I grew up working-class, then became middle-class doing work that involved market research. I spent my days classifying people by age, sex, income, education and so on. I enjoyed behavioural psychographics (yes, it is a thing!) and could make a decent guess at what you do on Sundays if I knew your age, qualifications, family composition, ethnicity and postcode. I even talked about “people like us” because we all understood the demographic data.
While sex was a huge part of my classifications, I’d have said it doesn’t tell you very much on its own.
I’d have said “women isn’t a class”. I was a clever idiot.
Classification’s a useful tool. It helps with selling stuff, planning healthcare and finance, campaigning for political changes, deciding what to build where; pretty much every decision can be improved with classification. And it’s the foundation of knowledge. Classes allow us to describe something and see how it fits in with everything else – think animal species, for instance, or herbs & spices in your kitchen. The point about a class is that its members all have important features in common.
So it was pretty dumb of me not to realise that all women do form a class! We have one or more X chromosomes but no Y. We have a specific hormone system, skeleton, and of course are born with the potential to gestate live young (it doesn’t matter whether we actually can or do, it’s the potential that makes us female.)
These differences account for male superiority under patriarchy: if men were smaller and weaker than women, they’d have found it much harder to call the shots. And if both sexes could have babies, it wouldn’t have been so easy for men to insist women should stay indoors while they roamed.
The fact that some women are bigger & stronger than some men doesn’t change the class analysis. They’re still female. They have much in common with other women, which they do not have in common with men.
This means that, despite all the differences between individuals in the class ‘women’, we can still look at women & men as two classes of human and draw conclusions from what we notice. Tall, strong, high-earning & powerful women don’t invalidate the class. They belong in different subsets of ‘women’ as well as the overall class. All women have the basic features, which no men do.
Class analysis means looking at what generally happens with people who share a unique set of features.
This sometimes confuses people. As a feminist, I might say “men oppress women”, then half a dozen people come along to tell me they know men who’ve never oppressed a female – otherwise known as NAMALT for not all men are like that. It completely misses the point of class analysis. It’s like saying “Australians love a barbecue”, then having to spend ages hearing about individual Australians who hate grilled food! Doesn’t alter the fact you will see a lot of barbecues when you visit!
Analysing women & men as two separate classes lets us see that women are paid 14% less than men, and nobody’s interested in our ideas about running the country.
NAMALT, obviously 🙄