On how and why ‘class trumps gender’ in America

union-workers

Among the seemingly-endless washups of the recent presidential election in the US, Joan Williams has offered some good analysis of things, echoing what many others (including Bernie Sanders) have been saying not only about the States but also about other parts of the world. The entire piece is worth reading (not least because of the irony in the fact that it was published by the Harvard Business Review), but here’s a snippet to whet the appetite:

‘One little-known element of that [class culture] gap is that the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich. Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo. Barbara Ehrenreich recalled in 1990 that her blue-collar dad “could not say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack. Lawyers were shysters…and professors were without exception phonies.” Annette Lareau found tremendous resentment against teachers, who were perceived as condescending and unhelpful.

Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals — but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk. Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money. “The main thing is to be independent and give your own orders and not have to take them from anybody else,” a machine operator told Lamont. Owning one’s own business — that’s the goal. That’s another part of Trump’s appeal.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, epitomizes the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite. The dorkiness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorables. Worse, her mere presence rubs it in that even women from her class can treat working-class men with disrespect. Look at how she condescends to Trump as unfit to hold the office of the presidency and dismisses his supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic.

Trump’s blunt talk taps into another blue-collar value: straight talk. “Directness is a working-class norm,” notes Lubrano. As one blue-collar guy told him, “If you have a problem with me, come talk to me. If you have a way you want something done, come talk to me. I don’t like people who play these two-faced games.” Straight talk is seen as requiring manly courage, not being “a total wuss and a wimp,” an electronics technician told Lamont. Of course Trump appeals. Clinton’s clunky admission that she talks one way in public and another in private? Further proof she’s a two-faced phony.

Manly dignity is a big deal for working-class men, and they’re not feeling that they have it. Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place. It’s comfort food for high-school-educated guys who could have been my father-in-law if they’d been born 30 years earlier. Today they feel like losers — or did until they met Trump.

Manly dignity is a big deal for most men. So is breadwinner status: Many still measure masculinity by the size of a paycheck. White working-class men’s wages hit the skids in the 1970s and took another body blow during the Great Recession. Look, I wish manliness worked differently. But most men, like most women, seek to fulfill the ideals they’ve grown up with. For many blue-collar men, all they’re asking for is basic human dignity (male varietal). Trump promises to deliver it’.

– Joan C. Williams, ‘What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class’

[Image: Alternavox]

3 thoughts on “On how and why ‘class trumps gender’ in America

  1. Yup, interesting and close to the truth overall. You might like to check this piece by Heather du Plessis out as well. The person who pointed it out to me calls her one of ‘chattering classes’ – his favourite denigration for those in charge (or who think they’re in charge) – but he says that du Plessis here seems to be going against her own usual views.
    http://tinyurl.com/jbrykol

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  2. Heather du Plessis-Allan has hit the replay button on what many others are also saying. It’s also worth replaying. But what continues to astound me, I think, is the widespread ambivalence towards participation in the process at all, the fact that most people voted for no-one.

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  3. I think a lot of them felt they had no one to vote for. What do you do in that case? Neither candidate was worthy of standing for the position, really. And according to my son, and somewhat to my surprise, there are groups of people who don’t feel it’s voting anyway, or just plain don’t care…

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