Thursday, February 3, 2011

Class and Access to Feminism

Women in the middle and upper echelons of society can afford to go to college and take women's studies classes. They can pay the entrance fees and travel to women's conferences and feminist summits. They can afford the dues for feminist organizations such as NOW and NARAL. They can afford both classic and modern feminist literature. They have time to read those books and feminist blogs, to add their voices to the movement, and to intern and volunteer their time with feminist organizations.

Not all women have this privilege. Not all women can afford the education or the books, they can't go to the conferences, and even if they do, chances are they're ignored because they are not members of feminist organizations, they are not interns or experts, and they can't afford to donate.

Last November I attended a conference of my local NOW chapter. The entrance fee was $10, not bad considering my means (as a full-time college student working 16 hours a week in a job paying a few dollars over minimum wage). When I got there, the room was fairly small, and most of the few in attendance where white, middle-aged middle to upper class women and some men. I felt like the only college student there. There might have been a few other girls my age, but if they were, they were interns. Speakers at the conference constantly referred to the need for more money for women's organizations and female candidates running for office, and sure enough, before the conference let out, they handed out donation cards and someone said "I want you all to donate something."

I hate to sound cheap here, but that was not happening. I left. Did they not understand that I was a full time college student with a part time job? Did they, like so many other organizations, not understand that college students don't have the means to throw money at every organization that asks for it? Well, maybe some can, but I can't.

When I interviewed for an internship with NOW, years ago, I was told that all (unpaid) interns were required to become dues-paying members of NOW. Yes, in addition to all the unpaid labor, and NOW heavily depended on it, not to mention the money spent getting to the office, interns were also expected to pay to become members of the organization.

You see, I'm not one of those girls with extra money to donate to organizations, or time to spend volunteering or interning with them.

But I consider myself lucky. I am still in a position where feminism is still pretty accessible to me.

Feminism isn't taught in schools. From the inner city public schools to upper class prep schools, feminism is largely ignored in academic curricula. Sure, some history classes cover the suffragist movement, and some people might have the opportunity to do research assignments on the push for reproductive freedom or equal pay, but other than that, many adolescents growing up knowing very little about feminism, and only know the stereotypes.

Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism is often hailed as groundbreaking because it's written in a way that makes feminism accessible for young girls. Wonderful! Only problem is, in a order for a girl to read that book, she must either seek it out, meaning she needs to have at least a tiny interest in feminism. And unless that book is at her local library, which is unlikely, she has to cough up the $25 for the book. Even once she gets the book, she needs time to read it. Not realistic if she spends all her time in school, doing her homework, at work, and taking care of her younger siblings - the average plight of a young woman living below the poverty line.

Even my sister probably wouldn't have time to read it. Sure, I'd love to give her my copy once I'm done with it, but I know she's busy. She's in high school, and she has a ton of homework, and usually has one book to read for English class. She's also a year-round athlete. She probably wouldn't use the little time she has for pleasure reading learning about what's largely regarded as an academic issue.

In response to critique that feminism is a movement for rich white girls, I have to say it's unfortunately true. Feminism is not something that's easily accessible to everyone, and time and money - resources of the wealthy - are practically required to get involved in the movement, something that is sadly true of most movements,

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