There’s an old cliche which is oft repeated; “Feminism is a middle class phenomenon.” This is supposed to be one of the concerns about feminism, often uttered by those very women decrying radical feminism as not being intersectional enough.
I’m, to put it bluntly, an underclass feminist. I’ve spent the past five years of my life trying to escape the benefit trap, only for such attempts to be thwarted by debt, financial difficulty, and ill mental health. I had the privilege of completing a year of university, before having to leave due to the effects of post traumatic stress disorder, depression and crippling debt caused by several outside factors. For me, phoning the university to withdraw from my course was just another reminder of the fact I wasn’t middle class, unlike my course mates.
Today’s New Statesmen Feminism debate was another harsh reminder of how the liberal feminist movement forgets the women it begs radical feminism to remember. I mean no disrespect to each of the panellists, before I start. But liberal feminist conferences seem to be dominated, primarily, by white middle class women. And judging by the feedback from #nsfem, these are white, middle class, heterosexual feminists. These are the women who are likely to have successful careers, or can afford to stay at home with the kids. These are women likely to have been able to finish their university education, because they weren’t caught in the poverty trap at the same time. These aren’t women who were at risk of female genital mutilation, or forced marriage during their childhood. And these probably weren’t the woman who felt pushed into prostitution due to the poverty trap. They’ll have their own battles, but these were battles which went unanswered at #NSFem See, recent welfare cuts are affecting women all over. But #NSFem left this battle unchallenged. The question of why the panel was all female was asked, but audience members begged for talks of male violence against women, using the #NSFem hashtag.
But I’m sick, to the back teeth, of the feminism class wars. Whilst the lib fems are busy bashing the rad fems for “not being intersectional enough”, they ignore that they’re guilty of exactly the same thing. As an underclass feminist, with I find myself frequently having to decline turning up to feminist events. It would be fucking wonderful to say, just for once, “yes, I’ll definitely be at…” whichever feminist event is coming up. It would be wonderful to know I wasn’t trapped by poverty, and know that I could attend any interview without worrying too much about how much I’d be spending on travel/interview clothes. It’d be a fucking dream to know that I could stand up there, and speak about the issues facing working class women, alongside my sisters. I’d love to know that there was a lesbian feminist stood next to me, talking of her experiences, or a woman of colour talking of her own oppression. I can’t speak for them. Likewise, the middle class feminists can’t speak for me.