Working-class women resent stereotyping

February 6, 1998

Gender research reveals surprising attitudes to women a work

Working-class women are being profoundly affected by the stream of negative images of themselves in the media, according to new research findings.

Sociologist Beverly Skeggs says her study, involving 12 years of intensive research with 83 working-class women, challenges some of the fundamental assumptions of feminist theory.

"The majority of the women strongly resisted being identified as working-class because for them, the working-class woman has no value," said Dr Skeggs, senior lecturer at Lancaster University's Institute for Women's Studies which opened last week.

The reason for this outlook, she discovered, was that working-class women were stereotyped by the media as "slags", single mothers or no-hopers. Such negative images were then often adopted by the real world. The Conservative Party's stigmatising of single mothers and the Labour government's mission to get mothers into the labour force was part of the same stereotyping, she added. The women surveyed resented this bitterly.

The group objected overwhelmingly to being identified as working class and channelled enormous energy into earning respectability. Dr Skeggs found them frequently apologetic about their possessions.

"The women know that their everyday practices may not gain social approval. They have a very strong sense of how they are positioned in society by others."

They had a strong desire to distance themselves from femininity. "Working-class men often have a kind of heroic air, but for working-class women, femininity is strongly associated with stupidity," Dr Skeggs said.

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