Today I’m 27 years old. When I was 19, I was certain, somehow, that 27 was going to be the best year of my life. I have no idea if that’s going to turn out to be true, but I am looking forward to finding out.
I don’t talk about myself and my personal life here much, mostly because (outside of the context of privilege) it doesn’t matter and I wanted to focus on more “big picture” issues than my personal struggles/triumphs/whatever. However, I would like to take a brief moment to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned in 27 years that I would like to pass on to other women – younger, in my peer group, older, it doesn’t matter.
1. Bake your own birthday cake.
No, don’t hermit away just for the sake of making a point, bake your own birthday in a metaphorical sense (or literal, whatever you want to do). Be the kind of person that you can rely upon – be there for yourself, be self-sufficient, take care of yourself. The most important thing you can ever realize is that you are a whole person without anyone else – value companionship, treasure healthy and positive relationships with friends, family, and lovers, but never stick something out because you feel you will not be whole without it. You are. And if nobody is around to bake you a birthday cake, bake yourself a cake and celebrate you. Make whatever kind of damn cake you want (might I recommend almond pudding cake with white frosting and toffee bits? It’s superb). I know too many women (and men) who are “serial monogamists” – they’re never alone, even when they’re single they’re rapid-fire dating. There will be times in your life where you should be alone, and you miss out on so much of life being miserable just because there isn’t someone there. I explained it to a friend once like this, “people who are looking to never be alone never will be, with all the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons.” The great thing about love is that giving it away doesn’t deplete your stock, so love yourself before you love anyone else. Love yourself so much it makes you giggle. Make a vegan cake. Make a flourless cake. Make a meat cake. It doesn’t matter.
2. Speaking of not mattering, Let that which does not matter truly not matter.
Yeah, it’s a line stolen from Fight Club (shamelessly). Illegitimi non carborundum – don’t let the bastards grind you down (and don’t bother to tell me it’s not real Latin, you’re not going to grind down my fun). Everything will seem important as it’s happening, which is why it’s best to not make decisions when things are happening. Give yourself breathing room and distance, you’ll find that most things don’t matter nearly as much as you think they do and the things that do matter, you’ll be able to handle better. There’s a lot of things you can’t change – the actions of others, for example – and the things you can change you need to be smart about. You are powerful, you are capable, and you are one in seven billion. Seven billion people with at least seven billion problems – prioritize what and who gets your time and attention. Let the little things go.
3. Get a DVR. Or Netflix. Install AdBlock. Get something that lessens the influence of advertising in your life. Advertising affects everyone, it tunes you in to things companies want you to feel insecure about and reinforces gender roles that hurt and suppress women (and men). Screw it. I haven’t seen a commercial (save for ones I’ve looked up on YouTube at the recommendation of friends, like the Interracial family Cheerios ad) in over a year and I can’t even tell you how much better I feel about myself – I don’t see ads telling me I need surgery or pills to “attract the man of my dreams,” I don’t see commercials with ultra-thin women obsessing over their weight, I can’t even remember the last cleaning product ad I saw with a bumbling husband outwardly saying men are incompetent and directly implying women are naturally more suited to household work accordingly. I just don’t see it, it’s not a part of my life because it was poison and I decided I’d had enough.
4. People can only treat you how you allow them to treat you. When someone first told me this I mentally kicked back. “Fuck you, you don’t know anything about the psychology of abuse, nobody is responsible for the actions of others, don’t blame the victim.” Yes, all of those things are true: I am not saying anyone at any point is ever responsible for being mistreated by another. That being said, don’t even think you can’t leave, or that you deserve mistreatment, or that things can’t get better because things can always get better. There will be people in your life that take advantage of your emotions, they will prey on your feelings, and you will think every step of the way you have to stay to “save them,” or that loving someone means sticking with them no matter what. This is not the truth. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is tell them to fuck off. It’s almost always the best thing you can do for yourself, and you can’t take care of anyone before you take care of yourself. That’s why they tell parents to put on their own oxygen mask before helping their children on airplanes – you’re in a shitty position to save someone else if you’re killing yourself to do so.
5. Be grateful. Be grateful for what you have and what you may have. This isn’t to say “first world problems *eyeroll*,” but never lose sight of how much you do have. You can have problems, you can get upset (remember point 2 though), but remember: you have so much. You will have more; things can always get better. Write thank-you notes, write letters period. Donate your spare change to anything – a homeless person, a local scout troop, an advocacy group you support, anything. Perspective is a powerful thing and using what you have to help others will make you feel as if you have even more. I don’t make New Years Resolutions, instead every year I set out to be a better person than I was the year before. There’s no excuse to fail something like that.
6. …but in the path to help others, don’t silence their voices. This is something, as a feminist, I (and others) need to be aware of. Too often white middle and upper class feminists with the best of intentions silence poor and minority women…in the name of helping poor and minority women. Or, more sinister, white feminists outright slam black feminists, or attempt to discredit them, or exhibit transphobia against transwomen (TERFs). The latter is obviously unacceptable (and seriously, if you do either of those things you should knock it the fuck off), but the former is damaging as well. Nobody in a position of privilege – any privilege – should be speaking for the oppressed group. Wealthy women should not speak for poor women. Straight women should not speak for gay women. White women should not speak for black women. US citizens should not speak for immigrants. Cis women should not speak for transwomen. What we should all do is A. listen, B. support, and C. use positions of privilege to amplify voices. One of the biggest criticisms of Jezebel is that, by and large, their pieces are written by white women for white women. They have one of the largest and most popular sites for feminist news and editorials. Is the solution for white authors to post about black issues. No. They should, as an influential entity, use their position of power to spotlight more diverse viewpoints, and not in a “token” way, in a constant and consistent manner that engages the community. This is something easy to get caught up in, everyone does it: you get so excited about making a change and helping that you lose focus of the fact that the people you’re trying to help are, in all likelihood, 100% capable of helping themselves and don’t need a savior. Pippa Biddle had a great post about “Voluntourism,” and the damage of overvaluing your own help. If you want to help, let the people you’re trying to help tell you what they need, don’t try to tell them what’s good for them.
That’s it for now – let’s see what I learn over, “the best year of my life!”