White Catholic Working-Class Women

Beth Edmonds,1 Dvora Slavin,2 and I led 7:00 a.m. topic groups for Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic women respectively. It was important for us to meet and discharge on how these additional oppressions shape our experiences as white working-class women. Unresolved internalized oppression pulls us, and every oppressed group, to act out oppressor recordings.3 

I worked with the Catholic women on harshness, defensiveness, and pulls to sacrifice themselves (selflessness). When these patterns are left unchallenged, they flip easily and compulsively into white racism.

Harshness and kindness

As working-class Catholic women, our early lives were often riddled with economic, physical, and emotional harshness. We had few opportunities to discharge. Early and unresolved harshness, in combination with the trivialization and brutality of working-class women’s oppression, made us tough. We handle hard things. We can also turn on others when restimulated. We are pulled to reenact harshness, and we expect others to handle it despite its inhumanity. Our toughness leaves us disconnected.

Our religion was co-opted to serve the status quo and ruling-class interests and is a culture of obedience, control, and guilt—another layer of harshness. We are harsh toward ourselves, toward other white people, and toward any oppressed group. Unchallenged internalized harshness fuels our racism. In the absence of discharge, we are vulnerable to acting it out. We erupt in anger. We “blowtorch” others.

The contradiction to this is to act with kindness. We can discharge and reclaim compassion for ourselves, for others in our group, for the global majority, and for all people. (I did a demonstration on reaching for kindness.)

Defensiveness and dominance

We need to give up acting defensive, dogmatic, and dominant. Hurts from our oppression as females, working-class people, and Catholics, in which we were dominated (by men, the middle or owning class, or a rigid and authoritarian religion) will pull us to want to be right, to be know-it-alls, to want to have the exclusive right answer.

As white working-class Catholic females, we often feel victimized when others take dogmatic positions. However, we, too, must give up being rigidly “right” and controlling. (I did a demonstration on exposing and challenging defensiveness.)

We have come to understand that males will not be as clear about sexism and male domination as we are. They will need to follow us before it makes complete sense to them to do so, and until they “get”4 the impact of male domination on their lives.

Similarly, we white (Catholic) women will not fully understand the devastating impact of racism until we follow global-majority women. We will have to give up our attachment to control and dominance. We will have to follow first, and fully, before we feel comfortable doing so.

Fighting for Ourselves

Working-class Catholic females are expected to nurture and care for others and eradicate ourselves and our needs. “Selflessness” literally means to have no self. We need to honestly face where we are unable to care for and fight for ourselves. None of us can do this yet with clarity and consistency. We need to recover our full sense of self-worth.

Doing the above will give us the slack we need to stand with global-majority women—women who face sexism and male domination amplified by racism and class oppression.

Joanne Bray

International Liberation Reference Person for Catholics

Greenwich, Connecticut, USA

(Present Time 171, April 2013)


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Last modified: 2017-05-31 15:35:13-07