Poverty shaming… when sex belongs to the rich

I remember being a kid and being ashamed that my family didn’t have as much money as other families. We may not have been poor, I realize now, but at times I definitey thought we were. Both of my parents had jobs as I was growing up. My father was enlisted in the Marine Corps, and my mother took on various part-time jobs depending on what was avvailable. Only aas an adult do I recognize how amazingly adaptable and dedicated she was. From book keeping to babysitting to circuit board manufacture, she did it all without complaint, and she did it well. Back then it was something to be ashamed of. My mom _had_ to work, rather than be a stay at home mom or just volunteer at church. Even with two incomes, keeping three growing kids clothed and fed was at times strenuous for my parents. Our back to school budget was ‘only’ $100 per kid, which meant that we were shopping at target, walmart, and ross- places that were regularly made fun of even though now most of the people I know shop at those stores without social shame. At most they have a little guilt for supporting big-business practices. Christmas was a stretch for my parents. My mom always seemed worried that she couldn’t get us everything she wanted to. Inevitably we had more than enough presents under the tree each year, even if the tree was once made of paper and hung on the wall. Yet, when we went back to school and saw the electronics and name brand clothes the other kids got there was a twinge of shame.

Living on a military base the heirarchy was all too clear. My father was enlisted. I had a few friends who were officer’s kids and lived the next street over. You could immeadiately tell the difference whe you walked into an officer’s house. The furniture was better, and the bathrooms were bigger. Still, it often did not copare to luxury of the homes where families lived their entire lives, and were able to accumulate truly nice things.

I write all of this now to paint a sort of picture of the life I lived, because I feel many people can identify with it. It is not one of poverty, but of lower middle class, where things are just within your reach, but stretch you a bit too far i f you grasp them. My parents worked hard, and didn’t make too many large financial mistakes that I know of, and yet we struggled. Until a certain age that doesn’t matter, and then suddenly it does. Around sixth grade what we possessed determined who we could be friends with. If we didn’t have a discman we were out of one crowd. If we shopped at walmart there was no way the popular girls were going to hang out with us. And then, at age 11, I felt shame for my social class. Despite the fact that I had done nothing except be born. Despite the fact that my parents worked hard to support us and I should have been thankful, I felt shame. I felt like it was my fault that I could not afford designer jeans. I felt like I had done something wrong and had to be punished by wearing generic sneakers.

It is shallow and inconsequential, I know, but the creulity of kids can be permanently scarring. I don’t wonder for a second why people borrow more than they can afford just to keep up appearances. I don’t question why they eat raman noodles for a month to afford the latest iPhone. I understand those actions. What I don’t understand is how we got to be a society where being born poor was someone’s fault… one where people accept that their hard work deserves less than the hard work of someone born a class above them. I used to believe that it was only the ‘haves’ that perpetuated the myth that hard work coould ay off. I listened to a fellow Peace Corp volunteer saying that if you are poor it is your own fault for not going to college… you should work two jobs and go to night school. After all, everyone has to work hard.

It is easy to call bullshit on that. They say that these poor people should not have had so many kids if they couldn’t afford to support them, but then they deny access to birth control, sex education, and abortion because people shouldn’tave sex if they can’t accept the natural consequuences. Since when did sex become the property of the rich? Ony the stable can afford to have sex? The rest of the world should concntrate on pulling themselves out of the muck before they are alowed that releasing, loving, fulfilling act? I don’t think so. No, the ‘haves’ are too easy to argue against. It is when the ‘have nots’ begin to spin the same myth that I get confused.

How can you think you are worth less than someone else? How can you think that it is fair you can’t afford to go to college? How can you think it is fair you can’t afford healthcare, or to have babies? Then I realize that shame from middle school has so deeply penetrated people that they begin to believe it. They honestly believe that there is something wrong with them. They honestly believe that because they are born with less, it is okay for then to be treated as less. So they scramble to cover it… no one knows, but it always leaks out… and they are constantly screwed over… and they silently take it.

We live in a world where the poor are ashamed of being poor and sex belongs to the rich… and people wonder why I am not a fan of capitalism.

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