Class Matters: 'Working-Class' Women's Perspectives on Social Class

Class Matters: 'Working-Class' Women's Perspectives on Social Class

Class Matters: 'Working-Class' Women's Perspectives on Social Class

Class Matters: 'Working-Class' Women's Perspectives on Social Class


This text focuses on the theory of class as it relates to women. It debates questions such as: how do women define themselves in terms of social class and why?; is definition important or not?; what part does education play in our understanding of class?; and how does class affect relationships?


Pat Mahony and Christine Zmroczek

This collection represents, for us, a celebration of ten years of work on the subject of women and social class and in particular on the experiences of women from working-class backgrounds now living and working in a variety of contexts.

In this chapter we will briefly review our work to date, concentrating on the main reasons for our interest and the processes through which our understandings have developed. We will identify the major themes which have emerged, many of which are explored in greater depth by the authors in this volume, and point to those areas where, in our view, further work needs to be done.

There were three main reasons for our initial interest in women and social class. First, as two women from working-class backgrounds, the experience of going through university as students and then working in the academy as teachers and researchers left us confused about our own class positioning. Though both of us were told repeatedly that by virtue of our education and our 'position in the labour market' we were not working-class, we did not feel middle-class nor believe that we had necessarily 'gone up in the world'. While we believed that it was insulting to other working-class people to pretend that our lives were the same as theirs, given the relative privileges bestowed on us by our middle-class occupations, neither did we feel that we inhabited the world of the university in the same ways as the majority of our colleagues (including other feminists). In addition, the social and cultural assumptions underpinning and permeating some of our worlds seemed to be very different from those of our middle-class feminist colleagues and friends. As we began talking about these issues in the mid 1980s, we discovered that we shared a massive sense of confusion about where we fitted in (if anywhere) and as we talked more, we were relieved to learn that we tended to have similar reactions (outrage) to the subtle reminders of our 'difference', sometimes ascribed as inferiority.

The second stimulus to our work occurred at a conference where we heard, yet again, that 'radical feminism is middle-class and not interested in exploring difference between women'. Our objections to this assertion were twofold. First, the statement was made from a position described by the speaker as 'one perspective within postmodernism', the virtues of which were,

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