I think my boyfriend is being kind of classist. What do I do?

AN ANGEL:

My boyfriend and I recently had a disagreement. I was being told by a friend I should make an onlyfans and I was saying no, I don’t personally think sex work is for me. The person ended up trying to talk me into it for far longer than I expected and it slightly annoyed me. I vented to my boyfriend and he supported me. He even went as far to say my friend constantly trying to talk me into sex work was not looking to help me find “sexual liberation” but rather sexually harassing me. I didn’t completely agree with that, but anyway… my boyfriend then added, “You wouldn’t want to be a sex worker anyways.” And I said I didn’t actually think anything ill of sex work and consider it a job, I just don’t want to do that job. He disagreed. We bickered and I accused him eventually of being classist. As he was literally acting classist as the argument progressed. He made comments like saying things people do hold value to their lives and etc. He also insisted being a classist isn’t actually bad “if you think about it”. I was a little confused. I’ve always considered being a classist, actually very bad. But I let that fight go. 

Since the pandemic I’ve been doing anything I can for work, childcare, cleaning houses, making crafts and things to sell, as I’ve been unemployed (unfortunately) due to Covid. My boyfriend was at first extremely understanding. I then decided to register for school. I was venting to him about being nervous. I haven’t been in so long I don’t feel smart enough or ready. In an attempt to comfort me (by trying to stress how important school is) he actually said “I don’t want to be dating someone who is cleaning houses in 10 years.” The comment just kind of threw me all the way off. I’ve never thought ill of odd jobs and even done them when I had a full time job. My self esteem feels weird now and it didn’t before. 

He apologized for that remark and even took back what he said but now I just feel weird. I want to show him how dangerous classism is, or how dangerous I think it is at least, and don’t know how to just agree to disagree on an issue like this. This is the first time in a long term relationship I’ve butted heads like this with someone. Honestly, we line up on all other views which is really important to me. This comes out of left field and now I’m overthinking his comments I guess. 

So here it is, I don’t know how to disagree on this. Any advice please? It would be greatly appreciated. 

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SOPHIA:

Oh boy oh boy. I usually don’t write an answer to a letter unless I have a somewhat good idea of what I would do in this scenario, and I’m kind of stuck on yours. There is some good, I guess, in that he was willing to apologize. We have all said dumb things and things that make a person feel worse when we’re trying to make them feel better, and I’m glad he apologized. HOWEVER, what he originally said wasn’t just oafish, it was… bad.

And on top of that, he had just previously admitted to you that he doesn’t really think being classist is bad “if you think about it.”

Well, buddy (this is to him, not you) I actually have thought about it and being classist is incredibly incredibly incredibly harmful. If you or anyone reading this isn’t aware—I assume you are, but gotta cover my bases—of the concept of intersectionality, a theory created by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, it explains how one identity that we have might overlap or intersect with other identities. And one of the identities that people focus a lot on is class. Class has a whole lot of power and influence over how any one of us lives our lives.

Class often decides where we live, where we go to school, what we do as a job, how often we eat, what we eat, what we wear, how we get to and from work, who we date, who we live with, how long we live with our parents, whether we travel, where we travel, what medical procedures we have access to, when we retire, if we have internet access, if we own cell phones and if so what kind, how much pollution is in the air we breathe where we live, how large our carbon footprint is, even how long we live.

Class decides or heavily influences a million and a half things I haven’t even listed. It touches nearly every single part of our lives. People who are working class, poor or living in poverty have markedly harder lives in almost every single way than people who are comfortably middle class and above.

That matters. That matters a whole hell of a lot. To not care about people with less money is fucked up. To think that certain jobs are beneath him (or you) is fucked up. Your boyfriend admitted (albeit probably accidentally or subconsciously) that he thinks there is something about him and you that is better than other people, that is more worthwhile. That’s not good.

On top of that, despite what you boyfriend might believe at his core, his class position is not set for life. Many, many, many people have had their monetary circumstances change dramatically in unexpected ways (e.g., from medical issues, job loss, promotions, inheritances, natural disasters, etc). Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s for the worse. A lot of people are much closer to financial hardship than they realize. Your boyfriend may or may not be in that position; perhaps he has gobs and gobs of money sitting around. But even if he does, that does not preclude him from caring about other people, from understanding that someone’s job may not say anything about them, or from understanding that someone might take a lot of pride in being a sex worker or in cleaning houses.

I mean what in the whole fuck is wrong with either of those jobs? Both sex work and cleaning houses are wonderful, wonderful jobs that help people. The value that society often says they have is bullshit. I mean clearly they require a lot of skill and have a lot of value otherwise wealthy people wouldn’t be paying other people to do them all the time. They’re great jobs.

I’m not saying that you need to want to do sex work, or encouraging you to get into it, by the way. Sex work is only wonderful if you get to decide whether you want to do it or not. I do think it’s very weird—and possibly harassment—that your friend was so insistent about you trying OnlyFans. I wasn’t there and I cannot decide for you where the line is with that friend, but I totally support walking away from that friendship if you feel they crossed a line.

But back to the bigger issue.

I think your boyfriend is actually snob. An elitist. I don’t think he “slipped up” two times back to back and said shitty things about class and jobs and how they define how much he values other people.

I don’t know the answer for how to change his mind on that. The best option that I can think of for you, should you want to stay with him, is to have lots and lots of talks with him about this over a period of years. If you think he’s a compassionate person who simply grew up in a bubble of money, or if you think there’s a good chance he’d be receptive to you saying, “Hey, you’ve been recently saying some things that make me concerned about your attitudes about class…” then maybe that’s the best choice. But if you think this guy is going to be stuck in this mindset forever or if you think that he is not the kind of person who is open to changing his mind when he’s wrong… you might have to get out of this relationship.

There are no good answers, honestly. There’s no “right” answer because the situation sucks. Someone can be good to you—or at least mostly good to you— and be a shitty person to other groups of people. I personally would not be able to stay with someone long term if I thought they were not just classist, but into being classist. There’s too much harm that people with his opinions do. It is dangerous because it’s HARMFUL to other people. It devalues other people’s work, but more importantly their LIVES.

And I do think it’s worth confronting—even though it will be very painful—the fact that he seems to look down on the job you currently have. He sees you as temporarily humbled, rather than a hard worker. That’s…a yikes. And I think you should do some serious thinking about how that opinion he holds is going to affect your relationship.

Outside of you, what happens when you guys hang out with people that have jobs he looks down on? What happens if he has kids who don’t live up to his class expectations? What else is he a snob about? What does he think he’s done to earn his privilege?

I don’t know the answers. I think you both are set up right now for a whole lot of conversations. You know him better than I do, so, again, if you think he has the capacity for growth here and is just being a dipshit, great. Pour all your time and energy into teaching your boyfriend how to care about other people in compassionate ways. But if you do not think that he is capable of that growth, or if you don’t want to have to put in so much effort into teaching someone not to be classist because it’s shitty to other people at the most basic level, then I think you two should break up.

I know it’s very very very hard to break up with someone when they haven’t done something massively, massively wrong to you personally like cheat on you or hit your dog with their car on purpose. I get that. But I do think that this is not an issue that’s going to go away. I think this is a sign of who he is as a person right now. Will he learn better? Possibly? Will he learn better on his own? It seems unlikely. Should you wait around? I don’t think so. Should you pour in effort? I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I’m sorry I don’t have a clear, succinct answer for you.

No matter what you do, it’s ok. You do not have to decide today or tonight or by next Tuesday. Take your time. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.


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