Thursday, January 7, 2010

Feeling out of place

This is another of the journal entries I wrote last year for one of my classes. The class focused on Gender Issues, and we had to read multiple articles, one of which I reference here. This entry stuck with me and has come back to my mind many times in the past year. I wrote it around the title of "feminist". But other descriptors fit the tone just as well.

Today, I found myself in a position of having been held up for challenge and even ridicule because of the theoretical and philosophical base from which I operate in my professional life, which spills over in to my personal life. The problem wasn't the challenge, those will come. The problem was being challenged behind my back without adequate (read any) opportunity to present my case. The person presenting my case for me did so without any real understanding of my thoughts, desires or goals.

And maybe it shouldn't matter so much. Maybe I should more willing to just put myself out there as who I am and not bother myself with the repercussions or the imagined consequences. I couch my political ideals, I mask my religious beliefs, I hold my thoughts about justice close to the vest. I do it for self-protection. I do it out of fear. I do it because I am terrified that if I let you really know who I am, you will reject me, because who I am seems to be so different from almost everyone I know in my waking life. I don't like exclusively evidenced-based practice - because there is no evidence that produces techniques to heal a soul. I don't like conservative, judgmental, guilt-inducing religion. I don't like right-wing politics that care more about power and prestige than helping fellow human beings. I don't like racism and classism and abuse disguised as character building. But I am afraid to be who I am and stand up and say all of that outloud. I don't know if that makes me a coward, or a fraud, or someone wise enough to walk carefully where angels fear to tread. But tonight, it leaves me feeling raw.

Insert your word into the article. Where do you hide your light?

Monday, February 23rd
Feeling Like a Fraud

In Peggy McIntosh's article, “Feeling Like a Fraud” she writes about women who feel they should apologize or minimize because they find themselves in a position of authority or expertise that somehow they feel, or at least think others believe, should be reserved for a man. She points out the dichotomy that exists between the need to alleviate a woman's feelings of being out of place in what is perceived to be a man's world and the need to acknowledge that this feeling signals something about the truly oppressive nature of the hierarchy in which she finds herself. On one hand, self-confidence and competence can be increased and mentors and role models can provide encouragement that helps women see themselves as equals in these positions of power and public life. On the other hand, paying attention to the feelings that signal something out of balance in the hierarchies of power allows for women to refuse to “play the game”. In resisting the old hierarchies and patriarchal definitions of power and building a more collaborative structure where there is room for everyone at the table, society can be transformed.
This article spoke to me in a powerful way. I have so often felt like a fraud, so often felt as if somehow I didn't deserve the position or recognition I had attained. I have apologized for being center stage. I have apologized for being top of the class. I have apologized for holding a “radical” opinion or for speaking my truth in a setting where women's voices were less than welcome. I have minimized my talents and my gifts in order to not offend anyone. And I have questioned the structures that enforce this ranking and competition, this definition of good, better and best. My brushes with the power of patriarchy have been personal and painful. I discovered very early and understood only much too late that when I aspired to any position of prestige or public forum, I became instantly recognized and targeted by the men in power positions. In a game of keep your friends close and your enemies closer, I fell victim to false mentorship in which the real goal was never to help me succeed but to ensure my failure. And for a while, tired of the pain and the battle fatigue, I walked away from the games and isolated myself, living my life and telling myself I didn't care.
But I do care. And in caring, I am finding that I face a new dichotomy and a new paradigm, and I've rediscovered the old feeling of being a fraud and an impostor. Raising my hand in class on Friday to identify as a feminist was painful for me. Am I? Absolutely. Do I want anyone to know? Absolutely not. What is that all about? It's about feeling like I'm a fraud. I unequivocally believe in the absolute equality of men and women. But I feel like a fraud in declaring myself to be a feminist because of my lack of public activism. And I'm afraid in declaring myself as a feminist, I am somehow committing to a level of activism that I am uncomfortable with. I don't know that I could stand in front of the White House and allow myself to be imprisoned and go on a hunger strike, but that is my perception of what “true” activism should look like. So identifying myself as a feminist without being willing to commit to that level of activism makes me feel like a fraud.
My daily reality is also a contributing factor in the impostor syndrome. My life is very traditional. I've been a “stay-at-home” mom since my oldest child was born. Although my husband shares many chores and we don't have a strictly gender divided structure in our home, the bulk of the work falls to me because I am not working outside of the home. We attend a fairly moderate church in a very conservative denomination. We live in the most conservative county in Texas, maybe in the United States. In many ways, I'm plugged into the traditional patriarchal structure. In those settings, I try to promote gender equality, but I do much of it quietly, behind the scenes. And sometimes, I sit back when I should say something, because conflict is uncomfortable. So when I self-identify as a feminist, my fear is that other “real” feminists are going to look at my traditional existence and my lack of public advocacy and scoff. They are going to think I'm a fraud.
So here too, the a dichotomy exists. And here too, there are two sides to the coin. On one hand, I need to push myself out of my comfort zone. I need to find more ways to make my voice heard. I need to look for role-models and mentors that can encourage me to speak out and take a stand against the oppression of women. On the other hand, I think we need to make room at the table for all women and men who believe in equality and are working toward that goal regardless of their level of public activism or their choice of lifestyle. We need to promote a definition of feminism that has room for the both the radical activist and the stay-at-home mom. The only way we have any chance at turning the patriarchal structure upside down is to embrace one another's strengths and not let ourselves be divided by the unhelpful labels that often become a part of identifying with a movement. What does a feminist look like? She looks like Alice Paul and Gloria Steinem and all of the other amazing women who have fought the fight, but she also looks like me.

1 comment:

  1. "The cruelest lies are often told in silence."

    -- Robert Louis Stevenson

    "Sometimes the lies you tell are less frightening than the loneliness you might feel if you stopped telling them."

    -- Brock Clarke