Implementing Antiessentialism: How Gender Wars Turn into Race and Class Conflict

Posted: 16 Mar 2001


In "Implementing Antiessentialism: How Gender Wars Turn Into Race and Class Conflict," Williams asserts that gender, race, and class wars will continue to impede feminists from deconstructing the masculine norms that they all oppose unless women begin to understand and respect the different views of feminism.

As an example, Williams tells us that the ideal worker is defined as an individual who does not take time off for caregiving, works full-time, and is available to work overtime. While some women fit this model of an ideal worker, others do not. As a result, women who identify primarily as workers clash with those who identify primarily as caregivers.

These "gender wars" stem from the different views that women take regarding work and family and quickly take on elements of race and class conflict. Williams explains that African American women have a tradition of combining employment with raising a family. A heritage of racial anger stems from a period when white women downloaded domestic work onto women of color leaving them with often undervalued work, low-wages, and long hours. A key element of racial hierarchy resulted -- the exclusion of African American women from the ideals of motherhood, domesticity, and masculinity. Hence, conventional gender performance -- including the housewife role -- hold considerable allure for many African American women.

Williams also explores how gender wars take on elements of class conflict. Many working-class women see family as a refuge from the "hidden injuries of class" and feel alienated by the priviledged class viewpoint that domesticity devalues women. To the extent that working-class women are alienated from the pink-collar jobs they typically hold, they also may be put off from the image, which predominates in many feminist texts, of market work as the key to personal fulfillment.

Williams asserts that recognizing these differences and implementing antiessentialism - moving away from the feminist agenda shaped around the "essential" woman - is necessary to minimize gender wars and race and class conflict.

Suggested Citation

Chalmers Williams, Joan, Implementing Antiessentialism: How Gender Wars Turn into Race and Class Conflict. Harvard BlackLetter Journal, Vol. 15, Spring 1999. Available at SSRN:

Joan Chalmers Williams (Contact Author)

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