For all the ardent egalitarianism of the early movement, feminism had the unforeseen consequence of heightening the class differences between women.
… It was educated, middle-class women who most successfully used feminist ideology and solidarity to advance themselves professionally. Feminism has played a role in working-class women’s struggle, too—for example, in the union organizing drives of university clerical workers—but probably its greatest single economic effect was to open up the formerly male-dominated professions to women. Between the ’70s and the ’90s, the percentage of female students in business, medical and law schools shot up from less than 10% to more than 40%.
There have been, however, no comparable gains for young women who cannot afford higher degrees, and most of these women remain in the same low-paid occupations that have been “women’s work” for decades. … While middle-class women gained MBAs, working-class women won the right not to be called “honey”—and not a whole lot more than that.
The Sandbergs and Hillary Clintons of the world continue to peddle this brand of neoliberal feminism, which goes something like this: Become a girlboss, lean into the corporate world and bask in the empowerment that trickles down. Don’t worry about oppressive patriarchal structures, the thinking goes, so long as individual women “trailblazers” start taking over corner offices.
This kind of thinking is what allowed Clinton to support the welfare reform legislation of 1996, which stigmatized Black single mothers and dismantled social provisions for all low-income single mothers, while claiming to break glass ceilings—simply by being a woman in politics.
An emancipatory feminist agenda should aim “to support working-class women’s workplace struggles, to advocate for expanded social services (like childcare and healthcare) for all women, to push for greater education access for low-income women and so on and so forth.”
“We should recall that the original radical—and, yes, utopian—feminist vision was of a society without hierarchies of any kind. … There can be no such thing as “equality among the classes.” The abolition of hierarchy demands not only racial and gender equality, but the abolition of class.”