When I was a kid things were really simple. People with running water and jobs were Stupid Rich People, and you felt a little disdainful of them because they were stupid enough to spend their lives working so that they could spend their money like sheep. Running water, junk food, new clothes. We didn’t need any of that stuff, and so my dad didn’t have to have a job and we got to be one big happy family (not) with all the time in the world to spend together. Poor Stupid Rich People didn’t know any better. They needed to read Thoreau and learn how to really live.
Things got a little more complex when I went south. Even more so when I started working with “poor families.” These poor families had running water, and spent their hard earned money and welfare checks on potato chips and K-Mart clothes. They were Stupid Rich People! I was very confused. I was even more confused about the things they didn’t have access to. Girl scouts and band and counseling and safe places. But most especially there was the way people treated them. People mostly did not treat each other that way where I came from, or else I wasn’t sophisticated enough to recognize it. Probably I was too busy thinking that I was better than everyone else because I didn’t buy things.
So I’ve come to think of class as something apart from money, something more to do with the way you have been treated, the way you expect to be treated, and the world you live in. Some people have worlds full of fancy dishes and dinner parties where they discuss the latest greatest way to kill bugs and rodents, and other people’s worlds are full of broken teeth and hopeless afternoons smoking weed and talking about who’s in jail lately. The thing is, you get money, and this doesn’t change.
You don’t quit your McDonalds job, start making hundreds of dollars a night stripping, and suddenly gain a bunch of fancy assed dishes and friends who are concerned with killing rodents. You just have more money.
In stripping, reality is what you make it and people pay you according to that reality. If you’re reality came from a trailer park, it’s a hard sell. But those Ivy League girls who talk like they’ve got a bunch of fancy assed dishes and act like they’re entitled to the whole damn world on a silver platter? They bank. The difference between a five dollar coke whore and a thousand dollar an hour stripper is a rhinestone necklace and a good vocabulary.
It’s the craziest thing to start to understand, that if you just start to act rich people will treat you like you are and then you will be (I mean, if you worked all the time and saved your money you would be). That’s why I always say that stripping is like a practicing ground for life. In the “real world” sure, you could start acting like you had money and visualizing having money and some would probably come to you, and maybe in a few years or a decade of focusing very hard you would be rich. In stripping, it happens right away. Put on that necklace, hold your head up and smile like the world is yours on a silver platter, and the money is yours. Not next week or next year, but the very next guy you sit down with.
Unlike in the dominant culture, though, strippers don’t have to go through long periods of re-socialization to get money. We don’t have to go to fancy colleges and learn how to act professional and care about fancy plates. We don’t have to work in offices with people who are concerned with killing rodents. We take our clothes off, wiggle in peoples laps, and, often, drink.
In any dressing room there is at least one stripper who has fancy dishes, at least one stripper who just got off the phone with her boyfriend in jail, at least one stripper whose in graduate school, at least one stripper who just got back into dancing and is worried about her kids who she left with her abusive boyfriend because it’s the only way to make money to get them away from him, and at least one stripper who’s totally stressing out because she can’t decide if her kid should go to the Montgomery school or the Waldorf school this year. They’re all gonna make at least five hundred dollars tonight, although last night they might have made thirty dollars or two hundred dollars or a thousand dollars. And it won’t change their class a bit, unless they want it to.
So Iâ€™ve come to think of class as something apart from money, something more to do with the way you have been treated, the way you expect to be treated, and the world you live in.
I think you’ve made an important distinction. Thanks for giving me something to think about.
it’s about access. access to culture, education, health care, etc. a person who grew up poor might stumble upon some money, but this won’t ever erase the childhood and childhood is where so many formative self concepts are made.
a rich person who grew up with access to a great education and health and self-esteem building opportunities (dance classes, art classes, etc) won’t suddenly lose that privilege if they are disinherited by their parents.
i think if your parents are college educated, that’s a privilege. if your parents are artists that is a privilege because you are exposed to open-mindedness, culture, self-expression.
class is about way more than money, but you won’t ever hear me saying people suffer equally and that’s what i hear all the time from people who aren’t comfortable discussing class. it’s like a knee-jerk reaction and all it does is erase the recognition of difference.
bell hooks, feminist theorist, tried to be apart of the second wave of feminism. one major concern of the majority of “feminists” at the time was getting out of the home and into the workplace. the women that had the monopoly on discourse were middle class white women and they assumed that their concerns were the universal concerns of women everywhere- therefore rendering women of colour invisible… rendering the DIFFERENCE invisible. So, bell hooks said- hey wait. black women are already in the work place. they are poor and work too much. their major concern is getting some time for their families. they want to be able to be mothers at home, etc.
so this upper class erasure of difference caused huge distrust within the black community of feminism.
when people try to silence my class criticisms with that “we all suffer equally” shit, it really bothers me because it is just silencing the under-represented voice of the poor and reinforcing the idea that people with money should always be the ones controlling the discourse.
ok i’m going to go write a blog about this now. love you 4 life.
Hey, Incredibly well put ❗ Rhinestones and vocabulary! 😆 Must tell you how someone we know has risen above, as of late has grown immensely has shown new class (speaking of which)….and should actually now teach a class I want to take! believe it or not……..
Wow. Excellent insights. I really enjoy reading your blog, Tara. You really do have your finger on the pulse of what is going on.
So if someone thinks they have class, he/she does?
top notch, tara. i grew up in a “single mother welfare home” and am really glad to have found your blog. i haven’t had much experience with other poor kids, not up close and personal as all my friends are middle-class (i was one of two ‘poor girls’ in my junior high grade). i’m very interested in the way you discuss this topic (and i’m looking forward to davka’s related post as well) because, not only is it intelligent and personal, it’s a part of me that i don’t really know how to think about without feeling that running-through-my-veins inferiority. i have the ‘look and air of class’ down pat without trying too hard and i realize this dom. culture perspective on me is bull shit but i can’t deny that i feel it deeply.
could you point me toward books or articles that discuss this topic? much appreciated, much love, jacq
Great post!My Great Aunt ( a strong Kentucky woman) always taught me from the time I was a small child that “integrity and dignity have nothing to do with your bank account.” She subscribed to the theory that it had much more to do with how you conducted yourself in this world, and how you treated your fellow human beings. In addition, I believe that you train people how to treat you.
It behooves a lady of slim financial means to take the time to educate herself as best she can, even if all she has access to is the public library. She must use everything that is available to her to help pull herself up and out of economic hopelessness.
None of this is easy. With economic disadvantage comes a legion of horrors and obstacles. Abuse, neglect, and substance abuse are difficult to root out of a family system that has the advantages of good professional guidance and healthcare. So much more so in families that lack these most basic of resources.
Having dodged all of these bullets, she must also conduct herself as though she belongs in the place she wants to be. People *do* respond to it.
The trick is to keep your integrity intact whilst you do it. Do not lie about where you came from. There is no shame in beeing poor.The people who treat you otherwise, place a dollar value on humanity, and are not the kind of people that are healthy for you to be around anyway. They will rot your soul if you fall in with them.
You should never forget where you came from. Reach out to another woman who is struggling, and take the time to remind her of her inherent worth. My aunt also said “Sometimes you’re gonna get knocked down hard. But you gotta stand up anyway.” With the hand of another traveler, I believe it can be done. I know, because I am doing it. I am training my children to do it.
Ignorance is the easiest way to control a population. Let us agree to not become a party to our own oppression. The sad truth is, the cavalry isn’t coming. We must do it ourselves, and remember to help others on the road. I believe it is our burden and our birthright as human beings.
Please forgive me if I am somewhat disjointed in my communication. Like so many important things you write about,it tends to get me a bit wound up. This conversation is long overdue in our society. Thank you for being brave enough to speak it.
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.”
Another really great post, Tara. You know what’s going on and I love reading your perspective on… everything!
On a very different note: I’ve been reading you in conjunction with Davka for a while now and I’m wondering if you could share how the two of you met?
Great sentiments, Tara … class distinction being what it is, I believe teachers have a similar disparity of classes in the faculty lounge (speaking as an educator) … there’s less nudity in the lounge, but there’s more bullshit, denial, and bluster in there than there is poetry and the scientific method. Not many clear heels either, as I recall… 😀
I’d like to plop my coworkers into one of your strip clubs one night and put those strippers in our classrooms… bet you money our students learn more that day, and that the teachers come back from stripping better people for the experience. Wanna swap out, Tara? 😯 ~ Irish
Very interesting read. If you have not read it already, you probably would be interested in reading “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste” by Pierre Bourdieu:
“Bourdieu discussed how those in power define aesthetic concepts such as “taste”. Using research, he shows how social class tends to determine a person’s likes and interests, and how distinctions based on social class get reinforced in daily life.”
Oooh, thanks! I love Pierre Bourdieu!
I called one of my sisters (from the industry and the rest of the world kind of sister) and told her I was having trouble getting out of the backstage of the film industry….told her how I hated self promotion and yet, it was being asked of me.
Then she reminded me that I went from owing the house to top dollar (it took years, but still)….
you reminded me how.
Now I’m transferring that knowledge- thanks again for your shared wisdom woman.
Awesome post. I couldn’t have said it better myself. So I wont….I’m probably going to cut and paste it one day when I have nothing to say 😉
Thank you for writing such an interesting post about a lot of things I have no perspective on. Your blog always provides rather filling food for thought…
Great insights on class distinctions and ways to rise and fall easily. I love the way your mind works and how you share it with us. You’re very wise.
Thoughtful, humane and enjoyable post.
I love the intelligent replies too. At the end of the conversation, however, I still think there’s a lack of clarity about what “class” is and is not.
The sociological perspective, as in the posts of Davka and Ken, is helpful but I fear equivocal. There certainly are “dominant” discourses or norms in every social sphere. The assumption that power confers influence on certain points of view is correct but misleading. Certain points of view gain power because of their excellence. Thus elements of what might be called “high culture” are not merely “privileged” because of their class associations but also because of their superiority in one respect or another.
Certainly, these elements live side by side with all sorts of intellectual and aesthetic fatuity that are indeed privileged because of social place. However, it has to be acknowledged that the dominance of the whole shebang (when it is dominant) is in some measure due to the feebleness of culture in spheres less characterized by excellence.
That said, there are always individuals and folk trends that are superior to the “dominant discourse” in one way or another.
The notion of â€œclassâ€ really isnâ€™t that helpful, when all is said and done. It enforced false distinctions even when it clearly delineated social limits, as in the Medieval Europe. It didnâ€™t account for the variety of talent and character then, and it does so less in a society as mobile and egalitarian as ours.
What matters is not how much money oneâ€™s parents have. What matters primarily is what oneâ€™s parents believe and embody through their character. On the individual level, two things matter when it comes to success, however one measures it: character and talent in that order. People with the same â€œaccessâ€ to education perform vastly differently.
We donâ€™t all suffer equally, but romanticizing â€œthe poorâ€ is a mistake. What is the â€œvoice of the poorâ€ anyway? In this country it doesnâ€™t take much to have the basics necessary for dignity. If one has character, recognizes the value of education and acquires it, one will not be poor for long. The biggest problem for the poor is not lack of material means, itâ€™s lack of a culture that fosters responsibility, probity, gentleness and the encouragement of talented youth to achieve excellence.
These values have nothing to do with a bovine middle-class attitude, where people sit around â€œtalking about rodents.â€ That caricature is a little cruel, since much of that kind of talk is just common ground, like chatting about the weather. However, one can certainly take a more unconventional or even bohemian approach to life and escape the cultural and spiritual poverty that characterizes much of the lowest economic strata in the West today.
Ok, While I agree with your rhinestone and vocabulary comment (right on), I have to ask. What happens when you are too old to get naked? I almost married a stripper (we have two kids together) and while she’s not rich anymore in piles of singles or hot friends, I’m sure she finds her talents useful from time to time. Faking it gets you pretty far, but there comes a time when you choose. But, if you are already rich, which it does sound like you are, then what after naked?
Hmm, books ? I’ll buy one. 🙂
I’m enjoying this discussion. Most of the replies live up to the original post, too, which is unusual. I don’t understand Anthony’s very well, and my experience doesn’t match “a society as mobile and egalitarian as ours.” Also, he didn’t define “success.” Anyhow, I’m enjoying the discussion.
Sorry for any lack of clarity.
My message, basically, is that notions of class and â€œprivilegeâ€ and cultural dominance are more likely to obscure than illuminate a discussion of what constitutes nobility and success.
With regard to a definition of success, I meant that people can succeed whether one defines success as â€œgetting aheadâ€ economically or simply living the life one wants to live in a way that is self-realizing and characterized by excellence as opposed to one that is self-destructive or characterized by mediocrity and self-satisfaction.
I think it was Walter Pater who said â€œsuccess in life is to always burn like a hard and gemlike flame.â€ That could be interpreted in different ways, but itâ€™s clearly different than â€œkeeping up with the Joneses,â€ even without considering Paterâ€™s aestheticism.
With regard to mobility and egalitarianism, I donâ€™t think your experience is incompatible with what I wrote. I didnâ€™t say that class notions were problematic because our society is as mobile and egalitarian as one could hope, but only with respect to how mobile and egalitarian it does happen to be.
I would add that, mobility apart, it is extremely difficult to define social strata in our society: people are all over the map with regard to amount of wealth and quality of culture. Not only do people have these things alone in a practical infinity of degrees, but the same thing applies to individualsâ€™ quotient of either: there are people of modest means with little culture or much, there are rich people who are either vulgar or refined, and even the refinement comes in a multitude of flavors.
I thank you for the clarification and for the definition of “success,” which comes close enough to my own.
This is Tara’s blog, and I admire her greatly. I think I ought to discuss this on my own blog. For the comment here, I will say that lack of material means does have an effect, and the lack of a culture that fosters responsibility, etc., will be harder to change than the material means. For why it matters, consider that some employers, including Manpower Temporary Service, require application by internet; no service, no application. Also consider the issues of transportation, lunches and miscellaneous expectations, such as “retreats,” that affect even entry-level jobs in some fields.
The only remedies to all this that I have seen are individuals’ attitudes, such as Tara’s, that defy society’s expectations and that find unique approaches and situations which allow a person to begin with less material riches. I have a great deal of respect for Tara’s viewpoint partly because her accomplishments are so unusual.
Well said all around, Calvin.
Lack of material means matters. As an uncle of mine used to say, money isn’t everything, but it sure does come in handy when you need to go shopping (it sounded better in the original working class Glasgow idiom). Ironically, many things conspire against the person starting from the bottom, while those at a comfortable level have all sorts of other incidental benefits thrown their way, such as company cars, phones and computers, expense accounts, etc.
As you say, the lack of a culture that fosters responsibility, etc., will be harder to change. Thus the importance of focusing on character rather than external liabilities, real or imagined.
I’d be interested in seeing what you write.
Oh, keep discussing. I love it.
Calvin, where’s your blog?
Well. I dove right into the middle of this one, I guess.
I technically have three blogs. One on Blogger that I have used to post travel pictures and like that, one on MySpace, which I have used to keep in touch with the kids, and one one Yahoo 360. I’m thinking the 360 blog is the place for this kind of thing, but the fact is that I don’t know how to link to it from here. Also, you’d have to give me a few hours to post on the topic. Hmmm. If anyone can explain how to link to a Yahoo 360 blog, I’d appreciate it.
I don’t know how many came here from VanDwellers as I did. There’s another whole set of viewpoints there; essentially the VanDwellers have chosen or been forced to let go of the material side of life. I feel a kinship with them and have enough experience t understand the less technical part of their methods. I benefit from the exposure.
This comes into this line of discussion because the VanDwellers have lost of given up their place in the class structure wherever they live (not all in the US). My experience is that such a structure exists and is more rigid than mainstream “middle class” people are allowed to see.
Please note that we are discussing two different subjects in this thread. “Class” as in “class structure” differs from “class” as in “decency combined with personal style.” The “decency combined with personal style” kind of class exists in all places, situations and times, and can’t be successfully faked for very long. The “class structure” kind of class interests me because I have been hungry in the US due to rural poverty, gone to college and into office work, and am currently without an income. In addition, I have come to know a really wide variety of people quite well through 12-step recovery, and that broadens my viewpoint of this issue.
I used “nobility” to distinguish the personal quality from the “caste” distinction. Do you think that work works? Of course it used to denote a caste…
I’d be interested in hearing more of your thoughts about the rigidity of class structure and how it jibes with the multifarious quality I argued for. I’m sure some notion of both can coexist. For example, my (great) uncle’s “working class” identity was demonstrable by some definite markers, and yet, within that class there were many degrees. His time and place (he died a reasonably old man in the late 1970s) was more class conscious than mine but there are certain markers I would point to in my own society in order to defend a “rigidity” argument.
I think there is room for opting out, but it takes strength of character and, if one has lesser means, a certain resourcefulness. Perhaps many of us think we opt out more than we actually do…
Calvin, here’s a link to your 360 blog: http://360.yahoo.com/foothillbilly
Oops, I guess I should have said let me know if you don’t want that posted. It seemed like you did, tho?
Tara, that’s great. I’m still in the process of writing a posting for this topic.
The more I look at this, the deeper it gets. The English language itself illustrates the confusion. “Class,” “nobility,” “lady,” or “gentleman” can all describe either people whose integrity and character we admire or people who have money and/or status.
In the United States, we further aggravate this confusion by proclaiming that we don’t have social classes, but that “anybody can become President” if they have the right personal qualities and try really hard. That’s a fine ideal, but not so easy to carry out. Among many other reasons, people don’t like the hard work of understand attitudes and backgrounds that are foreign to them. I think my post on my blog will go further on that.
To answer Anthony’s last post, my experience is that class structure has enough complexity that experts and pretty much everyone else simplifies it for discussions, as I usually do. For example, “blue collar” includes union workers, day laborers and everyone in between. The distinctions between a skilled worker with a strong union commitment vs a typical day laborer would make a long list. On top of that, individuality comes it to confuse everything further.
The rigidity level might be even more difficult to pin down. My opinion of my experience is that I had an easier time moving from welfare poverty to office work (probably “lower middle class”) that I would have had moving to a union job. It wasn’t easy, but I have a brother who tried to make his way into a “good” union. He got the right credential, but his intelligence and persistence over a couple of years never got him all that close.
I’m going to give up for this comment. Tara, thanks again for the original posting and for posting the link. This is a great discussion.
Regarding the “confusion,” there is a distinction to be drawn between presumptive qualities (which have a social function) and real ones. We presume for formal purposes nobility, but know that his lordship might not possess noble characteristics we would hope.
Ortega y Gasset, who is great on this topic, said that in theory a real nobleman ought to be able to recover a loss of material status because of his inherent nobility. That real nobility gives way to presumptive nobility as a matter of social convenience.
As for the confusion being further aggravated because of the pretension that we don’t have social classes, that’s what I meant by egalitarianism. Egalitarianism has real effects but it’s more of an attitude and is reflected more in manners than material rank. Egalitarianism and actual equality are worlds apart.
On class structure, as with so many aspects of life, we can’t help but generalize (upper class, blue collar, etc.) and accept the hazards of generalization.
If I understand you correctly, Calvin, you and your brother ran into trouble with regard to manners or social forms and norms, so to speak. Perhaps one important form of social rigidity is what one might call a “birds of a feather” effect, or self-segregation. People on all levels will associate with people like themselves and, whether consciously or not, they will resist intrusion by people with whom they feel incompatible. Dress is another fairly rigid marker, as is accent, to one degree or another, depending on the milieu.
I have enjoyed this discussion, and I will continue it on my blog. However, I do have other things to do right now.
I can’t resist addressing your last pararagraph. I not only agree with the “birds of a feather” effect as a factor, but I think that it’s the major factor in social class separation in exactly the way you describe. I run longer on this in my blog posting, but your description pretty much nails it.
Life is interesting. You are a very good example that we create first in our mind what will happen in life. I liked your paragraph where you started to think like a rich person. We all are rich in something.
With you, I bet it is friends. It’s important to find an area and focus on the feeling of success. Our thoughts are what carry us and bring into our lives the opportunities.
Keep sharing your insight with all of us.
Class is definitely more about money. I have noticed that many of my friends who come from upper class households have no problem landing jobs with good pay. Its me who has come from a working class, disempowered and unworthy mindset that has had the trouble. Maybe because I only know how to create this working class reality?
I like how you write about K-Mart clothes. I always had an issue with that and no one really understood how the outer society made me feel less than for having to shop there as a kid. I still go thrift shopping for at least 95 percent of my clothes and I prefer it!
Real-world update: I have returned to the same job I had before (see above), but with “intermittent” status rather than “permanent” status. “Intermittent” status is a cross between temporary work and contract work. Now I have no benefits, including paid time off. My boss was able to decide this past Monday that I would take Tuesday off. Unpaid, no reason, no appeal, no union support. I would have had all of those when I was permanent, and my boss would not have even attempted that. Point: the formal types of class apply even to the same person doing the same job. So much for the “egalitarian” attitude in America. This stuff has saved employers, including government employers such as mine, a lot of money.
Cecelia, please don’t think I’m discounting all the crazy complicated realities of a whole lifetime of socialization and degradation and loss and everything else that can come with growing up poor. But… create another reality. In the end, it really is that simple (and that complicated).
I never buy new clothes either. Kmart is too expensive for me. Even though I can make good money when I work, I prefer not to work that often, and when I do work it’s for gas money and land payments and food, not $40 jeans.
Thanks for reading and commenting here…
Calvin… well, I guess that’s what happens when you rely on the dominant culture. Sorry. 🙁
Well, yeah. Not relying on the dominant culture has its own stuff to deal with, of course. In the end, each of us is on his or her own. My boss has described the office as “one big happy family.” She got no agreement. If a workplace is a family, it’s pretty much dysfunctional.
Great post on creating reality! My favorite quote is the Kurt Vonnegut one: “You are who you pretend to be, so be careful what you pretend to be”. Totally true to escorting, too. Class is how you think, not the money you make, though I think that thinking a certain way creates abundance… Having come from really poor parents, put myself thru under grad (eating Ramen), and STILL got only $12 an hour after getting a bullshit in psychology… “pretending” to be the well-off, upper middle class, lady that my favorite (rich) clients all want to be with… has actually created the reality. I’ve been seeing more and more polite, high paying, considerate gentlemen… 6 months of being a classy escort has changed my life more intrinsically than 5 years of undergrad. I’m in grad school, but even if I wasn’t, when I quit escorting I will never be as impoverished because of the ways I’ve learned to think and act.