Feminism has evolved significantly in the last few decades. Gone are the milquetoastsecond-wave emphases on liberal equality. The newest approach focuses on the overlapping oppression suffered by all sorts of identity groups. As part of this shift, certain issues have been discarded, and others de-emphasized. For instance, the rather white upper-class concerns about the lack of women CEOs has, understandably, subsided: that’s not really an issue that gets at the problems of the overwhelming majority of women or people in general.
As positive as this move has been, some things have been de-emphasized which really should not have been. One glaring case is the wage gap. It’s understandable how such a thing could seem like the height of upper-class, white lady feminism because it played and still does play a big role in that feminist wing. The wage gap discussion, for whatever reason, conjures up ideas of well-paid professionals complaining about their $75,000 income. But, as with all things economic, the real pain of the wage gap is felt by the poor, and especially women of color.
An AFL-CIO and Institute for Women’s Policy Research study from 2000 detailed the impact of the wage gap better than any other study I have come across. The numbers are about 15 years old, but I imagine they are still reasonably telling. According to the report, closing the wage gap would reduce the single mother poverty rate from 25.3 percent to 12.6 percent. Closing the gap would also reduce the single women poverty rate from 6.3 to 1.0 percent.
It goes without saying that such an improvement would have many positive spillover effects on the children and communities most blighted by poverty, which are disproportionately non-white. A movement that is nominally interested in racial justice and class justice — as the avant-garde of feminism now is — should have the wage gap as one of its major emphases. However, as with most economic things, discussions of the gap seem to elicit positive lip service at best, and snide scoffing at worse. Despite its associations with the upper-class white lady feminism of yesteryear, the wage gap issue remains an important one that we should still be vigorously working on.
At this point, it seems like liberal equality for GLBTQ individuals is virtually inevitable. The long-run Gallup polling on public opinion towards gay marriage has shown a gradual — and more recently punctuated — increase in support. Support for gay marriage is up in all demographic categories, and has recently pushed above the 50 percent mark. More importantly for the inevitability thesis, younger people support gay marriage as massively higher margins than older people. In 2011, 70 percent of those aged 18-34 supported gay marriage, while only 39 percent of those over the age of 55 did. As more young people come of age and more old people die, the already majoritarian support for gay marriage will continue to grow.
The gay marriage polling mirrors similar polling about workplace discrimination, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and presumably tracks the support levels for so-called liberal reforms. Here, I use “liberal reforms” to refer to reforms which do not challenge underlying institutions or systems, but simply try to modify those institutions so as to include GLBTQ people. So for instance, instead of challenging the justness of a system that denies certain social benefits to unmarried people, the liberal reformer simply tries to ensure that GLBTQ people can get married too.
While well-funded GLBTQ institutions have almost exclusively focused on liberal equality, and that seems to be the sort of equality that has captured the popular imagination, queer groups have critiqued that emphasis. In its place, queer groups have — at least nominally — emphasized a more systematic analysis that includes the intersection of GLBTQ oppression with oppression rooted in race, class, imperialism, and so on. The argument is that including GLBTQ people in the present slate of institutions wont generate justice if those institutions are themselves unjust.