The post-2008 imposition of austerity has shown that socioeconomic background remains a stubborn and strengthening line of division, despite the disappearance of class - and working-class in particular - as a positive identity in political and media discourse.
The "crisis of working-class representation" in sites of decision-making power has been accompanied by a rise in negative or mocking stereotypes of working-class identity, notably the figure of the "chav."
A neglected, and especially pernicious, aspect of the "chav" phenomenon is its use in promoting policies on welfare, employment and reproductive rights which impact negatively on female financial independence, sexual autonomy and social agency.
Feminist commentators have been slow to connect the impact on women of current government policy with this concomitant onslaught of stereotyping, due partly to an unwillingness within mainstream liberal feminism to integrate a class dimension into its analysis.
This has coincided with the susceptibility of politicians, journalists and academics on the left and right to promote solutions rooted in reactionary or exclusionary ideals, leaving working-class women in an ideological blind spot.
While across Britain there are people who consider themselves working-class, despite the erosion of that identity in media and political discourse, so conversely there are working-class women who live and think according to feminist principles but would think sceptically of calling themselves feminists.
High-profile debates on feminism have illustrated the extent to which the movement in Britain is believed to be dominated by women of a relatively privileged, academic and theoretical background while the practical concerns of working-class women are excluded.
This argument must be qualified - not only do several university-educated feminists come from working-class backgrounds but working-class feminists form part of the long line of working-class autodidacts whose attraction to ideologies of emancipation partly results from the desire to articulate and analyse their own experiences, and of course socialist feminism and much of the revolutionary left engage positively with feminism as an expression of class struggle.
Valuable work has been done to analyse the impact on women of the post-2008 economic crisis and the subsequent imposition of austerity, from the job losses and spread of precarious employment in sectors in which women are disproportionately represented, to cuts in childcare services and women's refuges.
But as with many types of activism, a higher socioeconomic status undoubtedly increases the capacity of women to "do" feminism, whether this stems from their increased likelihood of a university background or from their ability to afford help with living costs, childcare and housework and hence to allocate more resources to activism, volunteering, conference-going, analysing current affairs and even producing blog content.
If the largely middle-class background of feminism's mainstream proponents influence what "the movement" presents as priorities, so does a mainstream media attuned to the sensationalist and the shallowly sexy.
Pop-cultural presentations can and do misrepresent feminism as much as class and the mainstream emphasis on a variety of feminism preoccupied either with abstract theory or remote "lifestyle" concerns does little to engage with the material inequality increasingly experienced by a majority of women or to draw meaningfully on the traditions of working-class feminism.
Acknowledging that the discourse around "chavs" can be disingenuous and can provide a cover for denigrating the social and sexual independence of working-class women - as well as for wider political attacks on the unemployed and working poor - would further challenge the perception of mainstream feminism as the current and potential territory of only a relatively privileged academic elite.
Recognition and confronting of the "chav" stereotype as a method of class demonisation, while both welcome and long overdue, has not only paid insufficient attention to its anti-female aspects but also sought unhelpfully to redress the idea of "chav" by proposing equally inadequate and exclusionary models of working-class identity.
"Chav" critiques in the conservative and liberal media have advanced other, supposedly more positive, working-class identities which draw heavily on the figure of the noble and oppressed worker, invariably white and male, while others have centred on the idea of defending "the white working class" as a neglected ethnic group on whom "chav" is a slur.
This, with obvious dubiousness, posits the "authentic" working class as white and masculine. While there is plainly a need for the left to engage with working-class disenfranchisement and resentment, rather than abandoning the field to right-wing analyses this kind of white and masculinist particularism not only risks intensifying antipathies among the working class based on race, sexuality or gender but also undermines the idea of the working class as a category based on a commonality of material interest between otherwise diverse groups.
Such exclusionary constructions of working-class identity ignore the historical involvement of women in constitutional and extraparliamentary movements for social, economic and labour reform.
They ignore too the question of women's suffrage which was presented to Parliament in 1832 as part of the general struggle for reform and extension of the franchise to non-property-holding and working men and the solidarity provided during the 1984-5 miners' strike by both the LGBT community and the organised support of miners' wives.
Also absent is a recognition that the deindustrialisation, structural unemployment and loss of skilled work which has destroyed a former source of masculine status and self-respect has also weakened what could be a source of empowerment and consciousness-raising for women, with the factory as a potential hub of female working-class solidarity.
The recuperating of these traditions and models of male and female empowerment is plainly inconceivable while we are in the grip of mass unemployment, recession and austerity. Strategies for remedying this situation will require the left to take the initiative in integrating and consolidating critiques of neoliberalism based on race and gender as well as class, in order to realise the political agency of a currently ostracised, ridiculed and demonised demographic.
As part of this, refusal and challenging of the "chav" stereotype should be done in terms which recognise the varied and complex nature of working-class identities for both men and women.
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