Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Owning My Privilege

If you are reading this, please go check out @gildedspine's tweets about the #yesallwomen hashtag today.  She is the one who started it all.  I knew, that evening, however given the hate and bullying she was receiving I withheld her name on my previous post.

As I read through her tweets, as I think about what has happened in Ferguson, MO this weekend, and I listen to the Twitter response... what all of my blog posts are coming to, both the "becoming an engineer" series in progress AND the "social justice background" posts, are about owning my privilege.

Because engineers do make a decent amount of money.  I do not own a yacht, nor any kind of boat.  I do, however, live in a comfortable house, I pay my bills, I have medical care, we keep food on the table, and we have a little bit for investing & discretionary spending.  All of that, is privilege.

Now, I didn't come from a lot of privilege.  My parents certainly did not have privilege.  On my mother's side, my grandparents used wellwater into at least the 1980s, perhaps the 1990s.  I think I (barely) remember when they got indoor plumbing.  On my father's side, he had it a little bit better.  He did a paper route, which may have been what paid for his comic book collection (since lost, I never saw it).

I did work, very hard, in order to get where I am.  16 to 18 credit hours every semester of school, plus ~10 to 15 hours a week of work, and student loans, to pay my own way through college.  Moving back and forth between campus and internships, to get my foot in the door for my dream job.  Then working in my career, both paid at work and unpaid outside of work.  Hours of studying most nights for my two Master's degrees, spent after my full-time day job was complete.

I also had advantages.  The very internships I mentioned, which put me under the wings of a large multinational company.  The benefits of USAA, from my military heritage.  My white skin and light brown/blonde hair.  [Important aside: My congressman, Mo Brooks, does NOT represent me when he claims a "war on whites."  I know better, because of my experience and my studies.  I will get into that, eventually.]

I graduated into a job, and have remained employed the past 14 years.  I have a supportive husband, who has stayed home with our son for more than half of our son's life.

I have seen recent discussion about what makes a feminist.  Roxane Gay's "Why I Am a Bad Feminist," and discussions of what makes a feminist?  Is it education?  Do only Women's Studies and Critical Race Theory doctorates get to apply?  How many essays are required reading, to become a feminist?  What if a person can't read the essays, or does not have the background to understand what they are saying?

I grew up "inside the fortress," on military bases.  My sister served in the U.S. Army.  I've known since childhood that many Social Justice movements criticize the military.  I have written about St. Mary's Catholic Church walking the line, during Gulf War I, between supporting the troops and opposing the war.

I've grown up hearing the phrase "military-industrial complex."  Some of my childhood influences were more like David and Carol Marcus of Star Trek II, utterly opposed to Starfleet-as-military weaponizing the Genesis technology.

Except with real-life discussions, about nuclear war and test tube babies.  To this day, I ponder the relationships between science, technology, and society.  As part of my M.A. studies, we actually sat down and read President Eisenhower's speech against the military-industrial complex (Update 4/20/2015: Watch the speech here.).  It is something that I think about, as I go about my life.

Soon, I plan to write about one of my earlier feminist influences, that I read as I did my internships for a major corporation.  But this post is long enough already.

I am shaped by my experiences.

Another recent article about Voluntourism reminded me of our Youth Group "mission trip" to New Orleans in 2006, in support of Hurricane Katrina recovery.  Except there are a few caveats.  Between Hurricane Katrina and our May trip, there was Hurricane Rita.  Which sent me, my husband, and the cats we were tending on our own Evacuee journey.  When I went to NOLA to support Hurricane Katrina clean-up, I went with the knowledge that in any given year, the shoe could be on the other foot.

One of my more recent formative experiences was moving from the Greater Houston area to Greater Huntsville, during the 2008 election campaign.  As it happens, we moved and sold our house about six months before Hurricane Ike hit Houston.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States.  Huntsville is a very slightly blue dot in the state of Alabama, in the Deep South.  I got an earful that election year.

Some of the earfuls that year came from the pulpit.  We bounced between the Unitarian Universalist Church, the United Church of Christ, and other places that year, trying to find a home.  The UU minister often preached about Rev. James Reeb (but less about his compatriots), and Selma, and the integration of the Huntsville City Schools.  The UCC minister spoke about his fellow paster, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and about the church's conscious decision to be integrated in the 1960s.

And then there was Chik-Fil-A Appreciation day.  When traffic was held up, while neighbors and coworkers waited in line for hours in order to purchase food from an appropriate store, hung their bags up on display, or carried them around to show that they had bought from Chik-Fil-A that day.

All of these things happening around me, on top of the things that have happened to me as a woman in engineering (a mixed bag, some good and some bad), all have led me to Geek Feminism and to intersectionality.

Am I a Good Feminist or am I a  Bad Feminist?  Does it matter?

I don't want an Ally cookie.  I do want to become a Decent Human Being.  Since my 70-something Professor of Cross-Cultural Communications says that he still makes mistakes, I am going to assume that becoming a Decent Human Being will be the work of a lifetime.