My daughter the other day said that I was “bougie”. I wasn’t even sure what that meant, except I could tell by her tone it was a put down…and I was right.
The whole concept of bourgeois came from the French Revolution and Marxist theory. It was the class that rose up between the working class and the aristocracy. And in a capitalist society, the middle, bourgeois class is large. And for a long time, that was the goal, to be bougie. I mean everyone I knew growing up was trying to achieve the bourgeois dream:
drive by profit and use of free trade to accumulate wealth, property, and power.
That was the goal to life. Educate yourself so that you could achieve profit and wealth. Use that wealth to accumulate property and thereby gain power.
When placed in this framework it kind of seems like a shitty dream, but we were not raised to think so. Seems like there was very little thought about a balancing of power, a balancing of wealth and property. It really seems like the whole intent was to grab what you could, regardless of how you did that and who you might hurt on your rise to power.
Seems like we are there…and that has created a new thought and feeling for me, like I committed my life to the accumulation of wealth and I totally missed the point.
Now in middle age, in my bougie life, I feel very unsatisfied with the status of my wealth accumulation and long for something simpler and less complicated. I find myself fantasizing more and more about leaving the grid, and living a much simpler life that looks more like a working class life, a farming life, rather than some Marxist rise in capitalism.
I find myself longing for a life that is based on meeting daily needs: rest, nutrition, exercise, community. Life full of simpler pleasures that lack a busyness that my current life seems to insist upon. I find that I long for life to just be about meeting basic needs and that I care very little about the accumulation of wealth. I want to get rid of my fancy car, stop buying so much crap and just live out my days walking in wooded forests, having home made meals with people I like and love. Spend time reading and writing, walking in nature and taking it all in. This seems like a better use of my time.
Now having said all of that, I have certain things that are harder for me to picture living without: clothes, appearance enhancements, sunglasses. Why is that? Why do I seem so willing to move out into the middle of nowhere and think that these things that I cling to will mean anything to me there? Who cares that my boots are stylish or that I have an enviable collection of cashmere? These things are not important, really. Yet I still hold onto them like they are.
Perhaps I have only just begun to wring out my bougieness. Perhaps this is what my lifetime will be about, letting go of the dream I was handed at birth and getting off the treadmill in a race for power, wealth and property. Perhaps we let go of these things one at a time until we arrive at a place in time where we are naked, living in some shack and talking to ourselves or the thousand cats we have milling about.
Or perhaps there is a place that exists in between. One does not have to drive to accumulate things, that life could and might be about something else. That perhaps the most un-Bougie thing to do, is to be content with what you have and cease the hard driving movement towards more, more, more.
I get what my daughter said. I look middle aged and middle class. Well, I am. I have had that luxury since birth. I was born into a station and that has been my station so far. I am not sure how I can be anything else. I know nothing of aristocracy and I know little of poverty. I have always been squarely in the middle of it and largely unaware of how that station has influenced my life. But I have begun to see it now.
Bougie has that connotation that you are privileged and you don’t know it, but I do. I see it in everything I say or do. I see the privilege of being middle class and white. I feel it. I see it in the things I bitch about and the things that vex me in this world. I see the privilege in a Bougie life. Which I am pretty sure means that I have begun to exchange that life for something else, I am just not sure what yet…
Perhaps the best thing we can do with ourselves is to admit where we are and then look at all the ways we show up for this life. We see the things that got us where we are and use them as reasons to re-evaluate our trajectory. Why is it that I dream of living off the grid on fifty acres somewhere? When I have a life that so many are working to achieve today? Why is it that I am not content with the life I have built and long for a simpler, less complicated one? Perhaps that is the ultimate privilege of being Bougie…the ability to renounce it all and opt for something different. Perhaps that is the most privileged idea of all: that I could be something other than what I am…working class doesn’t have that option and neither does the aristocracy. They are forever defined by their station. But being in the middle allows for an ascension or decension as the case may be. And maybe that is what it really means to be bougie today, that you have choices that are absent in the stations above and below you.
Which leaves me feeling overwhelmed again. Too much stuff, too many choices that leave me with a feeling of discontentment that tugs at my arm daily reminding me that I long for something else, but seem mired in the middleness of my life. Middle age, middle class. Smack dab in the middle of it all and feeling lost. I am sure there are worse things to be than bougie. But the experience of it now feels like a failure in some regard. Like I had a life that I could have used better than to strive for power, wealth and property and I missed it.
Perhaps that is the purpose of a middle drive life, to show you that while there is some safety in the middle, that safety causes you to miss a great deal of life in your quest to maintain your middle class status. I can see that now, which I am pretty sure makes me a little less bougie. Well, and my daughter says I have to get rid of my “Orange County Soccer Mom sunglasses” so perhaps I am almost there…