Dear modern-day, first-world feminists: when will I get my institutional oppression?
If we’re playing the game of victim cards, I almost have a full house. I am a millennial, raised under baby boomer expectations and almost dragged into the crippling debt that most millennials will suffer. I am from a poor, hippie background, living, among other places, here:
Yes, that last one is a campsite. Yes, I lived there. Not even in a caravan: in an actual tent. Not by choice.
Of course, not having much money to spare wasn’t enough. See my parents originally actually had some cash. Our small issue was that one of them was a raging alcoholic, and the other was neglectful and absent as often as possible, so much for the happy nuclear family. And living across a continent from any of our relatives, we were pretty much on our own to work out how to live. Think not having an iPhone is exclusionary and miserable? Try not having Christmas, not getting new clothes or not having food because at-the-age-of-eight you and your little sisters are home alone with an empty fridge while mommy and daddy play drinking-the-bar-out-of-business.
Well at least I have my white privilege, or my education, or my mental health, right? No, not right at all. For starters, I grew up in a part of Spain that very much embraces the slender frames, tan skin and dark features of Mediterranean girls, which is pretty neat. But, you see, just because they love themselves doesn’t mean they love you. Rather than be elevated or even treated equally because of my white skin, it was a permanent marker that I was ugly and foreign. Education. Where do you think education goes when you move house every six months, have virtually no friends and are bipolar with dyscalculia?
Oh, didn’t I mention? I have a bipolar spectrum disorder and dyscalculia and have had since early childhood, probably since birth, if I could remember. Funny thing about abusive childhoods is they create permanently damaged memory paths to a point where your memory retention up until around the age of six is equal to that of a ten-month-old baby, and you can still suffer short term memory loss as an adult. Not having functional short-term memory completed the triple whammy of mental issues that interfere with a kid’s ability to study and socialize. Not that anyone would notice, of course, with how little time I spent in any given school. No, I was just a bad kid, so I never got any help with my education.
And finally, most relevant to many modern feminists, I am a woman. Shock. Horror. Poor me!
So, in principle, I am one of the disenfranchised, those who get few to no opportunities by default, who can’t buy our way into anything with loyalty, good grades or actual money. And then, at the age of sixteen with some help from the rest of my family, I moved away from my parents and started life anew, living on welfare and studying on my own.
Of course, I was put in shared housing, rejected from all schools due to huge gaps in my academic record, denied all but a living allowance at 86% of men’s welfare. Forced to work minimum wage jobs at low hours to afford anything at all, assaulted by my caseworkers and flatmates, became enslaved to an angry gang leader so I could afford my bills. I eventually turned to a life of prostitution and crime when the police failed to recognize me as a victim, eventually dying of an overdose combined with that final battering about the face when I failed to pay my boyfriend/pimp.
Yeah, right. No. As a young woman stuck out there alone, I received the following:
1. Basic welfare, £8k/year. Not heaps, but, believe it or not, enough to cover all my expenses and allow me to have a few luxuries, all while saving £2k/year. Budgeting matters.
2. Housing support and my own flat when I mentioned my anxiety around certain men and people who had been drinking.
3. Admission to an all-girls academy where I was allowed to study for my A-levels despite my qualifications being hit and miss.
4. A case worker who helped me figure out the legal side of things and checked up on me whenever he was in the area.
5. Access to grants and other funds to continue my art education and pay for studying basic qualifications such as English language and mathematics.
6. Several University offers from great universities, and a narrowly missed opportunity to study at Oxford.
7. Respectful, kind, appropriate treatment from everyone I knew.
That’s not to say the situation was ideal. But everyone did everything in their power to help me set my life back on track, enabling me to complete my education, gain independence, save some money, start a small business and do well for myself. Because people care about young women, who are helpless. There are organisations, government support groups and even individuals out there to lend a helping hand.
Meanwhile, for me to get this support, someone else had not to be getting it. Who do you think loses out when a single girl gets a flat to herself because she won’t share with men or drinkers? Who do you think loses out when a school closes its doors to all boys? Who do you think loses out when I get girl-priority for mixed sex grants and interviews? In case, you hadn’t guessed: the men. I knew many young men in my same situation through the organisation that supported me. They were forced into cramped shared accommodation, on lower incomes, mostly dropped out of school, with few to no opportunities in sight. Because when we’re fighting for resources, the sixteen-year-old girl with a family history of abuse beats the eighteen-year-old homeless man with no education. As simple as that: whatever we girls got, the guys who shared our exact circumstances could not get. And that was an organisation that really worked hard to help everyone. It only gets worse for these guys once they’re over the age of twenty-five and no longer eligible for youth services. At that point, they had better pray they qualify for a council house and welfare, because they will never finish their education, never have a proper job and no longer receive support to get them away from violence and substance abuse. Unfortunately for them, women seem to get into council houses far more easily than men do, so they’re probably all homeless again by now.
This gender-based institutional oppression at worst is simply poor, and at best is institutional biased in our favour. You don’t need to have a great life to be treated better as a woman. Going hungry because your parents are heaven knows where, staying up all night studying because you are sitting four years worth of seven or eight subjects in June, or being sexually assaulted because your parents bring dangerous people home are all pretty bad experiences and are hardly rarities in my life. But at no point have I been institutionally oppressed for being a woman. Discriminated against by individuals? Yes. Treated with a bit less tact than I would have liked? Everyone has. Made the victim of some nasty crimes? On several occasions. You see: bad things happen to everyone. And to some of us they happen far, far, far more than to others. Largely because we’re dirt poor. But I’m still holding out for that mythical institutional oppression all women get.
From the moment I walked away from my parents, I was free to do with my life exactly as I pleased. And I did. Nobody told me I couldn’t. Nobody stopped me. Nobody fined me, or gave me bad housing, or attacked me for being a woman doing her own thing. Nobody denied me services, or coerced me, or lied to me to keep me back. Nobody oppressed me. In fact, all the opposite happened: I was uplifted, helped and loved by everyone whose help I sought. Men and women alike.
So, feminists, when does it happen? When does this whole “woman” thing kick in? When will I be treated worse than every poor, blue-collar or welfare-dependent man I grew up around? When will I get my rape as onlookers watch passively, my eviction for being a girl doing her own thing, my domestic violence spat where my loving husband turns into a werewolf, my underpaid work as my male coworker rakes it in, my life of constant fear and debasement? When will I get my institutional oppression?