You wont get very far as a poor woman without believing you are equal to men and if someone embodies this thought, it is Dolly Parton, writes Sarah Smarsh
In late 2014, Billboard magazine asked Dolly Parton about feminism.
Are you familiar with Sheryl Sandbergs book Lean In? the interviewer inquired.
What is it? Parton asked.
Lean In it is a book, the interviewer explained. Have you ever leaned in?
Ive leaned over, Parton said, cracking herself up with a possible innuendo. Ive leaned forward. I dont know what leaned in is.
That a female trailblazer in music, business and popular culture wasnt up on the feminist conversation du jour reveals where Parton came from: a place where a womans strength and independence is more about walk than talk.
In the womens movement, that talk the articulation, study and theories of advancement toward gender parity has been crucial to social progress. Of equal import and less acclaim, though, is what working-class women such as Parton do for the cause.
Their worlds often resist the container of politicized terminology that is often the exclusive province of college-educated people. But working-class women have seen the most devastating outcomes of gender inequality. Impoverished mothers with hungry children, abused wives too poor and rural to access the legal system, work that is not only undervalued and underpaid but makes their fingers bleed.
For these women, the fight to merely survive is a declaration of equality that could be called feminist. But heres the thing: in my experience, right or wrong, they dont give a shit what you call it.
Earlier this year, the Womens March and related strike on International Womens Day again exposed the old class chasm that tends to run through any political movement. With the Oval Office newly occupied by a man casually referring to sexually assaulting a woman, todays crucial political resistance owes much to the hard work and fury of civically engaged women.
Just who is able to participate in such activism has a lot to do with economic agency, though. You can bet that most photos of marchers wearing pink pussy hats document middle- or upper-class women able to take time away from work, obtain transportation to a protest site or afford a babysitter.