Communication Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in William DeGenaro, editor, Who says? Working-class rhetoric, class consciousness, and community (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007), pp. 180-199.


The daunting challenges of making ends meet can have serious implications for members of the working class, particularly in terms of dignity. The ability to provide is tied inextricably to personal dignity; threats to the ability to make ends meet are threats to dignity. For example, Riggs explains that, by and large, society imposes a mandate upon men that they fulfill the role of "breadwinner" by providing for their families financially. Due to societal pressures, the inability to fulfill breadwinner duties can have serious impacts on masculine identity for men (Buzzanell and Turner). Ongoing threats can damage self-esteem. In an examination of what constitutes a living wage, Glickman quotes a McDonald's worker who wanted a raise in the federal minimum wage to ten dollars per hour. He explained, "A man can't have any self-respect for less than that" (xii). It is important to note that men are not alone. Women, too, take the role of providing seriously, particularly when they have sole responsibility for those duties. In the United States, 12.9 million households are run by single mothers (Simmons and O'Neill). Within African American communities, women often assume a central role of providing and protecting. Fine and Wies explain that a "roof over our heads and food in our stomachs" (162) is frequently a mantra of African American women, regardless of their marital status.

The material conditions of the working class that lead to difficulty in making ends meet (low wages, limited benefits, job instability) certainly are cause for concern. However, disregarding, discounting, or denying the struggle itself—whether in scholarship, policy debates, or daily discourse—is just as damaging. Zweig explains: "When society fails to acknowledge the existence and experience of working people it robs them of an articulate sense of themselves and their place in society. We know from the vibrancy of other identity movements that to silence and leave nameless a central aspect of a person's identity is to strip them of a measure of power over their lives. A full, realistic self-identity is a basic requirement for human dignity" (61).

In this chapter, I give voice to and name a central aspect of membership in the working class in an effort to bolster a sense of dignity among its members. I argue that providing and protecting, particularly problematized providing and protecting, is a fundamental principle of working-class identity and organizing. As such, it surfaces in everyday rhetoric.

Included in

Communication Commons