After a morning of reading and writing, I happened upon an article by Brook on the negativity that feminism can continue to drudge up in our lives. Both Brook and I have struggled on where exactly we fit in after earning our Women’s Studies degrees. We were overstuffed with information on the dire condition of women in developing countries, the aftermath of conflict on the foundation of societies, the privileges of some (including ourselves) and shortcomings of others because of their skin color, class, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or all of the above. Naturally, when I graduated, I yearned to help others. Period. It seemed to be the logical thing to do after being inundated with what was wrong with the world. How could I make it right?
I don’t blame this entirely on my WMST degree. I’ve always been that way. As a Girl Scout I remember serving breakfast to disabled veterans. In 11th grade, I tutored 1st graders and eventually became an activist on (young) women’s rights in my high school. (I cautiously use the word “naturally” again) I studied some sort of social science in college.
In this field we are taught to critically look at everything around us. Music, art, politics, news media, business, globalization, human interaction, language, religion, relationships, health, human rights, government, agriculture, the concept of race, the concept of gender, the concept of class, the concept of someone’s theory of a concept of a theory. And to be completely honest, I absolutely love it. I thrive in it. I can read about it for hours. I can talk about it for hours. In fact, I live it everyday.
On a study abroad trip to South Africa I was made to look at race in an even more critical way than the way I did living in the American South. I was forced to confront concepts such as “white guilt” and “white privilege”. And even now, as I work in the social work/HIV field with mostly gay men I am once again confronted with another guilty feeling of heterosexual privilege.
Thus is the fate of the young, straight, white college-educated woman (you know, if you had to categorize me which so many do). And thus, if I didn’t get bombarded with feeling guilty about who I am and was born into, I am made to feel even guiltier as a Christian because I am a sinner. WOW. Exhausted yet? ‘Cause GOD KNOWS I am.
Then I find out through Brook’s article that people were criticizing Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love because it was a tale of a white, privileged woman, yada yada yada… Ok, now I am completely heart broken. Here I think that I have found someone’s story, while different than my own, that has inspired me to be myself and find own true calling. Then I learn that some cyber-feminists out there criticize Oprah for monopolizing and exploiting women’s need to find our purposes. Ridiculous.
So in this field we critically look at our own privileges in order to understand inequality. We understand inequality because we can plainly see the “haves” and “have-nots” in reference to human rights, healthcare, wages, and the cultural mindset of societies. We complain because there is inequality. Because there is nothing positive in the media… yet when women like Oprah decide to (with her power and privilege) try and change the mindset of society, the fabric of women’s thoughts about ourselves, that we are valued, that we are loved, that we HAVE A PURPOSE, she’s exploiting us? When a woman shares her story, such as Oprah, or Elizabeth Gilbert, she is criticized because she comes from a certain social standing? Is her story less valid because of her wealth? Is her story less important because of her color? Her gender? Her sexual orientation? Occupation? Religion?
This is what I’ve learned from the guilt, the pain, the empathy, the sympathy and eventually the wonderment: everyone’s story is important. There is no truth that is truer because it came from someone who is impoverished or disadvantaged in some way. Granted these people’s stories need to be told, because of the lack of them in our history books, but so does the story of a Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve learned so far in my rich experiences working with the margins of society and also the high castes of this world in their blind-by-choice realms of existence, that everyone struggles. Gilbert exposes her raw story with the world to show us that even the most picture perfect privilege can be flawed. Her struggles aren’t any less important than mine. My struggles aren’t any less important than anyone else’s. Once you can fully grasp the magnitude of inequality, don’t be paralyzed by it. Use it to inspire you to inspire others. Use the gift of others’ stories to transform you, not depress you. “In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love, p. 334).