Long-haired privilege

Intersectionality

Is it just me or is anyone else getting a bit overwhelmed with all the types of privilege we are now supposed to know we have (or not) and check? (As in ‘check your privilege’.) Thin privilege and white privilege and male privilege and of course, class privilege, which often (though not always) the others almost boil down to: this tapestry is a bit like saying that we are all unique, except that it calls on us to search the term intersectionality and learn what it means and why it matters.

Today I was feeling the wind in my hair for some time, having been forced to take the simple healthy step of going for a walk by the apparently terrible circumstances of having a stressful job. Do I have employment privilege because I am earning, or is it a sign of my underprivilege that I have to sell my labour to survive since I cannot live for free on the Earth which I was born on?

While feeling the wind in my hair I felt feminine, and this experience tapped me in to all the images of flowing hair you see in the movies, and music videos, and glamorous fashion photography. I had short hair for a while and was regularly assumed to be gay, which didn’t cause any problems but certainly made me realise how powerful a metaphor for straight femininity long hair is. I am very glad to be living in a time and place where women can easily choose to have a short haircut and men can, relatively easily, choose to have long hair even if not through a religious tradition, though this is much harder for men working in some contexts than others.

But why do I have to suffer the dilemma that I might be somehow capitalising on a privilege that others do not or cannot share, just because of what grows on my head (and choosing not to cut it off)? For the sake of full disclosure (I just love full disclosure), I can share that I don’t shave any part of my body any more, ever, and the bits I pluck are very small and I am very lazy about it.

While I mull over the pointlessness of my objection to how I am internally feeling about my hair, I realise that I am combining the urge to try and be clever about being bored hearing about privilege with an observation that there is a glaring and huge state of privilege that is rarely called out: feminine privilege. Okay, maybe I do live under a rock and there are raging twitter debates about feminine privilege, but I would rather write this in ignorance that trawl through men’s rights fora to absorb some stale brain-wincing dialogue about how men being expected to change is just cruel and a sign of a world gone mad. Feminine privilege is probably not discussed because of our collective fear of inadvertently encouraging these guys to talk more.

But it is real. All the tropes about men not knowing whether to hold the door open for a woman are insignificant compared to the real, embodied expectations of the opposite sexes that relate to different kinds of dangerous and unhealthy work, the taking of risks and responsibilities, and the endemic risk of violence from men. The taboo against violence against women, however much it is not strong enough yet, is far greater than any taboo that is yet to fully take root as such, against violence against men. Identifying men as the perps of the majority of violence does nothing to protect men from the threat of assault and neither does the extraordinary number of brutal deaths we clock up on screen each year – often of men given little or no identity but violently disposed of to add dramatic tension to a plot. While many men truly benefit from being neutral in society (male privilege), they are portrayed simultaneously, for our entertainment, as appearing in such numbers as to render them almost disposable. Being a woman is hard, and being discriminated against for being a woman is also hard, but there are many aspects of culture where it is a given that women should be treated with respect, just as, at the very same time, there are many aspects of culture where it is still easy to disregard and discriminate against women. The same is true of men, and this is why assigning privilege to adjectives (white, male, female, thin, long haired) is only one awkward step on the road to mutual respect of all regardless of identity markers, aka true human solidarity.

Before I sign off I want to throw another spanner at privilege discussions – because I once had to endure a white Canadian couple visiting the UK who were so expert at their own white settler guilt that a local low-income working class white male anarchist nearly killed them. How we would have secretly been relieved.

My point is that their consecrated guilt determined them to educate other whites in privilege, and cost them their ability to recognise difference when it stared them in the face. And they became self-righteous and patronising. And no-one had a productive conversation. No matter how long it takes us to educate everyone ignorant in the world about their discriminating practices, we are still soon going to need something more sophisticated than identity chastisement to forward our desires to be surrounded, on the whole, by increasingly humane and intelligent companions. What device comes next?

Advertisements

Depression: to have or to be?

If I was depressed I probably wouldn’t be writing this, right? Yet there are still small moments in my life when I feel nothing, or rather, when I might wish to feel nothing instead of what I am feeling. I was once told not simply that I was depressed, but that “what I see is three generations of depression” and later “you and all your friends are depressed.” If I am being honest, I don’t think this observer was very objective – though they are better qualified than me to speak about depression. Their own needs created a special perspective: yes they may project onto others some of their own (felt or blocked) emotion and experience, but also they are so finely attuned to depression that a cycle of emotion that is normal and healthy in relation to real circumstances may still appear as depression.

But before I declare that I have hereby logically demonstrated that I am not depressed, we can turn this on its head in two ways. Firstly we can ask where real circumstances end and our emotional embodied response to them begins. We can ask whether it is possible or even healthy to be un-depressed in a depressing world; we can ask whether depression is a successful strategy for protecting us from certain horrors, temporarily? We can ask, if this were so, does it follow that for some individuals, there is literally no way out, because the cost of traversing the gap from the safety of depressive self protection to something more like a fluid interaction of the full range of emotions, in real time, in live response to live events, is too great.

I often think back to my twenties as a time when I did not know that I had no emotional understanding of myself, and not even the idea (until about 26) that emotions were a thing that I wasn’t doing. That more or less had to be explained to me by a professional. Was I depressed in my twenties? What about before then? I think back to my thirties as a time when I generated a profusion of emotion and spread it thickly over everyone who managed to tolerate me. This crossing of the death strip from silence to freedom required me to endure almost constant, sometimes overwhelming feelings of being pathetic or unattractive, of being weak, vulnerable and a drain on others. The reinforcements they provided, so that I could continue, led to feelings of being selfish, self obsessed and taking advantage of them. I can hardly recommend this experience. But now in my forties, I am beginning to understand that I can be emotional without showing it all here and now, and that that does not mean I am or will become depressed, or, my ultimate fear, that I will go back into denial or hiding, leading to one day where I suddenly have to feel a huge backlog of emotion in one go and will surely break.

In this process I have seen that emotion never goes away until you feel it. Some of us choose to carry it around for a long, long time rather than feel it. That weight suffocates us and I would call that depression. Nevertheless, when an experience overwhelms us and we are not able or free to respond to it gracefully, we are each entitled to choose how much emotional pain we release at any given time, and clearly there are no escapist drugs to compete with our efficiency at anaesthetising emotion by trapping it in the body, using all these mind tools we have evolved to enable us to just keep going in spite of terrible traumas. Then again, escapist drugs are a very popular choice when that shit inevitably starts to leak out by itself. And maybe when it never does is precisely when the universal mental health problem of a fucked up culture becomes the individual mental health problem of uniquely reconfigured psychological coping strategies that no fucker can get a grip on, not even the self, or especially not the self.

Which reminds me of the second way I must turn on its head my observation that my observer was not very objective in defining me and all my friends and family as depressed. The family comment did lead me to seek help. I had had therapy for a couple of years before that comment was made, after other shorter stints, and I had decided to approach an integrated healer who believes you can communicate with the unconscious and combine this with body work to encourage the release of trapped emotion (or if you prefer, to encourage the relaxation of muscles and tissues that have seized up at the time of a traumatic event). Setting up the first session, I told him about the ‘three generations’ comment, and so we worked first on depression. I don’t get it any more. Whenever I think that what I am approaching is depression, my train gets steered down another track, sometimes leaving me wondering why I can’t just have my anaesthetic when I want it like everyone else. When I feel as if I am depressed, I notice it is just the normal flow of emotion, not a layer of numbness underlying or overlaying everything. I think my observer friend could see that I have the layers of sedimented misery and bullshit that comes with growing up in a segregated community with an indoors culture.

To go back to my thick spreading of emotion… maybe some people liked it. Maybe it gives us permission to feel ourselves, or if that’s not a problem, to express our messy selves, when others get messy. I am glad to hear this said more and more often, and have close mutual friends who have told each other this: When you allow us to see that you are depressed, we love you exactly the same way as when you are cheerful. It feels different to you but not to us. Of course, we want to see you happy and fulfilled, not depressed and anxious. But we do not want to see your cheerful mask because then we are not seeing our friend at all. (Some people manage to see only the cheerful mask of their friend, even when the friend is not actually wearing it, because they can only deal with their own need to share. They’re so annoying.)