Feminist Theories: Devaluing The Devalued (Class Struggles)

In “Choosing the Margin” from Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, bell hooks says that “Our survival depends on an ongoing public awareness of the separation between margin and center and an ongoing private acknowledgement that we were a necessary, vital part of that whole” (149). Often I see the undervalued qualities of oppressed groups remain undervalued in struggles against dominance. This was an issue with second-wave feminism: By making the solution to the housewife’s oppression letting her work for wages outside the home, domestic work—a “necessary, vital part of the whole”—remained undervalued. This led to either women working two jobs—one inside the home and one out—or the more economically privileged hiring people (usually women of lower class statuses) to take care of their house and raise their kids.

This has also been an issue within more contemporary class struggles. It has been established among these struggles that capitalism needs an underclass in order to function; it often has not, however, recognized that society needs a working class in order to function. There are a ton of jobs that are currently considered “low-“ or “un-skilled” that need to happen—domestic work being one, as well as service work, manual labor, etc. These jobs are mostly body-oriented, hence the tendency to see them as unskilled—everyone can use their body, right? It’s those that can use their minds that get the big bucks.

One class struggle is to increase the availability of education—i.e., brainy, intellectual, college-type education—to the masses. While this is a great idea, it carries the threat of devaluing the types of employment I just mentioned by deeming them “unworthy” for those of “education.” (I myself, for the years before I entered Antioch, held many of these jobs, mostly in the service industry. Now that I have a college education, I cannot see myself returning to this type of employment. Why? Because they’re boring, demeaning, and don’t pay well. The “boring” is a result of my education, although I always thought they were kind of boring; I did them because I had to. They were demeaning mostly because of how I was often treated by my employers, but also how others viewed them.) By giving people an opportunity for higher education without rethinking the necessity of working-class jobs, we are setting ourselves up for disaster: Who will do these jobs?

Another class struggle is to increase the minimum wage—the “living wage” struggle. This is a preferred route, in my opinion. By increasing wages, we are simultaneously valuing previously undervalued labor as well as directly bettering the lives of those who do the work, making it a viable employment option. I do not wish to devalue education; I think we can value both, and should.


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