Is it Right for Me to Speak?

Feminist consciousness… can be understood as the negating and transcending awareness of one’s own relationship to a society heavy with the weight of its own contradictions. The inner conflicts and divisions which make up so much of this experience are just the ways in which each of us, in the uniqueness of her own situation and personality, lives these contradictions. In sum, feminist consciousness is the consciousness of a being radically alienated from her world and often divided against herself, a being who sees herself as victim and whose victimization determines her being-in-the-world as resistance, wariness, and suspicion. Raw and exposed much of the time, she suffers from both ethical and ontological shock. Lacking a fully formed moral paradigm, sometimes unable to make sense of her own reactions and emotions, she is immersed in a social reality which exhibits to her an aspect of malevolent ambiguity. Many “ordinary” social situations and many human encounters organized for quite a different end she apprehends as occasions for struggle, as frequently exhausting tests of her will and resolve. She is an outsider to her society, to many of the people she loves, and to the still unemancipated elements in her own personality.
— Sandra Lee Bartky, Phenomonology of Feminist Consciousness

I recently graduated college with a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from one of the best WGS departments in the country, Rutgers University. It was at Rutgers that I learned the ins and outs of power struggle, systemic oppression, and interdisciplinary feminist theory. I completed a departmental honors thesis for which I received Highest Honors and am in the process of adapting my 100 page thesis for submission to a scholarly journal. I have excelled in my studies because I enjoyed the pursuit of my degree. My success was also a result of the fact that my studies were deeply personal to me.

I know from experience that feminism can be an escape for a lot of individuals struggling against oppressions they have experienced their whole lives but could never properly articulate. Frequently these oppressions are so normalized that we don’t even think to question them. Feminism gives us the language to discuss these lifelong power struggles we have experienced, which leads to learning how to push against them.

Now, I’m in the process of finding a job. Along with my degree in Women’s Studies, I also earned a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. I hope to be involved in a conversation about power struggles within society and how we can work to correct them. The thing is: I am afraid to speak. I’ve used the same excuse for the past four years as to why I should not speak: that I’m going to be a journalist and journalists are supposed to be objective, therefore they cannot express an opinion. I’ve gradually realized that this is not true; I had simply been using this justification to rationalize my fear. Now that I’ve cast away that excuse to stay quiet, I have hit a new wall as to why I am afraid to speak: I’m white.

White women have to tread carefully in feminist circles, be it in online activism or in feminist scholarship. Whiteness is such a potent privilege that internalized white supremacy is rampant, especially when left unchecked. White women who engage in feminist praxis must constantly re-evaluate what they have been taught and how they are responding to information that they learn within anti-racism communities. Such self-reflection is crucial as a white person who wants to be a feminist voice because white fragility is racial violence.

While I recognize that there are axes of my identity that are oppressed in a structural sense, my whiteness complicates all facets of my experience in life. I know it is a necessary step for me to find my voice — not only because I love/hate writing but because bottling my thoughts as I have conditioned myself to do for the past twenty years leads to an overwhelming amount of internalized negativity. What I fear, though, is speaking over others who may be discouraged to contribute. My whiteness gives me a built in platform that I cannot ignore. Now I struggle with how to navigate that platform ethically. When is it okay for me to write? How will I bounce back when (not if!) I inevitably screw up (publicly) because of my privilege?

It’s unfortunate that I do not have any answers to my own questions at this time. I do know that writing about my fear of writing publicly has definitely quelled some of my anxieties about it. I am confident in my education as guidance for my evaluation of information. I am also confident in my tendency to step back and think about new information I acquire. I was drawn to journalism because of its necessity in our society but also because I believe I have the capacity to be an arbiter of information and facts in an open and honest manner. That will have to be enough for now.