So Much More Than Gender: The Social Class/Race Disconnect

9 Apr

by Angela Bui

Going from an environment comprised of a mainly lower class, predominantly Latino and African American community to an upper-middle class and predominantly white area gives me a combination of experiences which continue to increase my awareness on both sides of the spectrum each day.

Growing up, I was under the impression that the higher the social class and education someone had, the more open-minded and empathetic they would be. However, going to my small, liberal arts college has shown me that it was wrong to make this assumption. For example, my friend often tells me about the conversations that go on in her “Social Movements” class. One day, a girl in her class felt cheated since her wealth kept her from getting into free educational programs for those with low financial statuses. My initial response to this was shock, anger, and confusion. I was unable to wrap my head around how such a selfish and contradictory statement could make sense to someone. Instances like this make me think about the impossibility of everyone coming together to promote justice for all rather than just the majority.

In this particular case, we are similar in that we are both women. However, we differ in social class and race, which changes the experience of our gender so greatly that it is hard to relate with her in anything. I learned that this is called the “matrix of domination,” which points out how various systems such as race, class, gender, and sexuality work to shape a woman’s identity and experience. This girl in my friend’s “Social Movements” class probably has experienced objectification and oppression by men as a woman, but she has not experienced and may not understand the struggle of growing up through poverty and being seen as inferior due to financial status.

I recognize that my response to this ignorance of privilege is detrimental to the essential relationship between women. I often write women like this off as ignorant, rather than try to work together with them so we can understand each other and progress. However, the process for women to understand each other needs to involve both parties, and the privileged side often does not feel like it is necessary to understand the oppressed side since it does not have any direct benefit to them.

Besides being contradictory, this girl’s statement was disturbing in that it reflects a larger problem in feminism. This issue is present in the new, third wave of feminism called “Lifestyle Feminism,” which focuses on the notion that your own needs are what the feminist movement needs. Compared to white women, it is harder for colored women to be heard due to the various levels of oppression they experience. Since it is easy to ignore the needs of colored women, white women tend to focus on gains for themselves rather than go out of their way to liberate all women. There is a lack of understanding that various systems such as race and gender intertwine, and without it movements such as feminism cannot progress. The necessity of having the recognition that various oppressive institutions and social structures work together is essential to getting closer to justice for all.

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