Without a Net: the Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class

I ran across this book, edited by Michelle Tea, while doing a little research for a book review of Tea's new novel. Quite a few of the essays resonated with me. I grew up in a working class neighborhood, and while I had the relative luxury of having two parents who stayed married and both worked, and thus did not have to worry about a lot of things the girls in this book had to worry about (gross stepdads, dog biscuits for dinner, etc.), I was still entrenched in that world. I have always found it pretty hard to find a realistic depiction of working class life in non-fiction writing.

Instead, most of the time you just get people who wish they were working class or poor co-opting the values and aesthetic of the truly poor, which is utter bullshit. Few people would choose to be poor or even working class if they could get just a few bucks more an hour, and most people who feel like they have made that choice are doing so because it was handed down to them through generations. But there is joy in freedom from middle-class expectations as well.

This collection captures both the hunger and the joy, as well as all the corresponding drama of growing up in a working class neighborhood. It illustrates the resiliency of people's spirits, people who have been through so much and also laugh about things and hold their heads high. Most importantly, the collection manages to honestly paint the picture of the various facets of poor and working-class life without using the wide-stroke - Barbara Ehrenreich - if you're-not-me-you're-a-victim style*.

Interestingly, even though she didn't publish herself here, Tea's editorial voice is as clear and vibrant as in her memoirs and new novel. She seems to have found a way to cut through all the poser submissions I am sure she received and really get to the heart of a large pocket of American culture that is so rarely talked about with any kind of honesty or clarity.

*I have long had a few bones to pick with Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed, and Tea kind of slams it in the introduction as well, which I would love to talk to her about if I ever got the chance, since everyone else seemed to think it was such a great book.

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