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Women Without Class Essay

In her book Women Without Class: Girls, Race, and Identity Julie Bettie delves into the aspect of girls in high school. Specifically focusing on groups of Hispanic and Caucasian girls in a high school in California. She emphasizes harsh social and discursive hierarchies between different peer groups in the high school. She shows how race and gender are nothing more than a performance, not an identity. Bettie discusses the ideas of intersectionality, gender performance, and the margininalization of working-class students throughout her book.

Intersectionality was a term first coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, to describe how oppressive institutions (racism, sexism) act together and cannot be examined separately from one another. Intersectionality almost always deals with those seen as weak or less than (women, minorities). Intersectionality examines how multiple forms of discrimination compound on each other. For instance, white people are advantaged over African-American people; men are more advantaged over women. So an African-American woman is highly less advantaged than a white woman and a man of color. As can be seen in this example, being of color and being a woman compounds the discrimination factor by a great amount. There seems to be a latent form of intersectionality and an implied form that is brought on one’s self.

It seems as intersectionality can be brought on one’s self, as seen discussed on page 132 referring to the punk scene in Britain, “Punk, a sub cultural style… but it is also a style that signifies a rejection of normative conventions of femininity and masculinity… within this sign system, conventional ideals of feminine beauty are rejected and parodied”. When you think of a girl who is a participant in the punk scene, one readily identifies that it is girl and she is a punk, therefore it is difficult to separate these identities and say “oh that is just a punk, or oh that is just a girl” A person would almost always say “look at that punk girl”. The fact that the person in question is a girl, and she is a punk compounds on another, and can be, but is quite hard to examine these imposing identities from on another.

Intersectionality is almost always not by choice, a prime example of this is shown on page 139. Kate, a middle-class white girl, is basically forced to be downwardly mobile in her social life because she is a lesbian. Both identities were not chosen or brought upon her by choice and compound on each other. “Kate was one such girl… her sexual identity as a lesbian might have directed her friendship with the most marginalized poor white kids, who construe themselves as misfits of various kinds… might accept her more readily” It is hard to separate the identities from one another (girl and homosexual). One wouldn’t say ‘Kate is a homosexual girl, no Kate is just a lesbian’. These discriminating identities compound on each other to a point where she is just referred to as a derogatory term. It is hard to separate her struggles of being a girl from her struggles of being a woman.

In the book, Julie Bettie draws on Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgical Perspective. According to this concept identity is a mere performance and there is a front stage and back stage behavior. Front stage, or private, being what most people see, such a teachers, non-close friends, and strangers: Back stage, or public, being what you, your close friends, and family see. Bettie specifically focuses on race-class performance. Some of these performances are imposed while some seem to be brought upon one’s self, especially when it comes to girls. Bettie informs us about a girl named Starr, who was white, but grew up in a Mexican-American neighborhood., until she was in high school. She explains that in junior high, she acted Mexican (front stage) because all of her friends were Mexican.

On page 119, she reminisces about this, “Mexican. Well, I acted like it, and they thought I was. I wore my hair up high in the front you know. And I had an accent.” Sometimes one’s back stage behavior slips out, as she describes when she defended her white boyfriend, “They came in and called him a piece of white trash. That made me mad, and I smacked her.” Her response shows that race-class is nothing but a mere performance to conform to your surroundings. On page 120, it discusses how she transcended into her white performance in high school, “… her white performance included a rascist discourse by which she distanced herself from Mexican-Americans with derogatory statements about them.” It seems that now her front and back stage ‘race-class performace’ are one-in-the-same.

Another example of race-class performance of femininity can be seen on page 135, Bettie is discussing various forms of dissidence among Latino females (cholas) across clique structures, “Among cholas, for example, some displayed a highly sexual femininity, much like las chicas, but others’ style emulated boys’, wearing oversized men’s pants and shirts that did not accentuate breasts, waists, and hips”. It goes on to inform about how the latter clique of girls’ gender performance was not seen as a lesbian performance, and they were not subject to the homophobic ridicule that boys’ who fell out of the masculine norms were.

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