The Liberation of Working-Class Women

I recently attended a West Coast USA working-class women’s workshop, led by Diane Balser and Dan Nickerson, with Rachel Noble assisting. [Diane Balser is the International Liberation Reference Person for Women, Dan Nickerson is the International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People, and Rachel Noble is the Regional Reference Person for Oregon, USA.]

A tremendous amount of safety was built to work on difficult aspects of female and class oppression and how they intersect. It felt connected, honest, and even fun.

Diane emphasized how traditional women’s work—reproduction, child raising, cooking, cleaning, thinking and caring about people, listening to people, building Co-Counseling—is, and has been, essential to our species. However, because of sexism it is trivialized and made invisible. She talked, and worked with women, from the perspective that our work is real and valuable—despite internalized feelings, from both sexism and classism, that we are not doing anything or that what we are doing is not real or important.

I was raised working class and upwardly mobile. My mom did traditional women’s work, and my dad was a blue-collar construction worker. I have always done traditional women’s work—waitressing, childcare, cleaning homes, teaching kindergarten—and have often felt that middle- and owning-class groups, and more male-dominated working-class groups, did not value it.

Dan led us to work systematically on his initiative to end classism. [See “A New Initiative on Ending Classism,” on pages 8 to 9 of the July 2014 Present Time.] He pushed us to deconstruct every line and word and discharge on each part. He talked about how people who work in the direct production of goods and services are in a strategic position in our society and how they are not well represented in Co-Counseling.

He counseled one woman on upward mobility and the people she’d had to leave behind. Many of us working-class people in RC have been upwardly mobile; that is part of how we ended up in Co-Counseling. For working-class women, upward mobility is often offered in the form of marriage to men with more class privilege, which establishes an additional relationship of dominance.


Diane asked me how I thought working-class women were targeted with sexual exploitation. My first response was that although all women are sexually exploited, middle- and owning-class women are seen as reserved for the men of their class, to be exploited only by them. In contrast, working-class women are seen as available to exploitation by all men.

In the current period, younger and younger women of all classes are being sexualized in their dress, and so on. Diane said that in her generation, working-class women were targeted in that way but that middle-class women were generally “protected” from it. They were still sexually exploited and objectified, but it was more hidden. We agreed that the content of sexual exploitation has not changed but that it is more visible across class lines.

The biggest difference between the generations, however, is in the exponential growth of the sex industries. In the United States, most men and women under age forty-five, in all classes, have grown up with significant exposure to pornography. Also, the distresses the sex industries install, on both those who are exploited and those who exploit, are constantly restimulated by a society that shows pornography as part of mainstream popular culture. Sexual exploitation affects everybody, and we all need many chances to discharge on our histories with it.

We also need to recognize that we working-class women, and women targeted by racism, are disproportionately exploited within the sex industries, where we are exploited not only sexually but also for profit.

We older women need to work systematically on our younger years, in part to be able to be excellent allies to younger women as they face constant sexual exploitation. It is not useful to act horrified. We can, however, be thoughtfully outraged at the sexism and exploitation they are facing. To do that, we need to have worked enough on our own experiences to not be numb or unaware.

Micaela Morse

Oakland, California, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion listfor leaders of women

(Present Time 186, January 2017)

Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00