Social Class

Expectations of a working class, second generation Irish female

‘Intersectionality’ is an interesting concept, and one that I explored many times during my ten years as a sociology teacher. Taking part in Same But Different has provided me the opportunity to reflect about my own intersectionality…

Throughout the different stages of my life so far, aspects of my identity have been more important than others. Growing up in an Irish working class family in the 1980s, there were clear intersections between my social class identity and my gender identity.

I was encouraged to engage in gender role specific play, preparing me for the evitable future role as mother and care-giver. I remember actively resisting gendered behavioural expectations by behaving more ‘tomboy’ like and chasing the boys during games of ‘kiss chase’ rather than wait for them to chase me. I had ‘spirit’ which was perceived by others as a masculine quality, not a feminine one.

As a teenager I was encouraged to pursue gender and class specific career options and so I became a hairdresser, but I always knew I wanted more, I just didn’t know what the ‘more’ would look like.

Fast forwarding to 2017, the ‘more’ turned out to be a rejection of all the earlier gender and class expectations. I became the first person in my family to go to university and secure an undergraduate degree, and the first to obtain a Masters degree.

My profession as a sociology teacher and my current pursuit of completing a PhD have now become the key factors in my identity. I am mindful of the journey I have had, yet I’m optimistic that I will continue to shape my own identity, and will not be restricted by expectations of what a working class, second generation Irish, female identity should look like.

Tags: Social Class,Irish,Gender Roles

On paper, I'm not destined to succeed...

I have been feeling really proud of myself lately.

In the last three months, I started working at a progressive and well-known organisation, in a team that actively encourages and curates education-related innovation. I have firmly established myself in a middle-management role which allows me to keep one foot on the ground, as well as providing informed guidance to my seniors.

I also freelance as a researcher and art practitioner, conducting community arts projects with children and young people. And to top it all off, I am combining my passion for youth work, art and research into a doctorate degree at the University of Birmingham. Not bad for a twenty eight year old working class Pakistani Muslim woman.

Yet to say that I have got this far through a labour of love is, in my opinion, an understatement. I have experienced my fair share of knock-backs and let-downs.

I’m a bit of an anomaly. On paper, I am not destined to succeed. I was born into a ‘blended’ family, with a half-sister on my dad’s side, and children from non-conventional homes are more likely to have poorer life outcomes. I am Pakistani, a social group that are three times more likely to live in poverty than our British counterparts. I am a woman, and there is still a 13.9% gender pay gap amongst full time employees. I received free school dinners and my mum claimed school uniform allowance, both of which are strong measures of deprivation. And furthermore, I grew up primarily in the London Boroughs of Newham and Redbridge; Newham in particular has the highest child poverty rates across London.

It could be said that these factors contributed to my future life experiences in work and education… Despite having worked for my dad since the age of eleven, I managed to get fired on my first day of work experience, for not being ‘work-ready’. And even though I received the highest grade of the year in my Masters dissertation, I was rejected for six funded PhD places, until I decided to self-fund my research.

Sometimes, I can’t help but feel that if I were white and middle class, my teenage cockiness would have been seen as endearing, not threatening, by my work placement colleagues. Similarly, I often feel that if I had better personal academic contacts, and a research idea that wasn’t so socially conscious, then perhaps I would have received a financial break.

Living in a society that privileges white, male and middle-class inhabitants, when it is so full of intersections, can be inherently frustrating. My background as a working class Pakistani Muslim woman fills me with a diverse range of experiences and interpretations which are so beneficial to the wider workplace.

I recently had the opportunity to look after a young, black, female student, who had aspirations of making a career in STEM. I told her that she would succeed because her background and identity would be different to a lot of the people within that industry. She replied “I know, I’ll get to where I want to be”. This is exactly the kind of unwavering confidence that we should aim to foster in the future generations of BAME, working class females. We need to make them feel proud of being simultaneously the same but different!

Tags: Ethnicity,Religion,Social Class