Welcome to Maoist Orange Cake. Each week one of our Divas posts a thoughtful (but not necessarily serious) essay on whatever calls forth her Voice or strikes her Fancy. We invite you to join us wherever the discussion leads.
Motto of the MOC: Sincere, yes. Serious? Never!

"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007


The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

TALKIN' BOUT CLASS AND CLASS"ISM" -- by Maggie Jochild



This post is a continuation of a conversation about class begun on another blog, not our regularly scheduled programming. Consider it a bonus round. Now, as we were saying...

I assume that every class in our society operates under terror of being swept away. Fear of being deprived of the means to continue existing is what keeps most oppressions in place, and at its base, that’s classism. Economic threat (sometimes coupled with the threat of violence) is the glue that holds together oppression.

For purposes of clarity, let me state my terms: When talking of American classes, I divide us into poor/raised poor, working class, middle class, and owning class. About 80% of people who are working class in America (especially in the South) believe they are middle class; hence, why politicians appeal to “middle class” values, etc. Our actual middle class is very small. The poor category is large and growing.

Owning class refers to not just folks who “own the means of production” but who have inherited meaningful economic advantage in various forms. Forbes (I think) did a study several years ago where they asked the top 500 wealthiest people how they came their money, and almost 90% had been given the key advantages (education, influence, family business opportunities, etc.) that made them rich. Nobody’s earning their own wealth in this country, except for the tiny percentage of entertainment industry individuals (including sports figures) who are held up as examples to keep the rest of us from realizing how stuck we are.

Overwhelmingly, people with serious economic privilege frequent ONLY environments where they mingle with others like them, a bubble world. Children raised owning class have pounded into them the message that the rest of the world hates them and would like to see them taken down (which is mostly true). They are expected to do something meaningful without being given the tools for community connection or leadership. They live in mortal fear of being “found out” and cast aside as adults. They’re extraordinarily poor leaders as a result. We can all see how well this system is working out.

Although — I insist on pointing out — some owning class individuals are raised with a connection to community or acquire it as adults and use their entitlement altruistically. We have at least one such woman reading this list. Honesty about wealth and embracing community values tends to get rich folks ridiculed and ostracized by everybody. They’re not trusted as much as the upper classes who lie about their economic advantages and circumstances.

Poor and raised poor also grow up with the message we are an expendable class. We, too, feel a profound disconnect with the rest of the culture, and live a masquerade.

Working class people understand their survival is linked to community, and maintain community identity ahead of individual success. Middle class folks are the biggest believers in the myth of class mobility, especially the value of education.

But most of us, of course, are the products of mixed class backgrounds; cover-ups and denial abound.

Mary Cheney was raised in a cocoon of wealth she’s never left. Condi was not raised in it, but her parents did hammer relentlessly on her to rise up the class ladder. She “switched classes” without undoing or, likely, even recognizing the conditioning that creates class. A hundred years ago, Americans believed that class was a biologically measurable and inherited identity, like people still believe about race and gender. This essentialism remains in our confusion about the value and mechanism of “class mobility.”

So, Condi’s acquired identity of wealth has bought her entrance to a world where they talk about us as “the other” who despise them. On the day that Katrina destroyed New Orleans, the blackest city in America, Condi went shopping for obscenely expensive Italian shoes in New York. I suspect that was not an accident; the means of maintaining dissonance (and holding fear at bay) are few and predictable.

And, yes, Doctor E, you’re right that Ann Richards’ campaign would never have done the dirty tricks that Rove dreamed up. But — it can’t be stressed enough — they also did not begin to have the kind of money and economic influence W. was given by his Daddy’s friends. The difference is exponential.

The Bushes are extreme Northeastern owning class establishment. W. went to public school in Texas for part of seventh grade; otherwise, he was educated at expensive private schools, mostly in New England. His innate curiosity was crushed early. He was clearly never given an outlet for excellence or proving his value outside rigid owning class routines of playing around and abusing substances. He returned to Texas because he felt less like a failure here — the Texas owning class based on oil money is another example of how people can become rich without working for it, and they’re all equally uncomfortable with reality.

When it was decided by W.’s Daddy’s friends that he could get elected Governor, maybe (if they hid enough of his past), the coffers were bottomless. And I don’t mean just campaign money, but also the means of buying illegalities.

29 comments:

Liza said...

I saw a fascinating documentary called, I think, "Born Rich" The film maker was a rich young man who interviewed his friends. Talk about a bubble. They never went outside their own world, didn't have a clue even how to ask questions about what was wrong with their world. The filmmaker tried - you could see him struggling with the questions he couldn't pose.

Nobody had ever taught him anything about class, or the world outside his bubble. They never discussed money. At all. Except for spending it. Apparently they also didn't teach him how to do research, because of course he could have found class traitors, people born rich who actually had community values etc.

I read some commentary about the film and all anybody said, was, "poor little rich boy, I wish I had your problems" which is exactly why so many people raised rich find it so difficult to reach out.

So those of us born owning class live in shame and fear. Except those of us who realized that it's always easier in the long run to be honest. Of course, it's easier to be honest about being raised rich when what is left is the "raised" but not so much the "rich." Or, that's my experience.

Mags, you are bril. I so appreciate your writings on class.

shadocat said...

Maggie, I too am leaning towards John Edwards because of his positions on class. I just can't support Hilary because of her past positions on the war, and I think Barack needs a few more years in the senate before he's ready. I know a lot of people that are tired of the "two Americas" talk but they aren't living in my America. In my America, you need at least two jobs to make ends meet; some (like my partner) have three. In January, the program that was my second job ended---for health reasons, I thought I would wait until I got better to get another second job. Well I'm not better, but I can't wait any longer; it's too difficult financially surviving on my one income, and I'm now on the hunt for an additional job.

Can't we do better than this? When I think about what all those great people in the past worked for, the 40 hour work week, the "8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, 8 hours of sleep"---What happened to that? Did we give it away? Or was it taken?

Josiah said...

I was "Born Rich" and am trying to use my entitlement altruistically, but I'm never certain that I'm doing enough. I worry that I'm like the rich young man who asked Jesus what he needed to do to gain eternal life; Jesus said "Sell everything you have, give the money to the poor and follow me." The young man went away sad, unwilling to go that far — and if I'm honest, I'll admit that I would be too. I give to charity and volunteer my time, but what I give is far from "all my goods".

I also struggle with acknowledging my status in the real world. In our society, the question "what do you do?" is usually the first question asked upon introduction. (I've heard that other societies have different introductory questions, but I can't remember any examples at the moment.) I don't have an everyday job, in part because I don't need one to support myself. My avocation is acting, but I've never seriously pursued it as a professional career, because I don't really want to live in New York or Los Angeles or tour all the time. So I work in local theater, ranging from small parts with professional companies to lead roles in community theatre (like the production of The Wizard of Oz I'm in now). Sometimes I describe myself as an actor, but since I don't live off of acting income that sometimes feels false. Other times I go with the glib but accurate "professional descendant" answer — but that can make people very uncomfortable if it's their first impression of me. I prefer to let people get to know me as a person before I reveal that I'm rich.

This uncomfortableness with the truth points to the fact that the rich aren't generally taught how to discuss or examine their (our) own wealth. Maggie is also completely correct when she says that the rich are "expected to do something meaningful without being given the tools for community connection or leadership." I've struggled to find a meaningful place for myself in the world, and I haven't quite found it yet.

I think that I live in a little less of a bubble than some of my contemporaries — my friends are mostly middle class and a few working class. (I don't have any real-life friends who were raised poor, but one, a musician, is poor now; she's been homeless and mostly lives hand-to-mouth.) But I still don't have an innate understanding of living with financial pressures, or having to hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet. (Nickel and Dimed has been sitting on my bedside table, begun but unfinished, for years.)

The problem is that when I confront myself with the societal injustices from which I've benefited, the first response is usually guilt and shame — which are never very effective motivators for positive action. I'm trying to change that, but it's still the default reaction. (You won't be surprised to learn that I've suffered from major depression for years.) Discussion like this is very helpful for me — and I'm glad that we've got this forum to share our different experiences and reach for common ground.

Maggie Jochild said...

"Can't we do better than this?" A question I love to see in print. Trying to answer it sets you on a productive path.

If Hilary actually gets pressured by John Edwards' example into coming up with a universal health care platform, she'll have more credibiity with me. On a PBS docu I saw this past week, a statistic said 40% of Americans change jobs each year. Which means having insurance coverage linked to your employment is poverty stalking you. As we know first-hand, Shado.

And yeah, Liza -- "shame and fear", that's the one-two punch. When one of my most significant mentors, Nancy Kline (a Southern owning class woman who is now making a HUGE fucking difference out there with her Time To Think program, check it out) exposed her soft underbelly to me and I realized owning class folks have just as much shame and fear as the rest of us, I found ground to stand on which linked my class to all other classes, including my so-called "oppressor". What a relief.

The part I keep stumbling over is how heavily invested the middle to upper middle class is in preventing discussion about class. Scares the shit out of them. They're almost to the promised land, if only nobody notices the climb.

Apparent change of topic, but not: The Emmys last night sucked. (AND blew.) I'm forgiving of Hollywood live events with too much smug self-referencing and production values gone flat, so the theater-in-the-round that didn't translate to camera placement, the disastrous choice of smarmy, dim Ryan Seacrest as host, and the pathetic obsession with a show that's no longer on the air (Sopranos) was all bearable to me in the genre of awards shows.

In that line, the long musical number by The Jersey Boys was the best of the broadcast, and it only served to point out how much better Broadway is doing things these days than TV, ruled by hacks on reality shows. It was one of the few moments when you could see the audience there was enjoying themselves. Another was during Louis Black's rant about ADD-style screen displays, and another was Ellen Degeneres' hilarious improvisation when her teleprompter stopped working -- revealing how hapless Ryan Seacrest was in comparison. I loved it when Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart retracted an Emmy they had just awarded to someone who didn't show and instead gave it to Steve Carrell (who began his climb to fame on The Daily Show), and he rushed the stage in glee to accept it, no doubt terrifying a few cheese-brained execs who couldn't recognize parody if it squirreled its way past their iron-clad anus.

But the empty tribute to Roots' 30-year anniversary, with crappy, miniscule clips and woodenly scripted commentary from the paraded-out former cast members (BLESS you, Louis Gossett Jr., for breaking out of the "we jes' bes grateful" role you were handed) only served to point out how nothing much has changed for African-American actors in three decades. All of the miniseries and big shows (except for Grey's, although they've lost Isaiah Washington now) were Polident-white. Yes, women are getting great roles now -- but, to quote Shado above, can't we do better than this? Can't we have women (of all races) AND people of color on the little screen?

This was right in line with the style of Fox and the Right Wing -- show a few tokens (Colin Powell, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice) and claim your practices aren't racist, look, these people made it!

AND, most glaring: The censorship was overt and, eventually, political. Leave it to Fox. When Katherine Heigl won (YAH, Izzie!) they muted her reaction of "Shit!" to her mother (YAY, trailer trash girl!) but her lips were clearly readable, so how stupid is that? It was worse when they muted Ray Romano's reference to his former TV wife (Deborah Heaton, the right-wing freak) now being "fucked" by Frasier (if that's the word he actually used -- because of the moronic round stage thing, his face was obscured).

But when they decided to destroy Sally Field's gorgeous, passionate speech about how mothers oppose war because they have to watch their children fight them, by bleeping not just "god-damned" but the rest of her sentence, so it wasn't clear when she had even finished speaking -- well, that was not just avoiding a profanity. It was clearly an attempt at silencing opposition to the war. However much they will try to spin it as "concern" for delicate ears. Concern trolls are no longer credible.

Maggie Jochild said...

Lovely to hear from you, Josiah. If you're here, you are NOT in "the bubble".

I'll be a class traitor here and acknowledge: Maintaining emotional intimacy with people who are poor/struggling is painful. It's hard. Ask my friend Martha, who's been my ally for decades now. She occasionally shows me what she's having to deal with, either by consent or because we're so close I can just tell, though mostly she's conscientous about taking it to non-target places to talk about (I'm assuming). On my end, I never aim my anger at her or her class. It's an extraordinary bridge we've constructed, and while some shared values (Lesbian-feminism and being Southern) have greased the skids, still, we've worked our asses off to maintain it.

And, my gut has always trusted you, Josiah. Just so's ya know.

Speaking of trust: Liza Cowan came out as "rich" back in the 1970s, to the Lesbian community, when such a self-identification was heresy. She got shit on almost constantly as a result because of the mandatory cultural rule that we either be working-class or aspiring toward it. But I never saw any sense in trying to eliminate the strength and resources of different classes, and in particular, Liza has always used her "extra" for the good of humanity. I just wish her courage was modeled by more currently well-off famous dykes who've always survived via family money and privilege but who still pretend to need working-class membership to be acceptable.

When Karen Armstrong, the incredible writer about religions, is asked "What she does" -- she was a Catholic nun for 14 years, has been on international Islamic councils, has taught rabbinical studies, and wrote a biography of Buddha -- she answers "I'm a free-lance monotheist". You could steal the free-lance part, Josiah, add your own descriptor. Just as I'm a poet, though I don't get paid for it.

Josiah said...

"Free-lance ______" is tempting, Maggie, if I can get over a bit of irony you were almost certainly unaware of. The family business from which I get income is a newspaper in Virginia called The Free Lance–Star. So the phrase "free-lance" has a different weight for me than it does for other folks!

By the way, if you follow that link I apologize in advance for the newspaper's editorial bent — it's not something I have any control over. I'm on the board, and this summer managed to convince the other board members not to demolish the employees' pension plan, but there's a firewall between us and the editorial board (except that my father, the publisher, is on both). I've had to choose my family battles.

liza said...

Northstar Fund and Haymarket Fund, which both deal in socially responsible investments, used to have conferences for people with inherited wealth. They changed my life, because the people who attended were both rich and political activists. I don't know if they still have the conferences but J, they are worth checking out.

I met some amazing people there, who were all struggling about how to reconcile weath with activism. A few had given it all away. Most were learning how to use it and live off it by creating or investing in in businesses or groups (even theater companies) that were socially responsible.

The biggest lesson I learned was how much shame and guilt and embarrassment we all carried to varying degrees. The Haymarket Women's (mostly dyke) Conference was the first - and probably only - place I'd ever been where all my selves were celebrated: artist, trustifarian, dyke, activist.This was back in the eighties, so I don't know what's happening with them now.

There was also a book, Robin Hood Was Right, which may have been published by Haymarket, that was excellent. Probably out of print.

And yes, I was dumped on a lot for being honest about my family and background. Not at these conferences, obviously, but pretty much everywhere else I went as an activist. People feel free to say the nastiest things. It's shocking really, how rude people think they can be.

A favorite moment: I was selling wares at the Michigan Womyn's Music Fest, it must have been also in the early eighties. Setting up next to me was a woman selling some mediocre crafts, who hung a huge, huge red banner that said, "Eat The Rich!!" This was a standard politico catchphrase at the time. I sauntered over, smiling my most innocent smile, and said, "Do you mean me? Because I'm rich"

No matter what she sputtered, I'd won. I'd put a face on her enemy and it was little old me. It didn't hurt that I was well known as the editor of DYKE magazine or as Alix Dobkin's partner.

It's still embarrassing and slightly frightening to say I'm rich. Partly because people have all kinds of inflated fantasies of what that means. They still think I can afford anything I want, don't need to earn money on my gallery or art etc. when in fact I do. I mean, I'm not living hand to mouth-far from it - but I assure you it's not the bottomless well that people imagine. If I can't make the gallery support itself I'll have to shut it down.

Consequently, I work like a dog (not like my dog, mind you) to make it thrive. Which in turn supports my artists, my community and etc. etc.

Speaking of dogs, my licking obsessed Doxie won the best kisser award at The Shelburne Museum Goes To The Dogs event yesterday, which just goes to show that no bad habit goes unrewarded.

Maggie Jochild said...

I'm honored to hear details. And accept your trust.

Anne Wilson Schaef, who writes mostly from the 12-step/spirituality perspective, influenced me long ago with an essay in which she said because America is an owning-class nation, we all (even those of us who are poor) participate in owning-class shame and denial. Or internalized oppression and hatred. Adding to our confusion about class.

I don't remember this (except for one small flash) but when I was a baby, I was carried around by a young Indian woman named Nilmoni in the slums of Motijil in Kolkata (Calcutta), which I've heard described as the poorest urban area on earth. She was friends with Mother Teresa's sisters, and Mama said I witnessed it all. But I was part of the group that was willingly witnessing, and I have to think it shaped me irrecovably.

Hilarious about the Free Lance connection, Josiah. I could riff on the terms, but I'll leave that to Jana or Little Gator, they're way better at punning and allusion.

Liza, in SF I was on a lesbian/gay youth committee for the city with Blackberri, whom I think is the originator of that phrase "Eat the rich". He was a gentle, faggy, African-American singer/songwriter whom I adored. His song by that title, at least as he sung it, was ironic and a little sexy, not meant to be used as the bludgeon it's become. It always made me laugh -- Blackberri was invested in building bridges, too, with his art. The only line I remember clearly is "Have some Getty and meatballs".

Bless for you for all the faces you've put on things for us, Liza.

shadocat said...

Josiah,

Speaking as someone who was once a semi-employed actor in a previous life (when I say that, I mean before I was 30), I say that if you act, you are an actor. Especially when one is in a community theatre, where one acts purely for the love of the art. I suspect that you donate a lot of "treasure" along with your time and talent. I was always expected to provide my own costumes, some times props, and cast and crew often collectively contributed to the creation of sets, finding furniture, etc. You probably contribute way more than you're aware of---and of course, what Maggie and Liza said.

Maggie, I only caught part of the Emmy's but I DID see what was done to Sally Fields' acceptance speech. What I can't believe is that your comment is the first I've read in print about this! Not one major media story, not one tabloid looking for dirt to dish, NUTTIN'! It was so clear she was talking about the war, and I was incensed they cut her off. The Fox network apparently thinks it's A-OK to spend a lot of time glorifying a show that glorifies organized crime, but finds a woman advocating peace offensive.

Liza said...

Josiah, ditto what Shado said. If you act, and you have some chops, which you seem to have, you can claim you are an actor. paid or not.

Learning to claim a profession, particularly if we are not paid, is one of the hardest things for trustafarians. It took me about 25 years after art school to claim I was an artist. I talk about it a bit on the video on my website. not about being a trustafarian, but about feeling like a fake.

And I hate that question, "what do you do?" It always seems like people are asking, how do you support yourself, to which I always think, none of your damn business, but I'm too polite to say that. I fumbled for years, since almost all the work I've done has been self supported. My first job out of high school was in radio, and I was actually paid very well and I was famous, but after that it was a problem.

Now I say I run an art gallery and somehow, people don't ask as much if I make a living at it. I guess it seems more like a real job.

Maybe I started it so I could answer the question without fumbling.

But when I meet people, I say, "What do you enjoy doing?"

Jana C.H. said...

Saith Isaac Asimov: There are problems money can’t solve, but there are also problems money can solve, so if you have money you have only half the problems.

JcH

liza said...

I'm really bad at math. Ask my sixth grader. But I'm not sure that your equation is always sound. What if most of your problems are the kind money can't solve?

I can think of some problems that are caused by money.

And I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, but that's the kind of homily that I heard all my life and leave me scratching my head. Should I feel relieved that I can count on having only half the problems that my friends will encounter. Or guilty? Or that if I did have a problem it only would count half as much as those of my non monied friends?

It's all rather confusing.

Jana C.H. said...

Liza-- I don't think Asimov intended it to be taken mathematically. It's a joke against the idea that rich people are every bit as miserable as poor people.

There are plenty of human miseries that hit (or miss) people of all classes, but the rich miss out on working three jobs (unless they want to) or living on the street because of a major medical bill.

I don't think rich folks need to feel relieved or guilty, but it would be a good thing if more of them would recognize that they are fortunate rather than superior. Obviously that's not a problem with you.

Jana C.H.
Seattle
Old Cliche: There but for the grace of God...

Maggie Jochild said...

I have a good friend (Quaker) who makes a daily practice of noticing her luck. I think people use "privilege" often when they mean luck. It's lucky to not have to work three jobs. It's also the product of economic privilege, but it doesn't "feel" privileged to live in this class-divided culture. And if you want to engage people in common ground, you have to pay attention to how they feel.

Windfall psychology teaches us that when we have one problem eased, our attention shifts to focus on another problem and becomes fully occupied by that.

Telling men, white people, rich folks, the able-bodied that they don't have as many problems as those in target groups is (a) unquantifiable, really and (b) good only for inducing guilt. When I wrote performance pieces for Actual Lives, I refused to ever participate in guilt-tripping the temporarily able-bodied. If they came to a performance, they had already expressed their intention to bond with me/us. I chose words of welcome, instead.

The systematic pain of those around us, whom we longed to save as children, is numbing. I believe, for example, that woman-hating may not directly threaten the life of men in the same way it does women, but it destroys their souls and happiness to the same extent.

Otherwise, I'd have to believe that all these people are resting on their luck and consciously, deliberately choosing to take a break that I cannot. My logic system argues, instead, they must not be able to see a way out.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite scenes ever from The West Wing, between Josh Lyman and Leo McGarry: The hole story. If you know it, you can apply it here.

Josiah said...

I never really watched The West Wing, even though the fictional president shared my name. Maggie, can you tell us the hole story?

I'm certainly highly conscious of how lucky I am — not just because I was dealt a hand with all our society's trump cards (white, male, straight, wealthy, etc.) but also because I've been able to find a wonderful, loving, talented life partner. That's one blessing I never feel guilty about.

Maggie Jochild said...

Do you go by Jed?

Okay, I found the story. Leo McGarry is Chief of Staff in the West Wing, and tough. He's also a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, although most people don't know about it. Josh Lyman is Deputy Chief of Staff, Leo's second in command. During an assassination attempt on the President by right-wingers, Josh is shot and nearly dies. He comes back to work -- he's incredibly driven, Jewish uberliberal overachiever -- but he slowly has a nervous breakdown. He's sent to a shrink, and part of his problem is that if he admits what's going on with him, he's afraid he'll lose his job. When he gets out from the first visit, Leo is waiting on him. Josh waits for the axe to fall. Leo tells him this story:

This guy's walkin' down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, "Father, I'm down in this hole; can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. "Hey, Joe, it's me. Can ya help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are ya stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out."

YouTube doesn't have a clip of this scene, but it has the one right before it, when Josh is with the psychiatrist (played by Adam Arkin), contrasted with a performance by Yo Yo Ma. One of the best things to ever appear on television, and you'll get it even if you don't know the characters.
Noel

Aunt Soozie retiring from blog life said...

"Liza has always used her "extra" for the good of humanity. I just wish her courage was modeled by more currently well-off famous dykes who've always survived via family money and privilege but who still pretend to need working-class membership to be acceptable."

"Critiquing ideas may show intelligence. Critiquing people is merely unkind. Around here, intelligence goes with kindness."

The comment above doesn't seem kind at all and clearly is critiquing a specific person. Bitterness, resentment and/or jealousy, whatever it is...clearly not the new black. I mean, who could wear that well?

Maggie Jochild said...

I didn't use a name or refer to a "a specific person", and to be honest, I had several folks in mind. (When I stop to count, five immediately leap to mind.) Class dishonesty is common in the women's community and has been occurring for three decades, at least, still uninterrupted. I think it hurts us all, including the women who do it. I was trying to critique behavior.

I certainly didn't mean you, Aunt Soozie, if that's what you're thinking.

I do resent the dishonesty. I understand the so-called reasons for it, all of which are rooted in perpetuating classism for the sake of perceived individual safety. I never hesitate to speak out for the right of anyone to be financially secure, and I never allow "rich-bashing" to occur in my presence. But critizing the behavior of members of non-target group which continues the lies and divisions between us -- yep, I do that.

liza said...

Huh? A specific person? What makes you think that?

And I'm positive that Maggie is not bitter or jealous or resentful. I interpret her words as a critique on hypocracy and untruthfulness.

But Mags can speak for herself better than I can.

I can think of several dykes who pretend to be working class to be acceptable. It's just that they pretend so well that you'd never know. There are so many more trustafarians than you'd think, and the ones who are Dykes or activists are too afraid or embarrassed to admit it.

As I have said many times in a dyke activist context - owning class is the one remaining group that it's ok to hate, and having been on the sticky end of that, I can tell you it's not that much fun. It's not surprising that owning class activists hide in a closet. However, I think it is both hypocritical and insulting to pretend to be working class or poor when you are not.

liza said...

Here's one reason I think lying about class is a bad thing. I work as an artist, as you probably know. And many years ago I published a lesbian magazine called DYKE, A Quarteryly. My co editor and I never pretended to be anything but owning class and we got a lot of shit for it, but we were happy to know that we were not deceiving our readers.

What if we'd pretended that DYKE paid for itself? Or that we were able to edit, write and publish it while maintaining jobs that earned us the kind of salaries it would have taken to pay our operating budget? How unrealistic would that be? I mean, way to go! lying to your readers about how you pay the bills. Not a way to get people to trust you.

However, I know there were and are some people who pretend to be earning enough money from their craft to live and work as artists, writers, performers,activists. This sets up unreasonable expectations for people who don't have the extra income but think they should be able to live the artist, writer, activist life on not enough income. And I imagine would be pretty damn annoying to be lied to.

And then, there were the musicians, artists whatever who played poor and expected people to shell out their hard earned dimes to support these poor artists, when in fact the poor artists were getting at lest some money from their families.

I won't name names, and I'm talking about more than one person.

I ADAMANTLY believe that EVERYBODY (she said, shouting) should be paid for their work. But I could tell you stories of trustafarian dykes who conned actual working class or poor dykes into feeling personally responsible for the well being of their favorite singers, performers, writers etc. They did it to save face. And that's just wrong.

Basically, I just hate being lied to.

Maggie Jochild said...

I'll give another positive example: Dorothy Allison. I went to a day-long small workshop with her many years ago, and she was incredibly accessible and forthcoming. At one point, I asked her if what she'd earned from Bastard Out of Carolina (which won the National Book Award) was enough to keep her going for a while. She grinned and said "Ya'll want the run-down?" She gave us dollars and cents.

Turns out, it only paid for a year of writing. BUT -- the movie rights made her very comfortable. Those sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. She had to give up creative control, of course, and they butchered it. But she said that was a given, she wasn't sorry she'd gotten the money to write other things from the film folks. I was, and still am, glad for her as well.

Her honesty gave me, all of us in that room, some realistic goals to shoot for, and it was part of my altered course as a writer, my becoming serious as a writer. Thank you, Dorothy. Her working-class dyke candor is still doing good out here.

kat said...

I've been thinking about this whole class thing a lot lately, and Maggie's writings (here, on DTWOF, and in "Ginny Bates") have been really educational.
I grew up seeing a lot of class difference, but never really had the vocabulary (of words and ideas) to really sort out what was going on. I went to expensive, snooty private schools all the way from pre-school on, but my parents are very working class. I was the scholarship kid, and while that may never have been rubbed in my face by other kids, I was certainly aware of a really big difference between myself and most of them.
I had (and still have) quite a bit of resentment towards a lot of people I went to school with. Also, I thought my high school was ridiculous in thinking that it was somehow "diverse." As though somehow the 3 rich Asian kids and 2 upper-middle class African-American kids constituted some sort of balanced view of the world....Let's not even get me started on the class called "The Black Experience" that was taught by someone who, while darker skinned than most of the school, was raised by a wealthy white couple in a swanky part of New England.......

I don't really have a coherent point, here, but I'm grateful to all of your comments, which are helping me sort through this mess!
I particularly like Liza's mention of those who pretend to support themselves on their art. As a musician, I see that a lot, and bugs the crap out of me!!

kat said...

ooh, just something to throw out there:

My grandmother, and by extension, my mom and others, are concerned with "having class." Being classy, that is, as opposed to being "trashy." It seems that the definition doesn't really have anything to do with the amount of money one has, but the way one presents itself to the world.....

your thoughts?

Maggie Jochild said...

Kat, you get the award for being the first to mention "Ginny Bates" on a blog.

Yeah, classy vs. trashy. My first thought was that two of the women who just won Emmys play characters who are self-avowed trailer trash. We like to make icons of them, even if we don't want them in the neighborhood.

I like your definition about presentation. Seems like there used to be another alternative in the U.S., that of "decent" which meant maybe not having much money, but being honest and "polite". But Dorothy Allison writes about the pitfalls of endorsing a split between the "good/deserving poor" and "trash" -- a means of discrediting the loud and angry poor.

Josiah said...

Maggie, thanks for the link to the West Wing clip; it was a lovely scene. I saw Yo-Yo Ma play the Dvorak cello concerto at Tanglewood last month. He's an amazing man, and by all accounts incredibly nice to boot.

And no, I don't go by "Jed". People sometimes call me "Si", though. (My father, also a Josiah, is Joe — but there will be no "ah".)

I should have something insightful to say about Kat and Liza's thoughts on class and classiness, but I'm exhausted from rehearsal and my brain isn't working properly. Maybe I'll have better luck tomorrow, after my neuropeptides have been recharged. Or something.

kat said...

my brain is addled from several hours of the HBO show "Big Love".....oy vey.

Ah, the good deserving poor versus the angry loud poor. Maggie, is it Chris or Allie who goes off on that in your brilliantly amazing novel?

My personal definition of "trashy" behavior seems to feature more often in people with lots of money......I wonder if that's me twisting judgments I've heard from others to suit my own prejudices?

When I was in college, "trashy" was what I called people who could party all the time because they weren't working their way through school. Or the girls in expensive cars that they clearly didn't pay for themselves.....

wow, you folks really make me think. And question myself and my thoughts. Thank you!!! Really. I don't have any conclusions, and I'm kind of rambling. Please forgive me!

Maggie Jochild said...

Kat, at Maoist Orange Cake there is no such thing as rambling. We don't make line counts (as if there is a way to quantify communication -- unless you're text messaging) and we neither demand nor condemn conclusions.

To be honest, I can't remember whether it is Chris or Allie. It sounds like Chris, but only if there's a joke in the middle of it. Poor people who keep bringing up financial realities are such buzzkills, you know? (grin)

As a writer who writes more than one genre, I frequently ponder the ethics of portrayal -- with regard to class, race, Jews, regionality, and my responsibility to living people when I'm doing autobiography. It is MY story to tell, but I also exist in a community, or feel like I do (the working class ethic shines through, there).

Annie Dillard in The Writing Life emphasizes that writers tend to be isolated to the point of pathology; they are holed up writing about an existence they either never actually had, except on the periphery, or left behind a long time ago in order to write. Most writers, especially of fiction and poetry, are observers who recast other people's existences, hopefully in respectful and inspiring art.

I've had some adulation out there for my poetry, where people think they know me because of what is revealed by my writing. Yet even though my poetry tends to autobiographical and accessible, it isn't me, and you don't know me if that's all you know of me.

In my fiction, especially in Ginny Bates where almost all of the experiences are drawn directly from my life (Chris is based on two real friends, Allie is based on five real intimates living and dead), I'm often conveying classes and races not my own. I feel a powerful accountability to others in such portrayals. If I show the damaged side of a character, I make sure it's in such a way that the person who will recognize herself in that character will not feel exploited or judged. Such characters are more interesting, in the long run, and it keeps me plugged into a community, fictional as it may be.

Middle and especially upper class kids are punished by separation and isolation. Thus they learn the lesson that if they transgress, they lose the love of their family and other human comfort. Working class and poor kids are yelled at and smacked, but we get to stay in the room with those who hit us. It's fucked, either way, but the lessons are different.

A woman I know, a single parent who had been raised poor, for a while had a roommate who was also a single mother but middle class. She watched this woman send her children into "time-out", making them go into isolation when they misbehaved. One day, when she herself did something wrong, she told everyone she was putting herself into time-out for a specified amount of time. She went into another room, shut the door, and waited. She could hear the conversation and laughter from the room she'd left, how it went on without her, and she said it nearly killed her. She thought it was the most brutal punishment she'd ever experienced. When she returned, she conveyed her pain so eloquently that the other mother resolved to stop severing her children's connection with others as a form of discipline.

I'm rambling here, too. Just what's up this morning.

Maggie Jochild said...

All right, kids. I've been working, writing and researching activism around classism for decades now. I've compiled a list of 15 articles, online links, exercises, and other resources on the topic -- my best recommendations. I've posted this at Meta Watershed as
A Primer on Unlearning Classism. If you want to talk about something you read there, feel free to come back here to do it (or leave a comment there, either way). Share it on.

kat said...

Thank you Maggie!
I'm working my way through the primer. It's really interesting. And horrifying....