Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

The Modern College Woman: Let’s Talk About Social Class

This is the introduction to a series on social class.

Let’s talk about social class.

We all have that first moment of awareness: an initial sense of our predetermined place in the tiers of society. Someday, something happens and suddenly the awareness hits you. More correctly, somebody hits you by putting you in your social “box.” Your mom tells you not to date up. Your dad tells you not to date down. Your roommate says your clothes are LMC. You can’t afford the crew team. Your teammates expect you to pay for everyone. You have the longest name in your second grade class. Your Coach bag is from China town, your Sperry’s are retail, your friends joke about your trust fund, your money is too new, your watch is too bourgeois… need I say more?

However, nobody wants to hear you complain about how hard your life is; with all that money you should be all set. And nobody wants to hear about how you can’t afford tuition; they’ll just tell you that you have a chip on your shoulder. So you take that moment of awareness and you stow it somewhere, and you don’t talk about it, until now…

I was fifteen years old and riding in the back of a ten passenger van on a field trip from summer camp. To the left was a commercial strip and the girl in front of me commented to everyone within earshot (the whole van): “Applebee’s…white trash.”

I was totally shocked by the comment, it was as if she had turned around in her seat and slapped me across the face. What was wrong with Applebee’s? What was wrong with me because I thought that Applebee’s was a decent place to eat? And, more importantly, what was wrong with her that she thought that she could make a joke involving such an economically/racially charged term and it would be funny to everybody.

“That’s like seriously offensive,” I rebutted with all of my teenage eloquence, dooming the jovial mood in the car. “I’m like seriously offended.” Of course she apologized but the damage was done. That was my moment.

When my dad was younger he spent the summer clearing chicken poop out of the crawl space of my Uncle John’s barn. His reward? A Burger King Whopper– a genuine treat for him in those days. My dad used to recount this story around the table at Thanksgiving, and we would all take turns saying in mock-earnestness “Really Johnny? A real Whopper?!”  Laughter inevitably ensued.

Applebee’s…white trash. It’s like the refrain to a song that nobody wants to admit they know the words to.

According to Arianna Huffington in her recent book Third World America, “The chasm between America’s classes has reached Grand Canyon-esque proportions.” We can laugh about where we come from, whether rich or poor, but there is a fine line between joking about class differences and belittling real issues. According to “Brolex,” a commenter on totalfratmove.com, “It costs more to raise one of my retrievers than it does to raise a middle class American.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s a joke. Maybe after a long day waitressing Applebee’s a modern college woman is going to come home and laugh at that… because it’s easier than crying.

In some ways I envy myself at fifteen. Yes, I had a hot temper – a quality that I have done my best to outgrow; however, I sometimes worry that I have outgrown the ability to speak up about class issues. Maybe I’m morphing into this woman who smiles gamely at jokes that aren’t funny to appease men that aren’t cute. Lame.

That’s why in the ensuing weeks this column will focus on women and social class. How do our perceptions and misperceptions of our place in society affect our self-esteem, our dreams, even our femininity? To some, talking about class is taboo, but in the words of Henry Miller, “Whenever a taboo is broken, something good happens, something vitalizing.” So whether you agree with Brolex, you wear a fake Rolex, or Meg Whitman is in your Rolodex it’s time to get real.

Similar Reads👯‍♀️