I grew up and went to high school in a racially and socioeconomically homogenous town. My family and many of the families in our neighborhood were solidly middle class. We never had to worry about paying for food, or heating, or electricity. It was also a very safe place to grow up; being a small, rural town, it had a very low crime rate. I was aware of the challenges faced by people in low socioeconomic standing, but it was never something that affected me personally.
On the other hand, I was much more aware of the dangers of being female. Although I never felt unsafe in my town, I was raised knowing to never walk alone at night (especially in Providence), to hold my keys between my knuckles in parking garages, and all the other rules that girls grow up with. I knew women who had been personally affected by domestic violence and sexual assault.
When I came to BU, I was faced with disparity in socioeconomic standing more than in Scituate, Rhode Island. Although BU’s campus is relatively sheltered, living in Boston means you can’t avoid homeless people, housing projects, and other signs of urban poverty. It still was not something that I was personally affected by, however. On the other hand, living in the city also meant that I was much more on my guard while walking alone. Street harassment and indecent assault became much more real things that I had to deal with.
Then at BU, I learned about intersectional feminism, and I started thinking more about intersecting identities–particularly race, gender, and sexuality. I knew about the grossly unfair distribution of wealth in America, but socioeconomic status was still not really on my identity radar until I took FY103: Identity, Inclusion, and Social Action. Then I started thinking about the intersection of socioeconomic status and gender. Particularly, how does the patriarchy affect lower-class women differently than women who are wealthy?
A study done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in New Jersey dedicated to pressing health issues, focused on one aspect of this intersection. Gender and socioeconomic status are both factors of internalizing symptoms, such as depression and anxiety. The study posited that the intersection of gender and lower socioeconomic status was a “double jeopardy for individuals who are female and of lower [socioeconomic standing]”. One of the key findings of the study was that “in all models, even where demographic and psychosocial factors were controlled, female youth reported more internalizing symptoms than did their male counterparts.”
The intersection of gender and socioeconomic status has other implications for health as well. Another study states that “socioeconomic factors–including education, poverty, income, income inequality, and occupation–are some of the strongest and most consistent predictors of health and mortality. Gender (in)equity, combined with socioeconomic inequality, form a powerful explanatory framework for variations in women’s health.”
The study offered suggestions such as pressuring research organizations to develop “integrated approaches to women’s health” and putting more research into how socioeconomic standing and gender equity affect women’s health. These approaches are clearly on a macro, policy scale. But what can we do on a more grassroots level?
There are initiatives in cities to support women in lower socioeconomic standing, such as women’s shelters. One of these in Boston is Rosie’s Place, the first women’s shelter in the United States, founded in 1974. Rosie’s Place offers a wide spectrum of services for poor and homeless women in Boston such as meals, emergency services, English as a second languages classes, and overnight housing opportunities to provide stability for women. There are also many volunteer opportunities for people who want to get involved.
On an even smaller scale, opening a dialogue on socioeconomic inequality and gender inequity is an important step towards reaching a solution. That’s why I took FY103, a class which facilitated discussion about tough topics. Through no fault of their own, members of society such as women in low socioeconomic status are twice as disadvantaged as people without these marginalizing identities. We need to level the playing field, so there is truly equal opportunity for success in our society.