Thinking Out Loud Part 2 - In which I muse on collective responsibility
I’ve been ruminating further since last week’s blog. In particular the last section where I sort of threw out a comment about how collective responsibility and systemic change plays a part in this personal responsibility narrative that we hear a lot lately. It’s a common criticism of mindfulness, spirituality, coaching and other practices like this that they put the responsibility solely on the individual to change with no acknowledgement that the systems we live in can actively affect us - especially if we are not born a white male or in a position of privilege.
I was trying to pinpoint what exactly I was getting at in the last article at the end - and went back to some reading I had found. In particular I landed on this Buzzfeed article about Rachel Hollis, author of Girl Wash Your Face. Her face has been everywhere in my world lately. This article somewhat dramatically in my view, but accurately describes what I was trying to get at.
A few excerpts that really spoke to me from this article:
“Are people who have problems responsible for fixing them themselves? Or is there some collective responsibility that we are shirking — does a society owe something to all its members? There are dark implications in making everything a matter of personal responsibility, which is Hollis’s bias. She asks us to interrogate and deconstruct the lies that we’ve believed about ourselves, and I wonder how that lens would function if we turn it on the lies she promulgates in Girl, Wash Your Face.”
“Can you tell a woman who has lost her hoped-for child as a result of state officials turning a blind eye to a water-poisoning crisis in a predominantly black area, or a mother seeking asylum whose child was taken away from her at the border, that “you are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are”? You can, but you would be wrong. And cruel. Hollis doesn’t address the possibility that for some people, obstacles to happiness are outside their control. And it is proof of her hard-earned privilege that she doesn’t have to.”
Now Buddhists and radical apologists would have you consider that no matter what happens to you it is how you respond that defines your reality. You can chose to be angry or not. And while I do believe this to be true, we can’t allow that to be used as a tool to encourage us to just make peace with injustice and move on.
What struck me in thinking further about this individual approach is that many of us have experienced trauma around being heard even when we do ask. As women we experience mountains of trauma around the word no. In particular when it comes to setting the boundary. We may go through a tough journey to learn to say no only to realize it is not always acknowledged or respected.
If you learn to make requests and you are systemically oppressed then you may always or often get a no. You may be told your request is crazy. You may be made to feel it is unwarranted or too demanding. You request may be shut down because it makes other people uncomfortable. Because it makes them have to face their shit. When the system is against you in more ways than one you can’t just walk around telling people they are responsible for themselves and if they only just ask for what they need their lives will change.
So then what! How do we change the system?
Now I don’t have a background in feminist theory and there’s a lot I don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here. My philosophy with Happy Vagina Project has been that if I do my work I am better able to help others do theirs. And if as a collective we become stronger and more accountable to ourselves and more supportive of each other than we can create new paradigms and change the system.
In short - when we get out of victim mode and become responsible and accountable to that which we can control in our lives, we are better able to work with others to change the systems that affect us and them.
It’s not simple when I say ask for what you need. Because the world is working against you in all the ways. It feels radical and it feels uncomfortable and maybe even unnatural to do it. It’s not often in our habit and it’s not always rewarded.
It’s not simple but it’s important. And when we flex that muscle in small interpersonal ways we can start to flex it in large systemic and collective ways. Now that’s a bottom up approach and I think change needs to come from the top too. But that’s the point really. Women and men with privilege and without must reconnect to themselves and each other so we can create change from the top and the bottom.
That to me is where personal responsibility and collective responsibility come together.
What do you think ? Let me know in the comments.
The Happy V
P.S. If you want to start taking responsibility for your dialogue with your body, your vagina and your sexuality download my FREE Happy V Happy Me Story Mapping Workbook. Start the conversation with yourself today and see what you can make possible in the bedroom and out.