanted to come back… I know it’s late in the game, but *good on you* for sticking by your position here, even if it means making people angry. It is unfortunate that some folks can’t be challenged without bringing the “yer just jelus” meme into the debate, and I have to say… I *still* wouldn’t shed a tear if that claim disappeared from feminism altogether. It’s bullshit, and it’s a move designed to mask inequality and trivializes the complaint. Fuck that. And good for you.

  58. Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » Freewriting on privilege, class, inaccurate words, and frustration

    […] make themselves look like idiots when they say things like, Jessica Valenti lives in a ritzy NYC apartment. What planet are they on?? Seriously, I wish somebody would explain to me on what planet freelance […]

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