Power, Privilege, and Oppression: An Empath’s Perspective On Understanding Suffering

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Browsing through my news feed yesterday, I came across an interesting Buzzfeed quiz titled “How Privileged Are You? Check(list) Your Privilege.” While Buzzfeed is hardly known for professional research and validity, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give the quiz a shot.

I received a 42/100 with the label “Not Privileged.” I had to sit with this for a long time. What does that even mean, not privileged? I reflected on my answers for a while, and noted the areas in which the test would dock “privilege points.” Based on my reflection and highlighted experience, such points would be class, gender, sexual orientation identity, and religious oppression. The blanket statement of “Not Privileged” still didn’t settle well. Privilege is a massive umbrella with a number of factors stemming from it, right alongside of an equally massive umbrella of oppression with just as many factors imbedded as well. With that in mind, how can one determine who is privileged and who is not? Furthermore, what does that mean to the person taking the quiz?

Naturally with my terrible habit of reading the comments section, I saw outrage from all too many folks who received the result “Most Privileged” or simply “Privileged.” That term has become increasingly dirty over the past decade or so, and in many ways has created a sense of an enemy.

As opposed to sharing in the vitriol, I choose to look at those results in another way. Rather than being outraged that one would label you “Privileged,” why not view it as an opportunity to better understand your life experience? Furthermore, view it as a means of gratitude that you were so blessed to have lived with these privileges, and open a healthy discussion on the differences of your experience to another?

As a white woman, I know that I will never have the experience of facing oppression based on my race and skin color. While I can read all the articles accessible to me about the oppression of race, I will never know that experience firsthand. I realize that in terms of my privilege, I am lucky to never experience that suffering first hand. I also have the privilege of having both of my parents in my life, happily married. I graduated high school, went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and currently have the benefit of attending graduate school. I can recognize that these are areas of my privilege, and that far too many people in this world are not so lucky to have those opportunities. Just as I can recognize the areas of privilege in my life, I am aware of the areas in which I have experienced oppression. My gender has frequently been something that I have been harassed for, and perceived as an object rather than a human being. My sexual identity and choice of partners left me subject to insults, threats, spit in my face, and bottles tossed at me. Furthermore my spiritual beliefs have been mocked and used as a means to demean me. Class has been a consistent struggle, and I experienced severe bullying as a child and even through adulthood for my socio-economic status. With all of these factors and experiences under my belt, it is my belief that I am neither a “privileged” person, nor a “non privileged” person. I am a human being with experiences in both.

My undergraduate training was in Holistic Psychology, educating and influencing a humanistic and holistic perspective towards lived experiences and the therapeutic process. This perspective has become a lifestyle for me, and I view most everything through that lens. When considering a more holistic approach to the constructs of privilege and oppression, it is my understanding that suffering is not a pissing contest. There is no scale or chart to define one’s experiences. The privileges of one person vary from the privileges of another, just as one’s experiences with oppression vary from another’s. There is no price tag on suffering. Pain may present itself differently in each person, but it doesn’t mean that the lived experience is somehow less than or greater than another’s.

Consider Elizabeth Lesser’s Ted Talk, “Take ‘The Other’ To Lunch.” In this video, Lesser explores our human nature and encourages us to open up kind an honest dialogue by going to lunch with someone who does not agree with you (or in many ways, someone who’s experiences appear to be opposite of yours). In a civil manner, asking each other three core questions to illustrate what is truly in one another’s hearts is an excellent way to begin bridging the gap of understanding each other’s lived experiences.

Imagine what could happen if the feminist and the misogynist could have an open dialogue about where each other is coming from. Imagine the possibilities if a person with racial discriminatory views could speak with a person of color. Imagine if a person of wealth could speak with a person living in poverty. If we chose to allow another to share their story, and at least made the attempt to understand their experience, what are the chances that we could view the “other” in a different light? If we chose to use empathy towards each other’s pain, towards each other’s joy, do you think we might be less inclined to attack each other with such vitriol?

I understand that there are many who do not share in this approach, and that is completely understandable. I am by no means trying to force my perspective on anyone. My intention is simply to ask that you try it out, and see what you find.

- written by Meaghan Lis

Love Does Not Exist in a Vacuum – Thoughts on Self Love Learning

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The other day I was scrolling through one of my favorite blogs when I came across a quote that read: “You can’t love another person until you learn to love yourself.” While I understand the intention of this statement, I was troubled by how limiting it seemed. When there are countless things in the media and our every day environments telling us we’re not smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, curvy enough, and overall good enough, it’s no easy task to love yourself.

Love does not exist in a vacuum. Love is something we learn through family, friends, mentors, through novels and films. We gain our concept of love through outside forces. When a person is never expressed love and affection from others, how can they learn love? In many ways, these outside forces teach us how to love others, but rarely how to love ourselves.

Let’s look on the flip side for a little perspective. How do we learn to hate ourselves? We learn it through television, movies, and magazines that advertise for products “to make you better.” We learn it in grade school when your peers make it evidently clear that the shirt you thought looked so good on you is horribly ugly. We learn through experiencing shame through other outlets.

That being said, it takes more than words to really begin the process of self love. The mother that tells her daughter that she is beautiful, and then steps on the scale and sighs teaches through example that weight matters. The father that tells his son that he’s a cool kid even if he’s on the smaller side, and then spends hours lifting weights and drinking protein shakes teaches through example that being cool means building up muscles to show off just how much of a man you are.

We learn this by observing others. We learn this through example.

The parents are not to blame. They too are products of an environment that teaches them they are not good enough unless they achieve certain things. Just as we learn to hate ourselves through these outlets, we can learn to love ourselves just the same. It lies not only in verbal assertion of self esteem, but leading by example. When we see people in the media as well as our personal lives loving themselves, we can learn to adopt that too. Positive role models who ditch the scale, wear what makes them feel good, and advocate for a positive self image both verbally and through their actions are the key to shifting the dynamic of self hate in self appreciation and love.
- written by Meaghan Lis

Girlhood Then & Now: Activism

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In our weekly girls’ group this past week, we had a huge moment — our girls came together to discuss how they can start a movement. After an in depth discussion about how women are portrayed in the media, I posed the question, “So, what do we do?”

We concluded that there’s no way we could possibly ignore the media — it heavily saturates our society. But what we did decide is that we can begin small; creating a blog to be shared with other girls to spread awareness about these issues.

I was floored by their excitement and creativity about this plan. They came up with a name for our “movement,” and discussed what we can begin to speak about to share with other girls outside of our small group.

As of late, I have been inundated with messages from people talking ill of “Tumblr social justice.” After my night with our girls, I am sincerely offended and confused by these statements.

At what point did it become inappropriate for activists to utilize technology to share ideas?

At what point did it become deplorable for like-minded individuals to gather as a collective, whether in person or via the Internet, to exchange ideas about how to further their activist agenda?

At what point did the Internet become a space that does not allow thoughtful dialogue, criticism, and sharing of experiences and stories?

Young, budding activists, like the girls in our groups, have every right to take to the Internet to begin their activism. They have every right to use any means they can to speak out about the injustices they are experiencing.

“Tumblr social justice” exists because people have not been listening to us in our families, our schools, our churches, and our government. If our voices are consistently silenced in person and through more “formal” means of activism, what is left for us? What is left for our girls who are trying to change the world — which I know they can, given the right means to do so.

Criticizing social media activists does not make the issues they are speaking about disappear — it makes it easier to pick out the people who want to keep the status quo in place.

 

by Emily Kindschy 

Girlhood Then & Now: Social Media

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Girlhood now is unarguably significantly more technology-based than any girlhood before this one. There is such a diverse range of media that can be seen by girls on a daily basis, second-by-second, through so many different sites, that it’s important to understand what kind of media they’re consuming.

Since delving into my interest in women and girl’s activism, I’ve begun to do my best to consciously understand the articles, photos, and messages that I am posting on my numerous social media sites. “Is this something I would want my 10-year old sister to see? Are these messages that are helpful to her development? If she read this, would I want her to mirror the behavior?”

And, to be frank, there are enough people in my social media feeds that should really start taking this into account. 

Let’s look at an example of an article that has been furiously circling on my newsfeed the past week. Now, I’m not talking just men sharing this. I’m talking about grown women that I know in some capacity sharing this on every social media platform they can. 

I’m going to get nonacademic for a second and just say that I am worried, people. If this is the type of message that people think is critical and important to share with others, how do boys and girls stand a chance at having fulfilling lives? YES! I said BOYS, too!

For starters, the title: “50 Things Every Woman Should Realize About Men.” Ah, yes, all men are the same, think the same way, experience the same things, etc etc etc etc so no need to look any further, here’s everything you’ve ever needed to know about any man, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, or religion! All-inclusive!

While the entire article is problematic, I’m really the most horrified by the introduction.

“You’re all looking very pretty today, maybe we can go grab a drink sometime—no, shit. I promised I wouldn’t do that. Sorry. Habit.”

…”Habit.” Habit? What a great “habit” that we insinuate boys should have and one that girls should assume they need to deal with. Of course men are going to hit on you, but it’s okay, boys will be boys, right? Tell that to all of the women and girls that have experienced sexual assault and was told by someone “boys will be boys!” Also tell that to the man who is falsely convicted of rape (though I’d like to make clear that the prevalence of this is very low) because of course he raped her, boys will be boys, they can’t control themselves.

So stop expecting us to understand the intricate mystery that is the feminine psyche and just accept the fact that it’s never going to happen. However…there is hope. Once you stop over-thinking men and realize that they are much less complex than you are, you can take charge, keep them content and get what you want at the same time.

Let me translate this: “Stop expecting men to make any attempt to get to know you as any more than just an object because that’s all us men can understand — we’re much less complex than you are, meaning we just cannot cognitively express any emotions or complicated thoughts, so don’t try to get to know us on a deeper level because we certainly don’t want to know you in that way!”

This is offensive to men and women. This is problematic for boys and girls. We are telling our girls that men do not want to know them as anything other than a sexual partner and we tell our boys that they cannot be emotional or intellectually complex.

Now to the list. I am not going to include each one, but here are some highlights:

          2. You Can’t Change Him

I know that you know this intellectually, but on some level, you may still think you can pull it off. You can’t. And if you do manage to get it done, he’ll figure it out and resent you for it. Love him the way he is or not at all.

          40. You Need To Be His Moral Compass

He looks to his woman to keep him in check. Make sure he always does the right thing.

Wait. What if he’s complex? What if he’s emotional? Do I have permission to change him then? He won’t resent that, right? If I turn him into a bumbling fool that exclusively swims on the surface level of conversation and thought, he’ll be grateful? Is that what this means? But I’m supposed to keep him morally in check? Yes, because all men are morally corrupt by nature, I forgot.

          12. He Wants To Bang Your Friends

I’m not saying he’ll do it, but he wants to. Don’t take it personally—he’s wanted to bang 90% of all the women he’s ever met. It’s really not that big a deal. Let him know you know and watch how red he gets.

 

          30. You Should Never Flirt With His Friend

I know I said earlier that he wants to bang your friends, so this might seem like a double standard, but it’s true. He’ll think you’re fucking with him—or worse, that you’re actually attracted to one of his buddies. Don’t risk ruining his friendships or there will be bad times ahead.

Oh, right. Men have license to express their sexuality and no one should judge it because it’s just “how it is.” Listen girls, we know you have “urges” too, but could you keep those to yourself, maybe? It’s making the men feel badly. Didn’t you know boys aren’t capable of liking one person? You should always be suspicious because they can’t control themselves

          17. You’ve Got To Watch Your Weight

Oh shit, did I really say that? Well, it’s true.  Just because you landed him doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want and stop going to the gym (and to be fair, neither can he).

Well, at least it’s the same expectation for men, too…? Or like, you know, we could follow the advice from an earlier point, “Love [anyone] the way [they are] or not at all.” There, I fixed it for you!

          8. You Can’t Bombard Him The Second He Walks In The Door

He knows you want to talk about what that bitch said to you at work today or your plans to redecorate the bedroom, but for god’s sake, let him have a beer and stare at the TV for at least half an hour first.

 

         16. He Wants You To Need Him

Sure, you’re an independent lady and he likes that. But he also wants to feel useful. So let him change a light bulb and open pickle jars for you. It boosts his self-esteem.

Okay, noted. I almost forgot how men are so significantly less complex than women that in order to make them feel needed, the farthest we can go is asking for help with the pickle jar. Any conversations that go beyond grunting is too much, so just wait until he’s got a few beers in him so he can pretend to understand.

          19. Ultimatums Do NOT Work

Any time you try to force a guy to do anything, he WILL resent you for it. Try an honest talk about how you feel and what you want out of the relationship before you give him an “either/or.”

“How I feel?” Isn’t that off limits? I was so convinced at this point that the only way to get through to men was through dichotomous choices only because it was the only way they’d comprehend what was going on? Wait…could it be…that some men…respond to different things…differently…? 

          25. You Should Always Take His Side

Within reason. But if he’s involved in some kind of debate and you take sides against him in public, he will never forgive you.

GIRLS! Take note! Your opinion is second to his when in public, so just zip it, okay? No one wants to hear you anyway. Don’t be bossy or aggressive. It’s not cute.

          33. He Needs To Lean On You Sometimes

Most of us are pretty good at shouldering our burdens, but every so often, they get too heavy. But don’t sit him down and make him talk about his feelings—that’s YOUR thing. Just do some little things for him to pick up his slack when he’s overwhelmed.

Noted. Next time my boyfriend begins a sentence with “I feel…” I’ll just leave and empty the dishwasher. 

          35. Don’t EVER Emasculate Him

Even if you’re just joking. I promise you, he won’t think it’s funny. And if you do it during a fight, your relationship might never recover.

BOYS! Now it’s your turn to take notes. Anything that insinuates that you are acting in a way that is more attributable to the opposite gender, this should absolutely and totally destroy your sense of identity and self-esteem. If you hadn’t heard yet, being equated to the woman is the worst thing that someone can do to you. Girls have cooties, remember? You don’t want to be like one of those cootie-queens.

           48. He’s Not Your Dad

For all you princesses out there. Yes, he’s supposed to take care of you, but it’s not in the same way. You’re a grown woman, for Christ’s sake. Learn the difference between a father and a partner.

“He’s supposed to take care of you.” Listen, boys, if you make less money than the girl in your life in the future, you should definitely feel like scum. Like, you’re supposed to provide for her since she needs to be taken care of. Not you, though, you’ve got this on your own — no need for emotional support since you’re not complex enough for that kind of thing. Have you started bottling up your feelings yet? Yes? Keep up the good work!

          42. If You Make Him Watch A Chick Flick, At Least Give Him A Blowjob Afterwards

Seriously, those things are painful. You have no idea how much we hate them. If he made it through the whole thing without complaining, reward him. And if it was one of the SEX & THE CITY movies, you owe him either anal or a threesome. Your choice.

But…what if I turned this into an ultimatum? Those are off limits. Guess this deal is off the table.

          9. Withholding Sex Is A Dangerous Game

I don’t care how mad you are at him, if you cut him off for an extended period of time, what happens next is on you.

“What happens next is on you.” So like, rape? That’s on me? Thanks for perpetuating rape culture in the most clear and undeniable way. Neato!

I could have gone through each of these and made some sort of comments about how they perpetuate gender roles, our patriarchal heteronormative oppressive systems, and rape culture. These concepts are not new, they are not made up, and they are not issues to gloss over. They are very real and they hurt our girls and our boys and jeapardize their abilities to fulfill the identity that feels true to them, have a strong voice and advocate for themselves (whether that’s through sharing their opinion or expressing emotion), and have meaningful and equal partnerships.

 

by Emily Kindschy

Girlhood Then & Now: Recognizing Privilege

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Since starting The Girlhood Project, I’ve had the privilege of delving into literature regarding girls’ and girlhood studies. While I’ve become deeply educated about racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc during my time at Lesley, I’m realizing that I am well-versed in these subjects in a purely academic manner.

Knowing concepts and being able to discuss them in academic discourse is hugely important. While I am comfortable with my ability to reiterate what I’ve learned in the literature, it’s a completely different experience to see these -isms played out in front of you through middle school aged girls.

What is going on in our institutions, that a 6th grade girl of color can look me in the eye and say, “People think black people are uneducated…they think we won’t ever do anything with our lives. I hate it”?

What is going on in our  institutions that a 6th grade girl of color can look me in the eye and say, “If you’re not educated, you end up on the streets…if you end up on the streets, you could get beaten, raped…it’s not jail, but you’re not free“?

Looking back on myself as a 6th grade white girl, I cannot remember a single moment where I was fearful of ending up on the streets or worried that people thought that I would not amount to anything in my life.

What are we doing to our girls of color, our girls from low-income communities, our disabled girls, our LGBTQA+ identifying girls, when as young as 11 years old they are fearful for their life, their ability to access basic resources, and having their aspirations invalidated just because they are not a member of the dominant community?

Oppressed and marginalized groups are well aware of their oppression and marginalization — when members of the dominant community try to deny the existence of institutionalized oppression, they are invalidating experiences that they would likely never have to experience.

As one of the middle school girls said to us, “I know we’re supposed to be colorblind…but racism is real to me.” If it’s real to her, it needs to be real to us, too.

by Emily Kindschy

Girlhood Then & Now: Girl Hate

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Two days ago a 6th grade girl said, “It’s in our DNA to gossip because we’re girls…” For an 11 or 12 year old girl, this statement feels so true to their experience as they enter middle school. As a 21 year old getting ready to leave college, this statement feels so true to my experience.

I’d be lying if I’ve never said the statement, “I don’t like other girls.” What happened in my girlhood and now the many girls after me to make this idea one that feels so inescapable that the only explanation is that it is coded into what makes us women and girls?

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As beautifully stated by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.” Think back to the shows you may have watched and the media that you encountered as a child. Images of “girl fights” over crushes, advertisements for make up and clothes that would allow you to stand out from the rest of your competition along with many others are likely easy to recall.

How do we raise generations of girls to be strong, empowered, and unified if from a young age we pit them against one another? When we allow “girl hate,” we show our girls that girls are all the same; incapable of differing from their assigned gender stereotype; not worthy of knowing. And if we tell our girls that all other girls are unworthy of their time, how can we expect any girl to feel like they are worthy of any person’s time?

It starts with girl hate and ends with low self-esteem, loss of confidence and voice, and a generation of girls that don’t want to be “like other girls.”

 

by Emily Kindschy

Soft Grunge, Tumblr, and the Glorification of Mental Illness

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soft grunge
Ahh Tumblr. The breeding ground for fandoms, memes, arm-chair social justice, self-expression, and the new wave of “soft grunge” (yes, that pun was intended). Urban Dictionary defines soft grunge as “A term generally used to describe modern-day teenagers, typically girls between the ages of 14-18, who like create a “hardcore” persona on Tumblr by reblogging pictures of inverted crosses, dip-dyed hair, ying-yang symbols and toilets.” Suffocating sarcasm aside, this definiton only hits the tip of the iceberg. The “soft grunge” culture is heavily based in using imagery (often black and white, featuring flowers and Lana Del Ray) paired with meloncholy or masochistic quotes (often misquoted or without reference) to highlight the perception of beauty in tragedy. Furthermore, what the soft grunge culture drives home is the glorification of depression, trauma, and suicidal ideation.
Mental illness is not meant to be idolized. It is not meant to be a commodity, or be perceived as a glamorous thing. For those who suffer daily from mental illness, having your pain displayed on a tumblr post with poorly photoshopped images can feel incredibly invalidating. It can feel as though your lived experience is simply a trend, and not something that holds significant weight in your life. Publicizing eating disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety as a lifestyle choice is a form of marginalizing the voices and experiences of those who wake up and face these every day.
Similarly, Vice Magazine received a serious wake up call after publishing “Last Words”, a “suicide photoshoot” where models were posed as female writes such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Iris Chang, Dorothy Parker, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sanmao, and  Elise Cowen committing suicide. The photoshoot was used as a marketing tool to sell clothing, and apparently the image of a woman hanging herself with a pair of tights is supposed to encourage purchases. Vice took a lot of heat after an outrage of readers and mental health activists, and quietly deleted the set from their website with a cold message from the editors that they “apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended.”
It is the act of making suicide and depression fashionable that is sick and invalidating, while simultaneously encouraging people to strive for pain because it is “beautiful” or “glorious” much in the same way that thinspo blogs encourage eating disorders. There is nothing glorious about starving and purging. There is nothing glorious about feeling so low that you stare down a bottle of pills. There is nothing fashionable about ending your life early. The culture of soft grunge is something I can only hope will fade away soon.
-written by Meaghan Lis