Thursday, November 10, 2016

I Was Protected.

This past year has changed me. Perhaps it has been more than a year, but this year has made the biggest difference. This year has made me ANGRY in a time when overall I am happier than I have every been in my 34 years of life. I have been many things in my life, but anger of this sort is new to me.  Please know, I am not bragging by outlining these facts. I am rather trying to highlight in just how many ways I was protected for decades. Just how many things were stacking in my favor, making it take this long to become angry.

I am privileged. I am a skinny (again) white girl from a family that doesn't know struggle. My mom was able to be a stay at home mother, and my father is an electrical engineer that did well with his work, enabling him to both send my sister and I to college and pay for our weddings. I was born to a family of strong women- my father was an only boy of 4 children.  My generation on his side was 7 girls to one boy. His mother had two sisters.  My grandmother on my mothers side was an immigrant from Canada to the US, leaving most of her family across the border. My maternal grandmother not only immigrated to the US, but she also attended college.  My mother is nearly 40 years older than myself- so myself being 34 and being able to say my grandmother attended college, that's a big deal to me.

I was not raised to be a girl. My sister and I were not raised any differently than if we had been boys, with a few small exceptions. We were given a variety of toys, including toys that were "boy toys." Legos and Star Wars play sets were some of our favorites. At a young age many of our closer friends were boys.  As we got older, the expectations for us were to attend college and be successful, preferably in a field related to math or science. We were not raised to paint our faces and look pretty, we were raised to be smart. Our parents ensured that we attended good schools throughout childhood, though they were public schools they rivaled private ones and surpassed many. They had high expectations, and it paid off. My sister has not one but two bachelors degrees, and I (quite honestly, not the smartest of the two of us) have a bachelors and a masters in addition to a post graduate certification.

At the same time, both my sister and myself were not unattractive.  I no longer believe that about myself, but I'm at that age is life where I am overly critical of my wrinkles. I was an adorable child (this is when my sister would joke about my modesty- "and modest, too!" but that confidence in itself is a privilege.) Being both naturally thin (at least until adulthood) and somewhere on the more attractive end of the spectrum, this gave us another level of privilege.

I have been so fortunate to have worked, since graduating college, for companies that were run by either women or husband and wife teams where either both were equal or the wife in a higher position than the husband in the company. My immediate bosses have, except for when I worked in food service in college, always been women. Not many women can say that.

My extended family is like a utopia. There is more acceptance than judgement (there is still judgement of course, but much more acceptance.) There is very little drama. Family get togethers are things we look forward to rather than dread. I have had the joy of spending Thanksgiving and even Christmas with mixed family on multiple occasions- meaning with both my immediate family as well as either my own or my sisters in-laws.  Sharing Christmas dinner at my sisters house with both families.  Sharing Thanksgiving at my in-laws with my parents. This level of acceptance and love is something I am so profoundly thankful for, but realize how it is also somewhat insulating.

I have not always been financially responsible. It took me lots of failing to learn those skills, despite my parents trying the best they could to teach those to me far before I failed enough to listen. And yet, I also have always had the privilege of having parents that are able and willing to bail me out of financial difficulties. I have always had this safety net.

I am on the straight end of the sexuality spectrum. I was born with the correct parts for the gender I feel to be. I have not experienced sexual assault. I have been stubborn and educated enough to not take to heart people who would emotionally abuse me.

So I was protected. I have had everything stacked in my favor. Even being a woman, which is not typically in ones favor, was not something I was raised to even consider as being detrimental. This past year, and less so over the past few years, I have woken up. In great part this is thanks to friends and acquaintances I have speaking up, primarily on social media, and sharing their own thoughts and experiences. I did not understand. I was in denial. I was one of those people who instead of acknowledging peoples experiences, wrote them off as misinterpreting a situation instead.

It has taken time. It has taken so much time and a number of people who I have great respect for sharing their experiences and opinions for me to start listening. At first I was dismissive. Then I simply did not understand, but recognized that I didn't have to understand something to accept it. And slowly, very slowly, I have been able to understand just a little. I still do not understand everything, certainly not every persons perspective. I never will. But I am to a point where I understand enough to start becoming angry. To see that sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination are not only REAL but are huge problems in this country that we have for my entire life been sweeping under the rug. That I was able to sweep under the rug of my own consciousness because I have been protected. Because it did not and does not directly harm me.

I want to tell you this. Speak up. And listen. Please speak up. If you are a minority. If you have been misunderstood, misrepresented, discriminated against PLEASE speak up. Share your experiences. You can't make people listen, but the more you talk the more people will hear you. I promise. Even if you think you are speaking to like-minded people, that will make those people feel less alone. Even if you think people aren't listening, aren't understanding. It may take a while but even if it only seeps in to ONE person, you have made a difference. And listen. If you do not understand. If you think people are exaggerating a problem. If you disagree. Show you have even the most minimal of respect for your fellow human beings experience and listen. Do not keep yourself insulated. Seek out those with different experiences, and listen.