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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Social Class

Have you, folks, noticed that it’s easier for women to bring their husbands into their social class than vice versa? Over the years, I’ve seen a bunch of marriages between people of different social classes, and almost always, if the wife’s social class is higher than the husband’s, she brings him into it eventually. While if the husband’s social class is higher, the difference is never bridged, even if they live together for 50 years. 

For instance, I know this woman who is a professor of gender studies and who married a janitor with a loud booming voice, endlesss sexist jokes, love of something called monster truck racing, and a wardrobe that the Brits would call chav. I haven’t seen them for a while and then I did and wow, what a transformation. He now has 2 degrees, works an office job, speaks quietly, despises Trump and offers me prawns in white wine that he made because it’s one of his favorite recipes. The same face as 15 years ago but an entirely different person.  

But whenever it’s the other way round, a male professor or doctor, etc who married a working class woman, no matter how many years pass, she’ll still belong to her social class. It’s more likely that the professor or doctor will be drawn into her sphere, at least to a degree.  

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39 thoughts on “Social Class

  1. There was something like this in an Agatha Christie novel “Pocket full of rye” if I recall correctly.

    The discussion was about marriages where one partner has a lot of money and the other doesn’t. As elaborated by Miss Marple (paraphrasing): If the woman has her own money then the husband respects that and respects her and tries to live up to it. If the husband has all the money then he doesn’t respect the wife and often comes to regret the marriage.

    There are also (maybe) differences in sexual selection by sex. The idea is that women are generally more likely to notice (and be attracted to) a diamond in the rough (who then sees her class as something to live up to) than men who are more likely to be blinded by looks and not realize there’s not much underneath until it’s too late. Unable to pull her up he lowers himself down to her level (if the relationship survives).

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  2. Another possible explanation is that for some reason men (in the societies you’re familiar with) are more flexible in terms of class orientation and are open to change while women are less flexible and are stuck in the class they’re in by the time they’re of marriageable age.

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    • My explanation is that since women make the family and men join, women perpetuate their class and men don’t. Women organize the shared space and bring their habits, etc. Even in the families of gender studies scholars. 🙂

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  3. Jonathan Mayhew on said:

    Women want to change their men, like the pygmalion plot in reverse. This is a very interesting observation you’ve made. Maybe men don’t marry in order to change the woman? Or they don’t care if the woman is not “high class” ? If he has money he might not even notice some of the class markers.

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    • Stringer Bell on said:

      Maybe women are more likely to feel embarrassment or shame at their partner’s social class., so they work towards making them ‘better’.

      Interesting observation, nevertheless. I have seen many examples of men marrying down (and it is exactly like you describe), but not the other way around. Your example of a woman professor marrying a janitor seems very rare to me. I haven’t seen anything like it, or even close to it.

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      • I know quite a few such couples, actually. A close friend of mine, a professor, married a bartender. It was a long time ago, and he’s no longer a bartender. He joined her life, and not vice versa. Another former colleague married a construction worker. And it’s the same story.

        We are in the Humanities, so we don’t despise working people. Hey, my own most serious relationship between my two marriages was with a construction worker and it ended only because he felt self-conscious about “not being good enough.” There was no problem on my side.

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  4. “love of something called monster truck racing”

    Does he still love the monster trucks? Because they are, all things considered, pretty awesome.

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  5. Shakti on said:

    Most women are conditioned to take greater responsibility for other people’s socialization processes than men. Think of how many women make jokes about husband training and how many women end up refitting their husband’s entire wardrobe.

    I also think maybe there’s more hidden rules for women in each class than men so even a man of higher social class will not know the subtleties of being a woman in his same class.

    Also women do the grunt work of socializing, smoothing things over for the men & children in their lives. I once explained to an upper middle class lawyer who married someone of a higher social class (her parents got invited to Will & Kate’s wedding) why his wife bought trinkets and gifts for people in the office & made him sign the cards when their honeymoon in Hawaii went over by a week. He had no idea.

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    • Exactly, that’s exactly it. My parents, for instance. My father is a great father, he wants nothing but family, children. But he doesn’t make the family, he doesn’t know how to. Whenever my mother left to visit relatives, for instance, the feeling of family would leave with her. Who keeps the family albums, organizes family occasions, plans outings, signs cards, etc? Men are not socialized in that direction. In the best of cases, they do it if you tell them to and explain many times and at length why it’s important.

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  6. Stringer Bell on said:

    Also, I think your observations would hold true among couples that are more likely to believe in traditional gender roles, patriarchy.

    A woman who married up to become a rich housewife might not see any reason to change because she might believe her value lies in how she looks rather than what she thinks. So, why read books?

    A man who married up might feel threatened that his wife is more successful, which is against the order of nature, so he sets upon a path of self-improvement to be more competitive with his wife.

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    • That makes a lot of sense.

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    • Shakti on said:

      Male ego plays a huge part in this.

      With some men who marry down, they like the disparity in social class because it gives them a power advantage over their partner. It’s the same with men who are terrified of being with women their own age.

      With women who marry down, they work to move their husbands into the social class because massaging the ego of an insecure guy in a class below you is exhausting. This also explains why women marry down less (maybe) then men.

      I once dated a guy who was threatened by the idea I was taking a graduate school test. I hadn’t even applied to schools yet and he was already freaking out over the idea I might earn more than him someday. This guy graduated from college and was already applying to grad school anyways so I have no idea what his problem was.

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      • And this is how my first marriage fell apart. He was from a higher social class back in the USSR but they came down a lot after that. He was constantly competing with me and I can’t stand that.

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  7. The Dark Avenger on said:

    I believe the term describing the phenomenon is
    hypergamy.

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  8. I think a lot of white collar guys marry down so they will not have to compete with their wives. I find professional men exhausting, most of them, because they are competitive and nervous, one cannot relax. Men in trades don’t have such fragile egos and are more fun for this reason.

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    • Exactly the same experience here. I was so bored by the eternal competition until I met N that I never dated anybody longer than 3 months. The only boyfriends I had who had a chance of not being like that were working class.

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    • Shakti on said:

      Hilariously, I get a lot of “I want someone easygoing” or “I’m easy going and laidback.” No they aren’t. I think a lot of people lie to themselves about how nervous they are and what they want in a partner. They want the “laid back” but they also want the partner who earns just as much or almost as much as they do. The traits needed for that kind of money making are incompatible with their ideas of “easy going” and “adaptable.” They are also incompatible with some wife playing the ladies’ auxiliary to their idea of their upwardly mobile life.

      It’s like watching a bunch of chihuahuas pretend to be great danes. Just admit you’re neurotic and high strung!

      Liked by 1 person

    • This describes the vast majority of my romantic relationships. Sooner or later the guy will start to put me down because he has to win and always be better than me at everything. When it turns out he cant, things get ugly, and I am reminded of my many failings (not hot enough, too temperamental, etc.)

      I guess I should have dated blue collar guys more. I’m down for beer and football any time anyway.

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      • And my colleagues act like that, too. I have just realized that very many of my problems have to do with this. I think I should break up with them, as in, stop trying to be a colleague, since they can only treat me like a freaky girlfriend.

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        • Finding people (friends, romantic partners, colleagues) who will be genuinely proud of you/amazed by you for your abilities and genuinely happy for your successes is one of the most difficult social endeavors.

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          • “Finding people (friends, romantic partners, colleagues) who will be genuinely proud of you/amazed by you for your abilities and genuinely happy for your successes is one of the most difficult social endeavors.”

            • They have got to be complete in themselves and not trying to take a bite out of others to supplement the permanent lack within. The very competitive folks try to eat you to feed the hunger that predates your existence in their lives and that can’t be satisfied by you in any way.

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      • They don’t even have to be downright blue collar. Even men with B.A.s can be normal (although not all — and there is something about having finished the B.A. that corrupts some of them, “some college” seems to be all right, usually).

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        • It’s neoliberalism. If you think you have a chance to succeed in the eternal neoliberal competition, you begin to compete with everybody to make sure you don’t miss your chance. If you see yourself as being outside of the competition by default because neoliberalism has little use for you, you won’t be so desperate to compete because what’s the use.

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          • DWeird on said:

            Heh. This comment chain is just a little bit hilarious, no?

            If men have a preference for lower-status women, it has to do with a reason internal to men’s psyches – specifically, status anxiety.

            If women have a preference for lower-status men, it has to do with a reason external to women’s psyches – specifically, men’s status anxiety.

            I’m obviously unfamiliar with the actual problem men in question, so I can’t speak to the reality of the situation. Seems a bit structurally suspect, in a grin-inducing way.

            (Aside: Having status anxiety is a status-lowering, right? Why is that?)

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            • People get together because they fall in love. But the dynamics within the relationship seem to be different based on which of the participants is from which social class.

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              • DWeird on said:

                Sure, that’s implied in your initial post. As someone who had to undergo quite a few sessions of forced preening, I find it a little hard to believe that the reason behind the differences in outcomes in long-term relationships is solely a male’s neurotically patriarchal outlook, though.

                In my experience, women are more likely to treat failures of their mate as reflecting on them personally; or, as a converse on that, there’s more pressure on being able to parade around a “catch”, mostly for the benefit of the woman’s standing in her circles.

                I’m well read, soft-spoken and witty, but I’ve the grace of a dyslexic monkey in social situations. Reading that, essentially, I was prodded into entering more of those for the benefit of my frustrated self-esteem rather than my partner’s seems rather off-point to me.

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              • “As someone who had to undergo quite a few sessions of forced preening, I find it a little hard to believe that the reason behind the differences in outcomes in long-term relationships is solely a male’s neurotically patriarchal outlook, though.”

                • It’s not an outlook, it’s socialization. I have never in my life seen a situation where a heterosexual man was the source of the family-building practices in his family. Never, not once. I’ll die a happy person if I ever see such a prodigy. 🙂 The best a woman can hope for at this point in history is a man who takes direction well and doesn’t disturb these practices too actively when she performs them.

                Once again, if there are people who have seen such an unusual man, I’d love to hear from them. I want to believe it’s possible somewhere, somehow, at least as a huge exception. But I’ve seen nothing even remotely like it.

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              • DWeird on said:

                Could you talk more about family building? I’m not really clear on the concept. Specifically, my gut reading of it is that is has to do with creating social situations with family members outside the immediate partnership. What’s the relationship between that and changing a partner’s social class?

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              • It’s not necessarily about social situations, although that’s part of it. It’s all of the things that distinguish a family from cohabitation. Keeping family albums, planning family occasions, keeping up family traditions, mapping out the parenting strategies well into the future, etc. And it’s also social situations. I’m already planning for Klara’s first trick or treating experience in 1,5 months. And I’m asking advice on how to celebrate her 2nd birthday in February. And I’m working to ensure she has a wide enough circle of friends. And I’m worrying that she hasn’t seen her friend Chloe for a week and misses her. And I’m searching catalogues for fun toddler activities. The list goes on for miles.

                N would do all this if I ask him to and explain at length why it’s needed. But it would never ever occur to him to do it if I don’t suggest it. He”s a fantastic father, the best. This isn’t about that. He simply doesn’t think in this direction.

                Now, how do you establish belonging to a social class through this? One example. Let’s say there’s a tragedy in the family, a loss. Who’s going to come up with a grief ritual the family will enact on the anniversary of the loss? The woman, of course. She will draw upon the strategies she inherited from her own family and her own class to do this. Grieving strategies are very class based. Do you drink and smoke yourself into oblivion? Do you go to a grief counseling group? Do you yell and bang on the wall? Do you throw a “happy memories” party? Do you camp out at the Cemetery for a picnic? Do you listen to Beethoven while staring sadly into the dying embers of the fireplace? Etc, etc.

                I’m using the example of grief because this is when the most unthinking, automatic, ingrained reactions come out and they are deeply rooted in social class.

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              • DWeird on said:

                Okay, with you on what family building means. I’m not sure if I still disagree on how that alters the social class of another person, or if grief is just not the best example. If it’s unthinking and automatic, then how does a woman override whatever reactions a man has? It’s not like men don’t do grief rituals without women to guide them.

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              • A personal, individual ritual is different from the one you institute for the family as a group.

                Or take entertainment. Whoever is in charge of deciding how the family has fun together sets the tone for these fun occasions. For instance, the way we celebrate New year’s (our biggest celebration of the year) is completely organized and directed by me. I tried many times to elicit from N what he’s used to from his childhood. But he doesn’t understand the question. So in the end we just do it the way I’m used to.

                Even our beds look the way my mother’s beds looked back in her Ukrainian village childhood. Good, honest peasant beds they are. 🙂 I tried to find out what the beds looked like in N’s childhood but once again, he has no idea and just accepts the way I do it.

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  9. This describes the vast majority of my romantic relationships. Sooner or later the guy will start to put me down because he has to win and always be better than me at everything. When it turns out he cant, things get ugly, and I am reminded of my many failings (not hot enough, too temperamental, etc.)

    I guess I should have dated blue collar guys more. I’m down for beer and football any time anyway.

    Like

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