This is Part 2 of a blog series on Feminism and the Occupy movement. Read Part 1: Why Feminists Should Care About the Occupy Movement.
Occupy Wall Street, which began just 60 days ago in protest of the growing economic inequality of our country has quickly become Occupy America, as it has spread to hundreds, if not thousands, of cities, towns, and campuses across the country. While those involved in the Occupy movement must deal with the very real daily struggles of food and water, police abuse complete with arrests and evictions, and staying warm, much time is also devoted to general assemblies, committees, and working groups that seek to address the similarly very real struggles of rising poverty rates, an economic system based on greed and a corruption of power in government and on Wall Street.
As feminist activists work to affect change in their own communities, it is important that we not only take part in this growing energy in which the underlying values of society are questioned and where otherwise marginalized voices are being heard, but that we work to make sure that feminist ideals are a part of the movement.
There are very specific ways in which women are affected by economic inequality; it’s clear in the gender wage gap, in which white women make 77% of men’s wages, black women 68% and Latina women only 58%. This is central to the discussion of economic equality, not only because of what this means for women but for all workers; when one group of workers can be paid less, they drive down wages for all. We see this in the way that the exploitative cheap labor of immigrants, prisoners, and those of the third-world hurts all workers.
With the help of National Nurses United and other women’s labor groups and unions, it’s time to bring to women into our discussion of labor and economic justice. We have to start talking about the cultural and financial undervaluing of “women’s work,” “pink collar” jobs, and many women must take on “second” and “third” shifts as well as unpaid shifts as caretakers of the family. Women make up 65% of public sector jobs, which are being cut, or threatened to be cut further. Women are far more likely to be single parents, supporting families on a single income, and are particularly affected by cuts to family assistance programs, not to mention the threatened federal cuts to Title X and Medicaid, and deep state cuts to family planning which will render much-needed health services inaccessible for low-income women.
Women are also disproportionately affected by the financial issues that led to the current state of the U.S. economy. Subprime mortgage lenders target women and people of color – women are 32% more likely to receive subprime loans than men, and are therefore disproportionately at risk of foreclosure, a disparity even higher for women of color. Although lending practices have improved over the last four decades, people often ignore the fact that gender and race discrimination is still prevalent among lenders.
College debt is a growing burden and frustration for students and is central to why so many young people have become part of the Occupy movement. The average college grad leaves school with just over $24,000 in debt. This debt-for-diploma system is what counts as the American dream, and students are finding it harder and harder to accept the lack of opportunities post-grad. But it’s not only a student issue; women tend to have more student debt than men. And because of the wage gap, it often takes longer for women to pay off the debt than men. Women also have more difficulty paying off credit card debt and frequently are stuck with exorbitant interest rates as high as 30%.
It is imperative that we understand economic inequality and the state of the economy today as a feminist issue, because it absolutely is. The struggles of low-income women are too often invisible in our society, and at times ignored by economic and feminist activists. We have to recognize, educate, and create a space for low-income women’s voices and stories to be heard. It is our role as feminists and occupiers to make sure that they are a central part of the fight.
**Check back tomorrow for Part 3 of the Feminism & Occupy blog series
Slider Image from Flickr user JoeInSouthernCA under Creative Commons 2.0
Post Image from OccupyTogether.org