I’ve been dancing around a couple posts recently, not able to find the best approach to what is likely to be a contentious topic, even when discussing it with myself. (I make no illusions that I’m doing anything more than talking to myself.) I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege, but specifically White Privilege, Male Privilege and Straight Privilege. These aren’t topics to breach lightly, as the wrong tone or footfall can lead to defensiveness and self-righteousness. By nature, we are going to reject anything that tells us our hard work is actually not all that hard. That by being born in a specific body with specific settings gave any of us a cheat code. It cheapens personal victories and it feels unfair.
So you see, I’ve been looking at this from different angles, trying to find the right way in, so that I don’t take on the position of the blind leading the blind, but I also don’t fall into trying to discredit other people’s perceptions to protect my own.
Then I read something the other day, in response to a brilliant Daily Show piece about sexual assaults on college campuses. Someone posted a comment on the video, “Jordan plays the part perfectly. He honestly seems to be surprised that his experiences are not everyone’s experiences.”
Shortly thereafter, I was talking to a guy friend of mine who is an engineer in the technology industry. Speaking to this person, aware of this industry as it is, I thought we were operating from the same understanding of circumstances. So trying to answer his questions about Rape Culture should be easy, right?
I was accused of preaching and told that it’s not fair to him that his choices are either to acknowledge that it exists or be complicit in it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Lots of things aren’t fair. Being vaguely wary of every man I meet on the street isn’t fair. Being told my real value lies in my beauty and that to fail at an impossible ideal is to fail at being a woman isn’t fair. To chase after that beauty and potentially attain it, only to have it thrown back at me and told I’m a slut or a whore isn’t terribly fair either. For it to be commonplace for my intelligence and humor to be the least valued things about me in society, even though they are the most valued by me personally- that’s pretty fucking unfair.
Being a victim of your own white, straight maleness, because people keep telling you what a relatively safe position you operate from is defensiveness. It’s a refusal to understand that your experiences are not everyone’s experiences and if you are trying to understand something that you will never have first hand experience in, you need to leave that knee jerk reactionary defensiveness at the door.
If you cannot acknowledge that reality is not the same for everyone, then you will not be able to learn anything from anything anyone tries to tell you. You will find a way to explain everything under the paradigm that you understand to be true or you will reject it as simply not true. You will stay in your safe position unchallenged.
The kernel of all of these conversations is experience- personal experience that is such a commonplace one to individuals that it becomes a cultural experience that can be examined and, if not fully understood (in many things, only first hand experience can allow you to ever really understand something), then at least discussed critically.
Your experiences make up your reality. And your reality is legitimate. It is true. Just because someone else doesn’t understand it doesn’t make it less true.
So, this is my experience. This is my reality and many women’s realities; I struggle with it on a daily basis. I fight to not become bitter over it; I fight to prove I’m worth more than what I’ve been taught to think- I rage against the machine and promise myself everyday that my life will be bigger and better and more meaningful than the box I was told to put it in, the box that has tiny dresses and a large wedding with a generically handsome man and lots of little babies drawn on the outside of it.
And everyday, I am reminded, in big and small ways, that I am failing at what I was taught to strive for. I’m not thin enough, I’m not tan enough, my teeth aren’t white enough, I have too much hair on my body, I should spend more time on my make-up in the morning, I need to exercise more, I need to be more fashionable- this jeans and t-shirt thing is embarassing – I’m almost thirty, why aren’t I married? Why aren’t I in a relationship and planning to get married?
Why am I such a disappointment?
But then I see the women I’m supposed to want to be, and they are torsos in thongs. They are hangers. They are tits and butts without faces. They are supposed to be aspirational for men and women alike, and yet they are terrifying.
I am angry, all the time.
I – and every single woman on this planet, just as every single man and everyone inbetween – deserve to be allowed to be a person. I should get to want things that aren’t about the size of my waist or the number of zeros in my potential spouse’s salary. I should get to feel like I deserve to be loved and seek that love without secretly thinking that I’m not good enough, because I don’t fit this concept of Desirable Woman. And mostly, I shouldn’t have to be scared all the time.
So maybe these conversations need to be pried out of the topics they are hiding under. Maybe we need to not talk about White Privilege and Rape Culture and the heavy, charged words these important cultural failings are cloaked in. Maybe we need to come back to a place we can all understand.
Let’s talk about our experiences. And then maybe, we’ll be able to see each other clearly.