A former colleague Jenn McKee recently wrote about privilege and how privileged white woman aren’t “supposed to” write about or acknowledge their pain because other people have it worse.
Exhibit A: Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat Pray Love” fame.
Why do so many people shame privileged white women for sharing their stories? I haven’t heard Liz Gilbert, Jenn or myself say our problems are so much worse than everyone else’s and that we’re so special because things are so hard for us. Quite the opposite, in fact. I think this dismissive attitude toward our group is because throughout history, middle-class white women as a group have been fairly lucky compared to women of color and people of all colors in poverty. Hashtag not all women, of course; I’m making a sweeping generalization here, I know. But consider this with me, please. Many middle-class white women are in a weird place where we still deal with sexism and these traditional gender roles that tell us to be small and quiet and pretty and demure, but we don’t have the troubles people of color and people of all races and ethnicities in poverty have. Maybe we struggle with having it all, if that means managing kids, a marriage, a job with a tough boss and hobbies and sleep. Overall, that woman is fortunate, but it doesn’t mean she’s carefree or that juggling all of the above is easy.
We’re supposed to carry it all quietly and not offend anyone, per those traditional gender roles. And if we don’t, SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. Now we’re self-indulgent, entitled and ungrateful.
In a recent article in The Atlantic about infertility, journalist Julie Beck said something that resonated with me:
“I feel like there’s totally something there where it’s seen as undignified to want things, it’s undignified to suffer openly. We like our people to suffer in silence, to just accept what life hands them. And there’s a sort of Christian philosophy there, that you should accept God’s plan for you with faith and grace.”
Why are we supposed to suffer in silence?
And then I opened Brené Brown’s Rising Strong, and there it was.
“Comparative suffering is a function of fear and suffering,” she wrote. “Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”
Guys, suffering is not a competition. If you are a human being, you have suffered in some way. Someone has put you down, or hurt you emotionally or physically. Maybe a friend accidentally stood you up. Maybe your mom made an offhand comment that hurt you. Maybe someone has done horrific things to you. Maybe you fed your own stories of shame and told yourself you weren’t good enough. Maybe you’re a survivor of the Holocaust, or the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor. Or the grandchild of a Nazi. Or the parent of a terrorist. These are all things that hurt, and this is not a game.
There is a reason 7 million people each week visit Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog Momastery, why Brené Brown’s TEDx talk “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the most-watched TED talks of all time and why Liz Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love is the phenomenon EAT PRAY LOVE, and why people love Oprah: these are people who lift the curtain and stop pretending to be perfect and stoic. We can connect with one another when we see the reality, and usually that means some kind of pain. That’s why I write this blog. That’s why I have to tell my truth: Connection.
We all have stories to tell and our pain is valid. We can have a problem and pain and be grateful for our lives. My dad says there many different types of stress we can have in our lives. If he’s stressed about his well-paying job, that’s the kind of stress he prefers because it means he’s doing pretty well. He could instead have to worry about getting a roof over his head, but he doesn’t. Stress with gratitude.
And so I created this personal statement about unapologetically owning my stories:
By birth, skin color and circumstance, I am incredibly privileged, and I acknowledge that fact every single day. There was never any question that I would go to college or succeed in my life.
But is it all easy? No. Of course not. I’ve gone through heartbreak, stressful jobs (you try being a journalist and tell me it’s not stressful), a layoff, the illness and deaths of family members and the personal struggle of trying do my best.
I also know this; I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. For all my flaws and struggles, I’m grateful to be me and be here now.
I am a woman who is entitled enough to own her space, her time and her opinions, and that scares some people because the world’s balance of power is changing. I am a woman who has taken her power.
I want my life to be what I want it to be, and I will not apologize for that. There’s this sense that women can’t have it all, or have to give their lives in service of others (i.e. having kids or whatever). Sure, I don’t expect to get everything I want, and I don’t. But I’m going to try my damnedest to live my life in the way that suits me best, to enjoy the things I love. It’s a struggle at times because life is a struggle at times. But overall, if I can live deeply, then I’m doing things right.
And if you don’t like it, go write your own fucking stories.