Gender, class and emotions
The devaluing of working class (women’s) ways of thinking, doing and being includes a devaluing of their ways of feeling. The term ‘emotional capital’ was coined by Helga Nowotny in 1981 and Reay (2004: 60) explains that it is a variant of social capital ‘generally confined within the bounds of affective relationships of family and friends and encompasses the emotional resources you hand on to those you care about’. She notes that it is women who are expected to deal in emotional capital, balancing and attending to the needs of family members in particular. However, she makes the point that not only ‘positive’ emotions profit families; for example, a mother’s anger might spur children on to better educational achievement (Reay, 2004: 62—3).Yet emotional capital is not equally distributed. Despite no evidence of real class difference in emotional involvement with children, for instance (Reay, 2004: 65), the difficult conditions of working class women’s lives may make it more difficult for them to ‘supply’ emotional capital. The ‘costs’ of supplying that capital in terms of time, energy and conflict management, may be ones they are unable to meet. Discourses are again seen as important, because middle class practices of trading emotional for cultural capital (such as deciding long stressful journeys are acceptable to send a child to a ‘good’ school) are represented as normal. Reay found working class parents tended to put the emotional well-being of the child first, which in comparison to the middle class norms can look naive. Although Bourdieu recognizes that such misrecognition can constitute symbolic violence, and therefore do damage, he provides little discussion of the affective dimensions of class.
The reproduction of class in gendered ways, physically (see Hall, 2000; Hunter, 2002) and emotionally (see Skeggs, 1997), hurts. Although exploring the ‘hidden injuries of class’ (Sennett and Cobb, 1972) is not new, Skeggs offers an understanding of these injuries in gendered terms. Recently she has argued that the white working class woman is seen as lacking moral value, as repellent and repulsive, and sexually unrestrained. As a figure she is
used to demarcate what lies beyond the moral limits of ‘respectable’ society, although the form of this figure has changed somewhat:
Shifting the emphasis from the 1980s political rhetoric, which figured the single mother as the source of all national (British) evil, we now have the loud, white, excessive, drunk, fat, vulgar, disgusting, hen-partying woman who exists to embody all the moral obsessions historically associated with the working class now contained in one body, a body beyond governance. (Skeggs, 2005: 965)
Such representations cause substantial problems for working class women in terms of constructing and regulating a self. Skeggs s work keeps firmly in view the pain of being thought ‘shit in comparison with them’ (quoted in Skeggs, 1997: 92).Thus she provides a keen sense of the ‘emotional politics of class’ (Skeggs, 1997: 75) and the integral part gender plays in these politics. The perceived unworthiness of working class femininity is a crucial marker within the all important hierarchies of ‘taste’ or value that reproduce class. For Skeggs (1997: 10) femininity can be thought of as a form of cultural capital which can be used and resisted in different ways. Yet this cultural capital cannot readily become symbolic capital.
What remains unclear is how some women are able to overcome the hurt and embrace sufficiently valued ways of doing femininity, enough to shift up the hierarchy — and whether such individual ‘successes’ actually disrupt existing relations of power or merely reinforce them. It would seem that one working class woman’s ability to ‘pass’ as respectable and gain the rewards attached merely underlines the notion of individual hard work as the key to ‘success’. It also perpetuates middle class notions of what constitutes success. Questions remain about how one woman is able to overcome her class habitus, if she has a gendered habitus with low social value. That gendered habitus is detachable from class habitus seems unlikely from the detailed arguments of researchers such as Adkins, Reay and Skeggs; but we are left wondering about the extent to which they may be relatively autonomous from each other and whether this might make them less ingrained than Bourdieu allows. If gender and class habitus can be used as levers against each other to disrupt sedimented relations of power then symbolic violence might hold within itself seeds of resistance. A better understanding of the emotional aspects of class tastes and distinctions is certainly key in progressing towards an analysis of capitalism and patriarchy as connected via a hurtful lack of recognition of femininity as valuable.
This chapter has dealt with feminist attempts to understand diversity among women, and in particular the different degrees of privilege women
experience due to class differences. Initially feminists endeavoured to see how class differences between women were difficult to demarcate using traditional class categories based around relationship to paid work. However, by considering gender as it emerged within both relations of production and of reproduction within the household, materialist feminists were able to make some headway in linking gender and class inequalities. However, why it should be women who undertook the caring and servicing of other workers could not be adequately explained within this framework. This led many feminists to turn away from Marxism towards other ideas which might better account for the differential access to material rewards and social recognition.
The general cultural turn and the insights of sociologists such as Bourdieu have brought rethinkings of class. I have only briefly touched on that rethinking here, illustrating that it can provide rich possibilities for the consideration of how class and gender are intertwined. Dealing with the limitations such an approach might have can be done only briefly within this chapter. The notion of gender and class as ingrained and intertwined into a habitus is useful for trying to understand how gender and class are lived by women. It allows us to understand processes through which class is reproduced, but it does not explain why that reproduction is not total. Emotions, and especially anger, can be crucial in moving relations with others away from hurtful devaluations and towards greater respect for diversity (Holmes, 2004). This diversity obviously extends beyond the intertwining of class and gender. The discussion of the intersections between ‘race’ and gender in Chapter 8 will further our considerations of the relative importance of material and cultural factors in the imperfect reproduction of inequalities affecting women.
Acker, J. (1998/1973) ‘Women and social stratification: a case of intellectual sexism’, in K. A. Myers, C. D. Anderson and BJ. Risman (eds), Feminist Foundations: Towards Transforming Sociology. London: Sage.
Adkins, L. and Skeggs, B. (eds) (2004) Feminism After Bourdieu. Sociological Review Monograph Series. Oxford: Blackwell.
Delphy, C. and Leonard, D. (1992) Familiar Exploitation: A New Analysis of Marriage in Contemporary Western Societies. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Skeggs, B. (1997) Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable. London: Sage.