Perhaps one of the gloomiest yet significant conclusions I’ve drawn from our various moxie conversations, my work with Sadie Nash, and my personal attempts at changing the minds of men around me, is that oppression is not easily explained or imagined out of thin air. While open minded people may choose to lower themselves into the pit of pain to peak through the lenses of the oppressed, the minute they climb back into the daylight of effortless privilege, that urgency of outrage dissipates and they go about their merry way, often feeling elated and self-satisfied at the noble effort they put forth to understand the “other half”. I’ve witnessed this tendency throughout my childhood as I’ve taken groups of donors down to visit our school and women’s cooperative in the poorest areas of Nicaragua. Each year further confirms the observed pattern of privilege crashing into oppression. It commences with incredible discomfort and guilt- often leading to intense defensiveness of ones lack of privilege, or legitimizing of one’s accomplishments. Some simply choose to disengage at this point, resisting the meeting of privilege and oppression as they cling to the ledge of the pit of pain, using only their “that’s just the way the world works” to maintain grip. You see, when faced with the harsh reality of young children unfed, living like animals in dirty stalls, without access any form of privilege or escape, it takes no meticulously constructed explanation on my part, or vivid imagination on the part of others. Oppression is real, present, and unavoidably before our eyes. Pragmatically speaking, this is why we bring donors in the first place. Because without truly facing the intersection of our own privilege with the overwhelming oppression of others, we are conditioned to disregard, cast-off, and live in the comfortable confines of our blissful, privileged bubbles. No one wants to feel discomfort, guilt or angst with his or her place in the world. We all want to believe in some divine rationale behind the inequalities of a world which we so deeply “care about”, as long as this caring does not extend into our daily lives. We carve out time, like our one week service trip to Nicaragua, as an appropriately removed experience of injustice which we can fully experience, and then place on the back burner for dinner party conversations and occasional reflection. I would love to say that bringing groups to Nicaragua changes this tendency to avert eye contact, and run from reminders of our personal privilege over others, but sadly I cannot. Each year, at the end of the trip, donors leave moved, jazzed, and impassioned to make changes in the lives of this impoverished, oppressed Nicaraguan community. They sign up to host fundraisers, donate 10% of their income, and bring every other philanthropic friend they know. They consistently mention how “meaningful” the week was and how they’ll never be the same. But weeks pass. Life goes on. And, like it or not, the oppression of one is not the oppression of another. When no longer immersed in the suffering and daily injustice of another group, it is almost impossible to maintain one’s fury and outrage. In short, it is the sheer inescapability of oppression that makes oppressed peoples the only true advocates for social change.
As mentioned before, my experience as Sadie Nash, discussing gay activism with moxies, and in my own social sphere, further confirms this disheartening realization. I have always viewed myself as an advocate for the voiceless, and marginalized. I personally know many homeless people in Seattle by name, and constantly seek to work in oppressed areas. I suppose, in my life, these small choices have been my personal rationalization of privilege over others and, while I’ve occasionally felt the torment of insufficient action, I generally cast off these guilty feelings and allow myself to continue living the undisturbed life of immense privilege and physical comfort with which I was born. Because I always imagined myself to be an advocate for all marginalized peoples, it was not until this summer that I truly came face to face with my own hesitancy to crawl into a pit of pain which does not pertain to my own experiences or personal encounters with injustice. I have set up camp as a feminist activist, knowing now at age 21 that female empowerment is my calling, yet, even activist me, has been resistant to truly facing the oppression of minorities, homosexuals, and other oppressed peoples. I find myself mirroring the Nicaragua-syndrome I’ve seen so consistently over the years where I let myself feel the outrage of injustice, and then quickly retreat back to my comfortable privilege once the image is no longer in front of my eyes. At Sadie Nash it is leaving work and going back to a life of careless, unobserved racial privilege. It is a release of pressure walking out the doors and knowing I am no longer responsible for being of any race at all. I can become colorless as I walk down the busy streets of 14th in a way that none of my co-workers ever can. It is the same release that donors feel in returning from steamy, “dangerous” Nicaragua, back to their comfortable lives of privilege. And the result is the same as well. We no longer care about the world’s injustices when we are not forced to live in them without escape.
The point I’m slowly arriving at is that, while men are theoretically capable of representing women’s issues in government, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the only true advocates of oppressed peoples are those being oppressed themselves. I cannot fault anyone for this inconvenient reality, as I now understand both sides intimately. Just as I cannot be trusted to advocate ceaselessly for black empowerment, neither can I trust a man to feel as invested in female inequality as I am. This does not mean all women are female advocates my any means, nor that male allies in the movement are not crucial, but I now believe that government requires the presence of women themselves, if any strides towards gender equality are to be made.