Checking Privilege to Embrace Empathy
January 25th, 2017
My mission with Grit & Gratitude is to get women talking - all of us. To have the tough conversations most of us avoid or feel uneasy about, and to cover the topics we struggle with in silence because of shame. By being open to each other's differences in opinions and beliefs we can broaden our own perspective, sit together in discomfort and grow in empathy and understanding. As one of my favorite authors, Brene Brown says, "Sympathy is about separation. Empathy is about connection. It's a ladder out of that shame hole." Seeing others fully, and letting ourselves be seen - THAT is brave. Let's not be the ones tearing each other down. We face plenty of that already. When women truly unite, magic happens - that I know.
I've lost a lot of followers over the past few days on social media, and that's ok. I'm not for everyone. I realize that isn't the typical second week message to someone trying to grow a brand-new blog, but I believe in full transparency :) So there it is. I hope you'll stay and stick it out with me and with each other because if we can do that, we can be examples to the world around us that people CAN disagree and STILL love and respect one another. We can be an example of progress and growth to a world of keyboard warriors and trolls. And maybe, just maybe we light a fire that encourages someone to challenge their own deep seeded biases and take real action.
Last Saturday I attended the women's march in Hartford, CT. It was my first march and it was incredible. Standing next to my husband, hand in hand in solidarity with men, women and children around the world (not just the U.S.) - around the WORLD - was one of the most empowering feelings I've ever felt. For the first time in months, I felt hopeful and I felt seen. Peaceful protests can and do exist, I thought. Resistance can and will bring change. We can't change the past, but we can certainly try to change the future.
Sunday after scrolling through picture after picture of smiling, ecstatic faces marching across the world, I also read multiple articles from women saying they were "over feminists". Strangely, most of the articles didn't seem to understand feminism at all - which I'll clear up below. But more than that, most of the articles seem to have been written from a place of distinct privilege. I told you I wanted to have the hard conversations that are keeping us stuck, right? Well, then we gotta talk about privilege. We're all privileged to a certain degree. And yes, I can say that and respectfully call you on yours, because I am just that - privileged. And it's so apparent that it's what's keeping us stuck. So, before you get offended, let's make sure we're on the same page about what privilege actually means. Privilege is when you think something's not a problem, simply because it doesn't directly affect you.
Let's liken it to something we can all agree on first. Let's go back to last week's blog post about feeling uncomfortable in your skin. Feeling like we're too much and not enough at the very same time. You were all onboard with that, right? We've all been there. I had a conversation with my friend, client and confidant Kim not too long ago about the reality of being really overweight. She said - it's incredibly hard to just LIVE your life when you're that heavy. She's right. Basic tasks become overwhelming endeavors. The reactions and judgements of others play a huge role in how you carry yourself. This is NO different for all sorts of women all over the world and the way they move through their lives every day. But instead of body image or weight being the focus, let's sub in race, sexual preference, sexual orientation, religious background, disability, etc. Privilege is not realizing that these women don't get to move as freely, confidently or as care-free throughout their days as you do.
I posted similar sentiments on my own Facebook wall Monday night and instantly lost followers:
"Rampant misinformation and blind privilege strike again. Turn off the Tomi Lahren ladies, and start having real conversations with women that look different than you. Writing articles about how you're "tired of feminism" only confirms that privilege and your blatant refusal to understand the very label you're running from. “
I went back and forth with a long-time friend about our perceived differences in opinion on this very post. At the end of the conversation, it turns out we agreed on most everything. I got message after message from women THANKING me for having that public discussion because it allowed them to see that disagreement can be calm, respectful and come from a place of genuine empathy and curiosity. They had been struggling in silence to have these same conversations, but now they felt brave enough to do it. THAT'S what Grit and Gratitude is for. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I'm happy to learn and grow alongside you because 9.9 times out of 10, our disagreements come from misinformation, miscommunication, and blind privilege.
Speaking of misinformation, there’s A LOT of it surrounding the term "feminism". So, let's get clear on what that means as well. I've had this conversation more times than I can count, and I had a sneaking suspicion about all of you the second you clicked that like or follow button – YOU just might be a feminist. Grit and Gratitude exists to help women shed shame and step into their power, it says right in the description of our Facebook page - "Join the community of women ready to flip the script on the narrative society has handed them." That my friends, is feminism.
Feminism isn't the oppression of men. It isn't the eradication of men. It isn't saying women are better than men. Feminism is simply believing in the equality of women (all women) everywhere, and acknowledging that women (all women) are in fact autonomous humans - just like men. Even more specifically, intersectional feminism is the equality for any one that identifies as a woman including women of all races, trans women, bi-sexual women, lesbians, queer women, women of all abilities, heritages and backgrounds - ALL women.
Another common thread that was woven into these anti-feminist articles was the idea that women's rights in the US are just fine the way they are. That we're spoiled compared to women in other countries. I'm sorry, is this a game of bad versus horrible? Another ironic version of “All Lives Matter” (a topic for another day)??? Again, I challenge you to look around - because your privilege is showing. Strike up a conversation with a woman that doesn't look just like you or live in your neighborhood. See how she feels about her specific rights. See if she feels safe in her skin. Take some notes. Violence against women is alarmingly high around the globe, but the US is no exception. I could tell you that the stats say:
- 83% of girls ages 12-16 have experienced harassment at school.
- 1 in 5 women in the US will be sexually assaulted, but that number is based on the assaults that get reported. Realistically, it's getting closer to 1 in 3 if not worse.
- Nearly 20 women are physically abused by a domestic partner every minute in the US. Less than 20% of those women sought medical care.
- An average of 3 women a day are murdered by an intimate partner.
- There are between 14,500 and 17,500 people trafficked as sex slaves in the US every year, 80% of them women and girls.
These crimes are rooted in gender based discrimination and social norms (ya know, like the behavior our president condones). We have whole campaigns around believing the victim (finally) and this administration is seeking to make it EVEN harder for victims to come forward, let alone having justice be served. That's right, literally while we were marching, the new administration was announcing a plan to defund 25 federal violence against women programs.
I could go on to tell you these numbers are highest (and have always been highest) for women of color.
- 60% of Black women and girls are victims of sexual violence
- The life expectancy of a trans Black woman is 35 years. 35 years....
Sick of violence? Let’s talk equal pay:
- Of full-time workers, black women's median weekly earnings ($429) were only 64% of the earnings of white men ($669) in the year 2000.
- In one year, the average black woman earns approximately $12,000 less than the average white man does. Over a 35-year career, this adds up to $420,000
- Among full-time, year-round workers, black women with Bachelors' degrees make only $1,545 more per year than white males who have only completed high school.
- According to the Census Bureau, in 2000, the median full-time earnings for Hispanic women were $20,527 only 52% of the median earnings of white men ($37,339).
- In one year, the average Hispanic woman working full-time earns $17,837 less than the average white man does. Over a 30-year career, that adds up to $510,000
- Hispanic women with a high school diploma earn $22,469. That is 33% less than white men with the same level of education.
But stats can be manipulated, right? The internet is filled with so much misinformation these days you can contradict anything and everything. It won't have the same impact as hearing it straight from the mouth of another human in your life. So, have the conversation. Go directly to the sources. Ask the questions. Get a first-hand account of someone else's reality. And while I know it seems unthinkable to you, you know people that live in the reality listed above. Based on these statistics, you know several survivors of violence (specifically sexual violence), but their shame keeps them silent. Don't believe the stats? Check out this poignant moment from the women's march in DC that was captured on video.
So, let's be real for a minute....
Maybe you're a cis, white woman.
Maybe you have zero physical or mental disabilities.
Maybe you've never been asked, "But what are you?"
Maybe you've never had to choose between your next meal or sanitary products.
Maybe you’ve always had access to healthcare.
Maybe you've never been asked to take notes during a meeting because you're the only female in the room (because naturally)
Maybe you've never been belittled.
Maybe you've never been assaulted.
Maybe you've never been targeted.
Maybe you've never been triggered.
Maybe you've never been alienated.
Maybe you've never felt your heart sink when you receive the call that a loved one is in police custody.
Maybe you've never woken to sweat drenched nightmares or blood stained sheets.
Maybe you've never frozen.
Maybe you've never screamed as loud as you could without a sound filling the air.
Maybe you've never had to choose.
And again, I'm happy, so happy that in your privilege you've never felt those things. But others have. Others do. Every day. Some can check one or two of the boxes above. Others can check 5 or more… Take a second to actually let that sink in. This is their reality. Feminism isn't about playing the victim. We've all seen that victims are quickly dismissed. No, feminism is just the opposite. It's resilience. It's a resistance to complacency, and a commitment to true freedom for all women.
See, like I said, I come from privilege too. I’m white and have blonde hair and blue eyes. I had a charmed childhood. I was raised in the church. I was active in my youth group. I went to a Christian college on a dry campus. I have a wonderful upper middle class family that gave me every opportunity. I have a fantastic career. I have meaningful relationships. I have a cute house, 2 dogs and an SUV - but I wasn't immune to the misogyny of a patriarchal society.
And I get it... Feminism used to seem so "out there" to me. But now I need feminism like I need air. More specifically, the WORLD needs INTERSECTIONAL feminism. We saw that Saturday in the largest peaceful protest in American history. When women come together magic and healing truly does happen. But it takes all of us.
So what about the articles on “white feminism”? Yep, we gotta cover that too. In my own privilege, as I drove to the march on Saturday I thought of all my close friends that weren't attending (many being women of color, and or lesbians). Friends that I thought would be first in line based on their beliefs. But then I realized...for them this is just another Saturday. They've literally been protesting for years. That same privilege had me thinking to myself, “SEE, peaceful protests are possible!” (cue rainbow Snapchat filter). And then I checked myself as I gazed across the sea of pink pussy hats (because they’re ALL pink right? Pussies, not hats) and witty poster boards. Because duh. THIS is white feminism.
So, no. The women that wrote those articles aren’t attacking you. They’re wondering what took us so long, and rightly so. Privilege. Those thoughts and feelings are valid. Just as valid as the very real tears that rolled down my white cheeks on Saturday as I experienced my first march. Our sisters of color wonder if we'll stick around. Again, rightfully so. I hope so. If just a handful of us do, that's progress because it opens new lines of communication. Don't you see? It keeps us learning.
It's easy to look for the negative. It's easy to dismiss ideas that you've never personally had to wrestle with. But if the current leaders have their way, and if the past 5 days are ANY indication of what's to come - you may be wrestling soon. So, ask yourself the hard questions, sis. Your privilege could be gone in a matter of seconds.
If you’re still with me (and THANK YOU) I’m wrapping up. This isn't an attack on men. This is a revolution for women everywhere for the preservation of women everywhere. The women you saw in those pictures, they were working through shame they've been carrying -some for years. These women have learned the hard way that silence equals complicity, and they can no longer be silent. There are entire institutions that have been built around that deafening silence. Institutions that represent love and safety and grace that turn their head when real, raw ugliness shows up. Those women know, that all we have is each other. And while you say you haven't seen it, I hope you'll at least look twice from now on.
I also want you to know that it's okay to be scared. I was too. But that fear kept me stuck and paralyzed for years. I can't keep quiet now and I won't lie still while things happen TO me. I may not have all the information I need, but I can and will continue to seek it out. I can and will continue to act. I can and will lean on my sisters of color for perspective and guidance in the issues I don't personally relate to. We have a unique opportunity in front of us as women, and specifically as white women of privilege like me. We are entering the civil rights movement of our time. Will you stand up with your sisters through your actions? Will you keep up your righteous outrage from behind your computer screen until things "die down”? Or will you keep your head in the sand until misogyny actually knocks at your door?
Listen, we don't have to agree. But let's not completely dismiss or discredit the huge, imperfect step forward our nation took on Saturday. We still have work to do. We do. And that work will take all of us. So, I march because I do need feminism. The stats above prove we all need it. I march for the 83%, the 1 in 5, or 1 in 3. The 20%. The forgotten. The silenced. The hidden. I march because no one asks to be a statistic. I march because I have a voice and a platform to be heard thanks to the color of my skin. I march because 10 years of silence was long enough for me. I march for my own shame, my own pain, and my own healing. I march because it's our right to not only voice our opinion but to hold our elected officials accountable to the Constitution. I march because I can. I march for those who can't. And I march beside those that have been marching for years but are finally seen by the media when a white woman in a pink pussy hat is beside them. What you allow will continue. So, resist we must.
Growth in any area takes both grit and gratitude. Grit to show up, to sit in that discomfort together and look at the hard stuff. And gratitude, so much gratitude that we did. We almost always emerge realizing we have much more in common versus the things that divide us. I see it every day. But we must consciously choose it. We must put our privilege aside and choose to look, choose to talk, choose to question, choose to empathize, and choose to act. Actions not words are the only way we can be one another's allies. Thank you for choosing to sit with me today.