Sunday, April 28, 2013

Michael Zweig Reflection: Six Points on Class

This piece summarizes briefly six points about class, focusing on class consciousness and class division, what creates these divisions, why they are problematic, and what class means on a global scale. The points are as follows: 1) We need to change the understanding of class in the United States, going from the division of "rich and poor" to the division of "worker and capitalist."
2)The usual talk of a mass middle class with some rich and poor at the fringes around it is deeply misleading and contributes to two central problems in American politics.
3) The reality of race and class in the Katrina-devastated Gulf Coast is dramatically different from the "lessons of race and class" the media touted immediately after the catastrophe.
4) Identifying class forces accurately is an essential starting point for more effective politics to turn back the right-wing tide that has swept across the United States with growing power for nearly forty years.
5) Class operates on a global scale.
6) Class is an idea for a movement of ideas.

I agree with all the points presented and their synopses, and none of the information presented really surprised me at all even if I didn't exactly know it in the context of Zweig's facts and language. Having been involved with the Occupy movement, a lot of the information presented weren't exactly new concepts to me. Firstly, I'd like to talk about the division of "worker and capitalist" versus the division of "rich and poor". I agree with Zweig's point and understand how these two are very different. When referring to the capitalists, Zweig is referring to the upper 1-2 percent of the U.S. population that has a stake in corporations, the global economy, and is at the top in terms of the distribution of wealth. He goes on to talk about how the working class makes up the majority of the U.S. population, the middle class is just about a third of it, and the capitalists are the upper couple percent essentially dominating the lives and workforces of those below. I also agree with Zweig's issue with the terminology for the "middle class." As a result of discussion of the middle class, we lose sight of race and class and also lose sight of the political target, according to Zweig. This makes sense, since the middle class really consists of those who are actually working class but have a little more power and entitlement. Zweig also argues that power is and should be the core of any discussion about class, not the amount of wealth, income or property involved. This is an intersectional argument that recognizes that the quantity of belongings does not necessarily equate to the amount of power one has over one's lifestyle and decisions, since there is so much that is systemic, racist, sexist, etc. that we are being distracted from, and we are actually feeding into the nature of divisiveness and capitalism by defining class structures on the basis of possessions.
I also appreciate Zweig's points about Katrina and the ways in which the media utilized words like race and class but actually only meant black and poverty. There was no larger discussion surrounding Katrina that had anything to do with class and the ways that race and class were tied together systemically causing some people to suffer greatly while others on higher land and with more resources made it out just fine, which is something we've discussed in class a bit. A lot of the time the media throws around language like race, class, capitalism, socialism, etc. without ever actually discussing or defining it's terms but only presenting it in terms of the context of the situation, causing Americans to be persuaded by the tone and context of the issue rather than having a critical understanding of it. I think overall this piece was useful but didn't shock me or present me with anything I haven't already thought about, but I appreciate the way it ties systems of oppression in with our understanding of class and capitalism and found it to be a nice tie up for the end of the semester.

Anyon "Hidden Curriculum"

Anyon argues that public schools have a "hidden curriculum" that teaches students about class structures and how they are related to them in an implicit manner. The argument is that public schools maintain and reproduce systems of class that come from understanding of one's identity gained from relationships to systems and power structures in society, reflections of oneself through other people and an individual notion of importance and production that creates a view of one's own position in society and where they fall in a class hierarchy. Children learn from a young age things like when and how to (or not to) speak, about the importance of their opinions and beliefs, their dreams and aspirations and other values that let them know how significant they are in society. Anyon argues that "social power, knowledge, and skills are withheld from working class," which relates to Mike Rose's argument that when the working class is provided with tools, knowledge and skills, those skills are undervalued by society. In this way, both of these authors are arguing a similar point. The power of the working class is invisible, even though its numbers and ability to resist is actually stupendous and the people carry many skills and a level of productivity and hard labor for low wages.

Anyon also makes the point, agreeing with Bourdeiu's, that sometimes forms of capital can yield other types of capital. For example, capital can be in the form of "cognitive, linguistic, or scientific skillful application of symbolic capital" that "may yield social and cultural power, and perhaps physical capital as well." What Anyon means by this, I believe, is that skills produced in the working class can sometimes under specific circumstances lead to physical capital such as monetary or physical property valuables. However, due to the reproduction of class created by the implicit hidden curriculum, few are able to have access to the kind of self-esteem and self-importance that may lead to the application of such skills that may warrant upward mobility. The working class is often taught implicitly that they are not valued by society, their skills are physical more so than mental or intellectual and therefore warrant lower pay, college degrees are unnecessary, and other belief systems that cause the working class to perpetuate the production of working class individuals.

Coontz: Central Argument

Coontz “Self-Reliance and the American Family: We Always Stood on our own Two Feet” This excerpt focuses on ideas about individualism and self reliance, bootstraps mentality, being a myth. These ideas have great implications on the perceptions of class mobility that we have in our culture. Coontz argues that it is a myth that American families can achieve upward mobility solely by working hard and being self reliant. Rather, for centuries, there has been some sort of social safety net that Americans have utilized to achieve "success". By fault of traditions upheld in this country and nostalgia for the 1950's nuclear family representing economic success and achievement, Americans have been shielded from what it means to utilize federal programs such as grants for land, funding for education, where taxes go, etc.

If people recognized all the ways in which the federal and local governments aid us every day from sidewalks to public parks to housing, it would undermine the belief that true success is attainable if you simply work hard. By distracting Americans away from the reality of achievement and the role the government plays, the upper percentage of Americans who dominate at the top of the distribution of wealth and property benefit by putting a monopoly on the rest of the economy and leaving them to working class struggles that have become internalized and seen as normal, while things like federal aid are demonized. In this way, the emphasis on individualism is dangerous, and families who may not buy into it whether consciously or not are seen as lazy and abnormal. Coontz shows readers that public aid is about much more than welfare, but it actually is built into our economy in ways that Americans are not taught to see as federal forms of help.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Response to Andrea: Annette Laureau's "Watching, Waiting, and Deciding"

This is Andrea's post, a reflection on Laureau's work: "At first the discussion of Mrs. Marshall in the Annette Lareau piece “Watching, Waiting, and Deciding when to Intervene: Race, Class, and the Transmission of Advantage” was a bit irritating. The first couple of examples of her intervening just seems a bit much, and appeared to showcase a sense of entitlement that she had and that she was potentially instilling in to her daughters. However, as the article went on I began to question whether that was truly a sense of entitlement at all. A middle-class Black mother may feel as if she can speak up when she feels her children are possibly being discriminated against, her feeling as if she has a voice that can be listened to may be something that’s been socialized thanks to her class standing. But, the act of speaking up in this case does not highlight a sense of entitlement at all. If anything, it speaks to a situation of dispossession. Her children are potentially being discriminated against simply for existing in Black bodies and the middle-class Black mother probably only sees a few choices. Either allow this potential discrimination to continue and potentially case trauma to the child (or expose the child to a racist world that the mother does not want to child to see quite yet), or speak up and run the risk of being deemed the “Angry Black Woman” or overbearing mother. The mother in this case is more than likely just trying to protect her child for as long as possible from the cruelty that exists in society. I only wish that the article was able to explore gender a bit more deeply. There was a brief discussion of the fact that for the families studied the mothers always had their hands in their children’s education far more than the father. It was interesting that this existed across race lines. I could have missed when this was discussed, but is it also the same over class lines? When we find something so prevalent that crosses several lines of “classes” (in the ‘group’ sense) does that make it easier for us to pinpoint the root of the issue? In this case the argument could easily be made that it’s clearly an issue with roots in gender difference/gender roles, because of the way in which the phenomena exists across race lines and potentially across class lines."

I'd like to respond to a couple of different points here. Firstly, I hear Andrea's point on the "sense of entitlement" issue, however, I'd like to play devil's advocate. I think it's common and justified for minorities to take a more radical stand against oppression, whether they do it from an internalized place of oppression or do it consciously to set an example for younger people, specifically women, around them. Personally, I know that I've done some pretty outrageous things in front of my ten year old sister even when it's put me in harms way against some kind of sexism/violence, consciously hoping that I'll set an example for her that tells her she has more agency than I've had in my lifetime. Does that make sense? Although I hear the point that perhaps this is socialized, and can be moot. In the case of discrimination, specifically, I think that the children experience a sense of trauma regardless of the actions of the mother and her response to that discrimination- experiencing oppression with or without language for it is traumatic on some level no matter what the circumstances.

I agree with Andrea and think it's an excellent point regarding the maternal/paternal involvement in education of children transcending lines of race and class. Andrea, do you refute Kahlil's ideas about being Black being the center of oppression? Issues such as this, rape and domestic violence make me wonder sometimes about that. While I identify as an intersectionalist and believe all oppressions are systemic and cannot be put into a hierarchy or separated out, sometimes I consider issues such as this and think to myself: women make up more than half of the planet, yet we live in patriarchy almost universally and mothers experience some of the most intimate oppression there is across race and class lines...given this...if this oppression was abolished, doesn't it only make sense that other oppressions would be forced to become untangled because of the massive size of the oppressed population? After all, it impacts the most amount of people on the planet...thoughts?

"Media Magic" by Mantsios, Connections

Mantsios' piece focuses first on the myths about class that we learn through mass media. It is stated that only twenty three companies own more than half of the media that we see, and there are some ridiculous and appalling statistics about americans and the amount of time they spend watching television (28 hours!) and listening to/viewing other media outlets like periodicals and the cinema. I don't capitalize americans intentionally, by the way.

Some of the myths Mantsios talks about struck me, so I am going to attempt to draw some connections to outside sources of media that I find relevant to a few of those mentioned.

1) The Poor Do Not Exist/The Poor Are Faceless/The Poor Are Undeserving/The Poor Have Only Themselves to Blame:

The working class is often not depicted at all in mainstream media. When they are depicted, their identities are often irrelevant, sidekick characters, and they are painted to have gotten themselves into this mess rather than ever focusing attention on the fact that there are institutional and systemic factors at play, here. For example, in this clip from my favorite show, True Blood, which is about a town in Louisiana of a crew of characters who work in a bar as cooks, waiters and waitresses. The town is full of vampires and other monsters (who represent minorities: i.e. the vampires recently "came out of the coffin" and are fighting for the "VRA: Vampire Rights Amendment), meth addicts and meth cookers, and working class people fighting for the common good. In this clip, we see Tara and Lafayette, a Black Feminist Woman who educates herself and bounces between jobs because she openly doesn't take shit from her racist and sexist employers, and a gender bending Gay Black man who constantly has three different jobs and in this scene is currently a cook, a prostitute and a drug dealer. The representations of "poor" here are highly explicit though never openly discussed, making them and their plights visible but limited, and depicting them as bringing some of their difficulty upon themselves as Mantsios discusses (i.e. when Lafayette mentions Tara's inability to be social enough to keep a job).

Another problem Mantsios discusses when it comes to representations of class (and classism for that matter) in media is the idea that it is rational for us to believe when learning from media that the rich and the middle class ARE us, and that it is easy to attain these class positions. An example of that can be seen in the popular television show Gossip Girl in which almost every character is white, beautiful, able bodied and upper middle or upper class. All of their clothes are beautiful, some of them fight problems like alcoholism and drug addiction, but otherwise their lives are glamorous and full of gossip and partying while there is no mention of class positions less privileged than their own. A clip of Gossip Girl can be found here:

As you can see, the show takes place on the upper East Side, one of the characters Dan Humphrey achieves access into the world of the wealthy and elite through blogging and romantic relationships with upper class women, and there are wild and extravagant depictions of beautiful jewelry, alcohol, parties, weddings, dresses, and more throughout the whole show that become a fantasy world of envy for viewers while simultaneously making it seem as though working class people (who are the viewers of the show making up so much of America) can possibly have access to this kind of a world.

Finally, I'd like to discuss Mantsios' idea that the middle class is a victim. In the television series Breaking Bad the main character, a middle class working man with a family, discovers that he has cancer and is forced to come up with an idea to generate income for his family and new baby. As a result, he begins cooking and distributing meth out of a trailer truck and the series is all about his struggles with illness and lack of resources and the trouble he gets into as a result of his actions, but the viewers are made to feel sympathy for him as a middle class family man looking to provide for his family and fulfill his gender role. A clip of the show can be seen here:

bell hooks "Coming to Class Consciousness" Reflection

Oh my. This was my favorite reading thus far. bell hooks' work is usually my favorite to read in my women's studies classes because of the way she uses personal narrative to illustrate such powerful arguments. I related to so much of what hooks said as I was reading. Her introduction about the desire for the yellow dress and learning to silence her own desires leading to "class shame" reminded me of a yellow dress I begged for when I was 13 and attending a bat mitzvah for a girlfriend. I remember sobbing in the store with my mother because she told me we could not afford it, it was sixty dollars and "a waste of money." We drove all the way home from the store and my mother continued to lecture me about how I would wear it once and never touch it again, how I would spill something on it, how I didn't understand money. I remember telling her that all the other girls in my class were so pretty and going to have pretty dresses and have their nails done and that I would feel ugly. Something about this struck a chord in my mother, who grew up very poor. I went to sleep that night sad and mortified, and the next day, I woke up and the dress was hanging on my bedroom door. Something about me feeling ugly and inadequate caused my mother to go out and buy me the dress with her credit card, and I wore it countless times even when it was inappropriate- like to school- because I was so proud to own such a pretty thing.

The piece about bell hooks learning to silence her desires also resonated with me. I think that is something I learned to do as a teenager, and I think it has led to and contributed in part to some really negative things that have happened to me, like rape, when having a voice and a clear idea of my boundaries and desires would have been vital for my survival. I think this is a dangerous plight of minorities of all kinds, but as hooks says, class is an oppressive force that often goes un-talked about in a way that the blood ties of race or the solidarity of what it is to be woman do not. The only other type of oppression I can relate to class is being queer, because I know that I have often struggled with my queerness due to the fact that unlike daughters who can go to their mothers and sisters or people of color who can go to their bloodlines, queer kids almost always have straight parents, avoiding and ignoring their oppressions related to their genders and sexualities.

The narrative about going to the all women's college was another point that resonated deeply with me. When I first started college I attended University of Tampa, an almost all white, blonde, straight, wealthy school population in Florida right on Tampa Bay. I was confused when I first arrived and realized that for almost three weeks straight, students went out to bars where they could be served underage, swiping their parents credit cards every single night and skipping their classes during the day. I remember thinking to myself, "Aren't these kids paying for school? Clearly they don't appreciate it."

I felt like an outcast at that school because I was a queer gal, an academic nutcase and a working class student who cared only about my grades. I never partied, while everyone around me took atevan cocktails and cocaine on a regular basis. I ended up really missing home and finding that UT was not worth the 17,000 dollars I had anticipated it being. My parents knew I was unhappy and convinced me to transfer to RIC.

I have been far more successful and happy, finding people I can relate with and professors who understand my crazy life and work schedule at Rhode Island College. This is largely because we at RIC are used to these kinds of feelings and thoughts even if only on a subconscious level without any language, because we are a working class school. Being part of a community that embraces the commuter, the worker, the broke college student and the importance of ordering books online rather than in the bookstore has been crucial for my survival throughout my college career. bell hooks did not necessarily change any of my thoughts or feelings about class or my identity, but she certainly brought lots of them to the forefront for class discussion tomorrow.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The War on Sex Workers Reflection

This is my favorite subject, and it's one that is not discussed enough...not in women's studies classes, not in our society, not by labor unions, not by anyone except those who actually engage in it as a profession. There is a dyer need for sex work to be researched on an international scale, since the majority of people who are arrested for prostitution, beaten by police officers, raped by citizens and stigmatized by cultural standards are women: women of color and transwomen predominantly. Sex work is different than sex trafficking. There is no doubt about that. All of us, feminists, sex workers, academics, law enforcement authorities, etc. can agree that sex and human trafficking are a serious problem. However, I'd like to talk about consent a little bit in this reflective response to the article we read.

There is such a thing as consensual sex work. There are many women who travel the world, pay for schooling, and feed their children by engaging in sex work as a profession and I think that the author of this piece does a great job at making that clear. Having sex work be illegal does nothing for women's rights, women's agency and choices. In many ways, it actually oppresses them, and this is ironic considering the fact that the crusade against sex work is fought by conservatives, feminists (who I'd categorize as second wave and sex negative, versus my pro-sex, anti-censorship sex positive feminism which celebrates what little agency and choices I think women have when it comes to human sexuality and their expression of it).

However, I do also believe that consent is something that is manufactured and controlled by something much bigger that I wish this article spoke more about, and that is the labor market. Conservatives in the United States like to believe that markets are and should be unregulated and "laissez-faire", meaning simplistically, "leave the market alone." It is entrepreneurial in nature and the reason why so many people consider corporations people, yet women with children are being thrown in prison for the distribution and monetary exchange for their bodies, and they are people. In a way, isn't sex work just like working at a supermarket? Let me explain.

Given everything we've learned thus far about class and different kinds of capital and how one acquires them, doesn't it make sense to say that the labor market is coercive in general? Given this, what makes sex work different than someone who is forced by their position in the world to work selling lottery tickets and cigarettes? The only real difference is the cash...with sex work, you can make an unlimited amount without being taxed or having to report it to the government, you can hide money anywhere you wish, and in a way, it's one of the most radical things you can do to act out against patriarchy and capitalism, if you're doing it safely (i.e. in a controlled environment with protection) and consensually. And who are we to say it isn't consensual just because women don't grow up from being little girls saying "I want to be a hooker someday!" Does anybody grow up saying, "I want to work at a gas station someday."? Didn't think so.

Here's a link to a documentary I spoke in on sex work:

Excuse me for being awkward and shy and having long hair and not coming out of the closet yet. Lol.