Linkon: Can Working-Class Women Have It All?

I wanted to share this recent piece by Sherry Linkon, co-director of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University (see my previous post, “Visiting Youngstown“), entitled “Can Working-Class Women Have It All?” and inspired by the now rather legendary Atlantic piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” When I read Slaughter’s piece a couple of months ago, I was forced to think seriously about my own future and the limitations and challenges I would face as a professional woman if and when I choose to start a family. Slaughter’s piece spoke directly to me, because I am part of the cohort of the highly educated (soon to be) career professionals that her case relates to. Yet as Slaughter herself points out, and as Linkon eloquently expounds in her article, class privilege shapes the nature of this discussion. Linkon writes: “Gender is classed. That’s old news in Working-Class Studies, but it’s a lesson all those pundits talking about women have yet to understand.”

When talking with people in Ohio, including women, I often think of – and am in fact partially motivated by – the distance between public thinkers in Washington, DC, (and their ‘creative class’ brethren in other urban centers), and the reality being lived by average Americans in the rest of the country. I think of Lisa from Grafton, Ohio. Lisa is a nurse and is raising three children on her own, having been divorced from her husband many years ago. Lisa isn’t asking herself if she can get them to soccer practice and then to piano lessons on time, all while ensuring she is personally and professionally satisfied. She loves her kids as much as a woman from any class, but that love is in her concern with avoiding emergencies to stay afloat. As she said to me: “all my kids have always worked since they’ve been young. I taught them how to do that. I live on a budget. And then when emergencies come up, they’re not really emergencies. If the car breaks down, if you’ve got the money there, it’s not really an emergency. If you don’t, it is.” For Lisa, merely asking herself the question “can I have it all?” would be a privilege.