Content note: this post discusses my personal experiences of mental ill-health, sexual violence and emotional abuse
I have a hypothesis. It is not necessarily a very good one, as it is built almost purely from personal experience and some conversations I have had with others.
But it’s a hypothesis, and in the spirit of Week Of Posts About Calling Out And Privilege And Stuff, I feel like it’s worth stating.
As confident as I may seem, I am riddled with self-doubt, a little voice at the back of my head perpetually squeaking “Stavvers, you’re probably wrong about this and chatting shit”. It’s been there almost as long as I remember, and I’m fairly sure it is the sound of the internalisation of all of the oppressive experiences I have had throughout my life.
I’ve been raped by a partner, I’ve been emotionally abused by another. My dyspraxia means people have treated me like I’m inept and stupid throughout most of my school years. My epilepsy led to being treated like a delicate little flower who might keel over at any point, as has the vast history of benevolent sexism I’ve experienced since I’ve sprouted tits. My school never taught me I even existed as a queer woman, thanks to Thatcher’s Section 28, and I’ve experienced all sorts of bollocks as a queer woman ever since I decided to be open about it. With all of this shit, it feels like an inevitable curse to find myself experiencing periodic spells of depression which come and suck my soul away.
Because of all of this, I find it very difficult to believe I could possibly be right about anything. I try to tell that little bit of me that actually, I’m nowhere near as crap as I feel that I am, but the nagging doubt remains. My conscious thoughts, and my network of wonderful people who for whatever reason seem to like me, are much kinder to me than my emotions.
This has a major effect in conversations about privilege, in particularly with privileged people. I’ve written before about how conversations about privilege can so often feel like gaslighting: within a system of dominance, there are two opposing perceptions of reality and the privileged cannot see the problem so denies its existence, denies a reality experienced by someone else.
Because of my self-doubt, and my experience of emotional abuse, I am pretty fucking sensitive to gaslighting. When I call someone out and they deny there is a problem, just for a fleeting second my self-doubt gets the better of me. For a fleeting second, that person is my rapist, my abuser, every man who has ever patronised me, every cop who has held me against my will, every homophobe, every creep, every bastard who has ever fucked with me and I’ve kicked myself for not fighting back. Often, this passes quickly. Sometimes, it does not, and I will get angry and try to avenge myself for everything that my self-doubt has told me was my fault; or I will get sad and simply listen to the self-doubt and self-blame.
But in its own way, the self-doubt is also a gift. It makes me more receptive to criticism, and more willing to change. It means that when someone calls me out, my first instinct is not that they are wrong, but rather, that I am probably wrong. And often, as it happens, I am wrong.
I have noticed a certain self-assuredness in those with more privilege than me which makes it very difficult to challenge them when they need challenging. They genuinely don’t appear to even entertain the possibility that they could be wrong, and that that’s not a big deal.
So this is my hypothesis, that the self-doubt which comes with being fucked over by society makes us more willing to be challenged and listen, and more receptive to being called out and asked to check our privilege.
It means that getting those who actually need to try harder not to oppress others will be a far, far harder struggle if I’m right about this. If there’s not even any room for doubt and self-reflection in their thoughts, how can we possibly persuade them to change? I suppose backing each other up might go some way to help, presenting a view that this isn’t some sort of minority opinion.
I don’t really have any answers, all I have is questions. I don’t even know if I’m onto something here. So I suppose I’ll start with a pertinent question: does anyone else feel this way, too?
Call-out week: a semi-coherent series of things on my mind