For almost a year now I have dedicated the vast majority of my time and energy to three things: classes, work, and my thesis. I dedicated myself so thoroughly to these three things that anything else seemed like an annoying distraction. I poured everything that I had, and much that I didn’t, into these goals. Far-off goals became my life. As I result, I became inadequate.
Framing is an interesting thing. It is not hyperbole to say that the professor of one of the classes I took changed my life when she said that rape did not exist until the 1970s. She stated that rape as an act of forced sexual contact had previously existed, but that it was not “rape” until special interest groups and other such moral entrepreneurs and so-called experts made rape a public cause that demanded attention. The Second Wave of feminism in the U.S.A. gave urgency and agency to women’s voices, albeit differentially, and when women’s voices emerged, they framed gendered, sexual violence as the epidemic it was and still continues to be.
Framing moved rape from a property crime to a crime against autonomy.
Framing moved me from feeling capable to feeling inadequate.
I thought I’d be happier when I quit my job. I hadn’t been anywhere near happy there for nearly a year. Simply put, it was the hardest parts of both an office and a customer service job, and it took a great toll.
Simultaneously, I was learning about the humiliations of the academic hierarchy. For the first time since middle school, the quality of my academic work was challenged, not based on previous work I had done—not based on anything, save my perceived ethnicity, as far as I can tell. And, I felt as if there was nothing I could do. I watched and said nothing as my thesis transformed into something I dreaded.
I would come home from work, tired and wrung out. On weekends I would read about rape—not theoretical works that inspire me, make me think, challenge me to realize solutions, but awful, terrible, personal stories that do nothing but make me cry and rage at my own impotence.
This has been my life.
It has taken until now for me to finally realize how complicit I have been in all this. I did what I thought I was supposed to be doing. I tried to keep my head down, tried to do what everyone told me, tried to will myself out of existence.
I will not be writing the thesis I have attempted to work on for almost a year. I never wrote it because it was never mine to write.
“Why quit when you are so close to graduating with honors?” seemed to be the soundtrack of my life all last academic year.
There is a simple answer that has been with me all along.
Years ago I had a group interview for a salesclerk job at The Body Shop. In the interview, the manager explained that all female employees must wear five pieces of make-up while working. I asked if the male employees had the same mandate. The manager looked at me as if I were joking and gave me a flat, “No.” Then she asked, “Do you have a problem with that?”
I smiled and said with all the sincerity and naïveté of a young, inexperienced person, “Just a moral-ethical problem, you know.” Needless to say, I was not called back.
I don’t think people choose to study inequality because they think it will make them popular or successful. Certainly I had no such delusions when I decided to study gender and sociology. What drove me first to gender studies and then to sociology was the pressing sense of need. The need for people in privileged positions to hear those that society tends to willfully ignore or demonize.
The whole experience of attempting to write this thesis has left me feeling devalued because of what I study, discriminated against because of how I don’t look, and used. I cannot and will not write the thesis I hardly conjured.
The study of inequality has stripped me bare. The experience of inequality has reinforced the only constant tool at my disposal: my ethics.