Heute ist der 21.02.2018

Gender and Class - Teil 2

Von Rebecka Sommer

Skeggs gives a historic insight into the formation of middle class and working class femininity:

It was a category of pure, white, heterosexuality, later translated into the ideal for middle-class women. Conduct books and magazines encapsulated this habitus with the concept of the “lady” that equated conduct with appearance. This mapping was in direct contrast to the categorization of working-class women who, coded as inherently healthy, hardy, and robust – often masculinised – (whilst also, paradoxically, a source of infection and disease). Working-class women were also involved in forms of labour that prevented femininity (appearance and characteristics) from ever being a possibility. Thus, for working-class women, femininity was never a given. Both black and white working-class women were coded as the sexual and deviant other against which femininity was defined (Gilman, 1992). (Skeggs 2001, p.297)

Middle class femininity, according to Skeggs, was built on the physical appearance as well as moral character of the women, which were portrayed in these aspects in dichotomy to working class women. The clean and innocent middle class ideal, inherently female one would say, was created against the picture of the pathologized dirty and immoral working class women. Indeed, this “othering” of the poor and working class, as well as of people of color, is a significant process with which people build their own identity, in this case a middle class white femininity. With that, middle class white femininity is constructed as the gendered norm with which poor and black women have to compete with and match up to. Bourdieu’s cultural capital is the means with which women aim to achieve an authentic feminine identity. Appearance is equated with character, and how one person is categorized by another. Yet, if one does not have the authentic resources, the cultural capital of middle class femininity, one is degraded and delegitimized. Steph Lawler shows this in his research on class mobility of working-to-middle-class-women who feared that their identity as “false” middle class women would be dismantled if they made the wrong social move, talked in a pretend accent, bought the wrong furniture, or showed in any other way that they did not truly inhabit the ways, the habitus, of the middle class (Lawler 1999). “Taste” is a significant aspect in this process. The ability to gain taste and to display it in cultural ways is of course inextricably linked to time and financial resources. However, a nouveau riche may never have the same cultural capital as someone who is born in the upper/ middle class, as they did not grow up with the same habitus (Skeggs 2002). The women in Lawler’s study were highly (whereas secretly) engaged in displaying their taste and middle-classness in a morally right and natural way.

To conclude, in this essay I have examined the intersectionality of gender and class in order to demonstrate the impact that class has on women. Based on the theoretical work of Bourdieu and Skeggs, I have described how class is a significant factor in the life of many working class and poor women in the way that it regulates their perceived worth, their place in the social hierarchy, as well as their right for and knowledge of social mobility. Adding to my examination, I want to point out the fact that several other factors such as race and sexuality, next to gender and class, should be taken into account when analyzing the circumstances that shape the life of people. For a more elaborated discussion on intersectionality one has to consider the influence of numerous diverse factors.



Bourdieu, Pierre (1989) Social Space and Symbolic Power. Sociological Theory, 7: 14-25

Bourdieu, Pierre (1987) What Makes a Social Class? On the Theoretical and Practical Existence of Groups. Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 1-17

Delgado, Richard and Stefancic, Jean (2001) Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. New York: New York University Press.

hook, bell (2005) “Global Feminism.” In Heywood, Leslie L. (ed.) The Women’s Movement Today: An Encyclopedia of Third-Wave Feminism, Volume 2: Primary Documents. Connecticut: Greenwood. pp. 155-158

Lawler, Steph (1999) Getting Out and Getting Away: Women’s Narratives of Class Mobility. Feminist Review, 63: 3-24

Skeggs, Beverly (1997) Formations of Class & Gender: Becoming Respectable. London: Sage.

Skeggs, Beverly (2001) The Toilet Paper: Femininity, Class and Mis-Recognition. Women’s Studies International Forum, 24 (3-4): 295-307


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